Aftermath, Atlanta II: Lack Of Chase Drama Shouldn't Prompt Changes

NASCAR wants to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. make the Chase and keep fans interested in the playoff format throughout the fall. But it shouldn't change the system just to get him in it.

When NASCAR instituted the Chase format and picked Richmond as its regular-season cutoff race, it envisioned drama, excitement and thrills.

Officials envisioned drivers racing their way into the playoffs in breathtaking fashion. They imagined others would fall out, leaving teams heartbroken. And they knew a few would get oh-so-close but ultimately come up just short.

In other words, NASCAR hoped Richmond would make for a signature race during a time of the season when there had traditionally been a decided lack of big moments.

And in most years since the Chase began in 2004, it's worked. Not this season, though.

Any drama heading into Richmond now is empty hype. The Chase field is virtually set already, unless Clint Bowyer somehow wrecks and Ryan Newman capitalizes for the final playoff spot.

What storyline can NASCAR sell? Tune in and see if Clint Bowyer totally blows it!


So NASCAR didn't get what it wanted (and needed) this year. And in a time when any lack of excitement is looked at with a larger-than-usual magnifying glass thanks to struggling TV ratings and ticket sales, some will undoubtedly call for Chase changes based on the points situation at Richmond.

But NASCAR would be wise to take a deep breath when it comes to the Chase and resist the urge to expand the field to 15 drivers (which has been rumored).

It might be tough not to scratch that itch. Allowing 15 drivers in the field this season, for example, would have put sentimental favorite Mark Martin on the bubble with an additional five drivers in pursuit, including Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR badly wants Earnhardt Jr. to succeed and make the Chase. So it's tempting to add more drivers to the format in hopes that Earnhardt Jr. would somehow qualify for the playoffs and keep fans interested throughout the fall.

But that logic is akin to casting a bigger net in hopes of catching a certain fish – you might eventually catch it, but you also might pull in an old boot, some seaweed and a tin can.

Allowing 12 drivers has already watered down the Chase enough (what was wrong with 10 drivers, 10 weeks?). Adding two more names has done absolutely nothing to enhance the Chase in terms of competition; plus, ratings have only gone down since that change.

There have also been several occasions where the race for the 10th spot at Richmond would have much closer than the race for 12th.

Look, these things happen. No matter how many drivers are eligible for the Chase, there's no way to guarantee the points would be bunched up around a certain position heading into the cutoff race.

And there's no way to guarantee Earnhardt Jr. (or any driver) could make it anyway.

Or maybe there is.

If NASCAR wants Earnhardt Jr. in the Chase so badly, why not just do a wild card entry for whoever wins a fan vote?

Of course, letting fans vote a driver into the playoffs would be a total joke in terms of competition, but I'd prefer a "10 Plus Junior" format to "10 Plus Five Mediocre Guys" system any day.

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