No “Chase” Needed Here
Ever since Randy Bernard became CEO of the IZOD IndyCar Series just a little over four months ago, he has made many changes throughout the league that I mostly applaud – not that he needs my applause in order to be successful. But it is the one thing that he hasn’t done, that I am most thankful for; he hasn’t instituted a NASCAR-like “chase” format.
NASCAR CEO Brian France was eager to put his stamp on the sport he inherited from his father Bill France, Jr. and his grandfather; NASCAR founder Bill France. His father and grandfather were icons in the sport. Brian had come up through the family business and had directed NASCAR’s marketing department before being named CEO in 2003, when his father stepped aside. One of his first acts was to institute the “Chase for the Championship” in 2004.
Realizing that interest in stock car racing dropped dramatically after Labor Day, once football season started – he devised a plan for the final ten races of the season to make only the top ten drivers in points eligible for the championship, no matter how close number eleven was. Points were compressed and re-set, basically giving the driver in first place only a slight advantage and the driver in tenth usually found himself a lot closer to the top than he had been,
The idea was to create a “playoff” atmosphere at the end of their season. The comparison to the NFL was that even though a team may go 14-2 through the regular season, it could very well be upset at any time during the playoffs. The main difference was that there were still to be thirty cars on the track each week that were not eligible to participate in the “chase”.
The idea was met with mixed reaction, at best. The word “contrived” generally popped up whenever “the chase” was discussed. For years, NASCAR had crowned its champion just like any other racing body; the driver that accumulated the most points throughout the season was the champion. Now they were throwing this curve into the mix and their hard-core fan base didn’t like it. In their minds, it cheapened the first twenty-six races of the season and put added importance to venues such as Fontana, Kansas, Texas and Homestead – newer tracks that don’t immediately conjure up images of thrilling stock car racing.
In 2007, the format was tweaked to allow twelve drivers into “the chase”, which blew out their argument for cutting it off at ten originally. They were quick to point out that no driver more than ten places back with ten races to go had ever won the championship. So why expand it to twelve? They said the fans wanted it. How tainted would a crown be in the eyes of NASCAR die-hards if someone in this newly contrived format squeaked into the twelfth position and then went on to win the championship. They supposedly offset this by giving additional points for every race win.
Now it is pretty evident that “the chase” will be tweaked again. They may expand it to fifteen drivers or it may include more races or further point shuffling. In the meantime, the fickle fans who were intrigued by NASCAR in 2001 are now leaving the sport as quickly as they found it. The quaintness of following the good ol’ boys has grown tiresome and they have moved on. They also have become bored with Jimmie Johnson winning four “chase” championships in a row and possibly on his way to a fifth consecutive trophy for 2010.
What NASCAR is left with is a disgruntled fan base that feels like the sport that they once knew has left them. NASCAR went Hollywood and forgot those that got them there – their fans. And those fans that are left are stuck with an ever-changing way of determining what they perceive as a false champion. Each year that NASCAR crowns a new champion under this new format, a comparison of points under the old system is always brought up. Under the previous format, Jimmie Johnson would have won only two championships – in 2006 and 2009.
But drivers like Johnson shouldn’t be criticized. They are simply working the system that they have been handed. It’s the system that needs changing.
That (finally) brings me back to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Some fans have lampooned Randy Bernard for creating the oval (AJ Foyt) and road course (Mario Andretti) trophies. I have no problem with them because they were created within the existing system. It is something to recognize an accomplishment within a certain discipline without taking attention away from the real prize – the season championship.
The biggest race on the IndyCar schedule is the Indianapolis 500. Consequently, I have no problem with additional points being allocated to that race. Teams budget a large amount of time and money for the Month of May. It isn’t just another race and the points structure should reflect that. This year, they revised the qualifying format and added additional points for qualifying at Indy. I think they should consider adding more points for the race itself.
Halfway through this season, Will Power looks dominant. He has three wins and is pulling away from his closest threats. He may indeed wrap up the championship with one or possibly two races to go. It may get more than slightly monotonous if he keeps up this pace – but so be it. He should not be penalized and have points artificially taken away from him, all in the name of entertainment. It is up to the other teams and drivers to step up their game, rather than relying on some ridiculous format concocted by a marketing whiz – just to spice things up.
The IZOD IndyCar Series is just now showing signs of coming out of the doldrums. There is a lot of work to be done and probably many changes will be forthcoming – some more popular than others. But as for coming up with some convoluted format for the last third of the season – I think Randy Bernard’s inactions on that point speak clearly. We need to leave the “Chase for the Championship” only for those same people that brought you the green-white-checker.