The first race of NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship (or as some like to call it, NASCAR’s Playoffs) is officially underway. The “win and you’re in” format has entered its third season of crowning a champion.
If you don’t know, starting in 2014, NASCAR changed the game completely when it comes to crowning a champion. The previous championship format, featured ten drivers, then twelve, then ten plus two wildcards, all based on “points racing”. Winning was not as emphasized during those years. Consistency won championships. Primarily consistency throughout the final ten races of the season. This led to Jimmie Johnson’s six championships from 2006-2013.
Now, NASCAR takes a page from NCAA’s March Madness in the sense that there are eliminations. Now, sixteen drivers are allowed in the Chase. In order to be granted a spot in the Chase, a driver must win any of the first 26 races of the season. Any remaining seeds are filled in by whomever is highest in the points standings without a win.
This weekend, Chase Elliott dominated only to have a late race caution relegate him to third place. Martin Truex Jr. took advantage of fresh tires to win the race and advance to the next round of the Chase. Elliott needs to win for a number of reasons, but certainly to keep him in the title fight.
At first, I was very skeptical about this Chase format. I didn’t like it. I felt as though the champion should be determined based on consistency. My feelings were echoed by the rest of the NASCAR press and fan base. There are so many variables introduced by this elimination format.
That was the feeling in 2014.
Now, I honestly can’t get enough of it.
Hear me out – every single Chase driver must be perfect. Every team must be absolutely perfect. That’s the only way teams will advance and have a chance at the “final four.” Chase Elliott might have been perfect all day, but when it counted, Martin Truex Jr. was more perfect and had luck on his side.
This format, like it or not, has created some of the most exciting, nerve wracking, and outright wild racing NASCAR has seen since the advent of the “Car of Tomorrow” in 2007. There’s always some kind of wild story following a race. Heck, you could easily bet on NASCAR now. There’s always a favorite in the Chase and there’s always an underdog . The odds of picking the correct winner any given week are about as good as having a perfect March Madness bracket. From a fan standpoint, this is fantastic.
Chicagoland certainly proved how unpredictable this format is. Who honestly had Truex winning the race? I know I didn’t. This year’s Chase Grid is so diverse that there’s no way to predict who might win it all come November.
Like it or not, I certainly hope this Chase format stays around for a long time. It’s only going to get better.