NASCAR’s reported changes to Chase, points formats a step too far

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR wants to emphasize winning, but at what cost as the proposed changes are overreaching and excessive.

As NASCAR sought ways to pique fans' interests and recapture what has been a diminishing audience -- both on television and in person -- a popular refrain uttered by NASCAR CEO Brian France was "Game 7 type moments."

What the NASCAR chairman meant was turning the last race of the year into a can't-miss event filled with the drama and tension you would find in say Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals or the World Series. In NASCAR, however, those moments can be fleeting, and many times the season-finale commenced with the championship all but decided.

Right, wrong or indifferent, NASCAR may have found the way to ensure it has a "Game 7 type moment" each and every year no matter the circumstances. And the proposed changes first reported by the Charlotte Observer are vast, sweeping and, not the least of all, controversial.

They include adding four additional drivers to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, taking the field from 12 to 16. Also a win during the regular season will virtually ensure a playoff berth, as the top 16 drivers who have scored a win during the regular season will gain entry. But the likelihood that there are more than 16 winners in 26 regular season races is remote at best.

Basically, it's win and you're in.

The most jarring adjustment comes when the Chase begins. After every three races there will be four eliminations and the points will be reset. All of which means four drivers will enter the season-ender tied for the championship making the year's finale a winner-take-all tussle.

Think March Madness except on wheels.

Whether these dramatic changes will become official is still to be confirmed, though a restructuring of some sort is certainly coming. But assuming Friday's report is some facsimile of the template NASCAR will announce in the coming weeks, the name of the game in America's No. 1 motor sports series is winning.

Gone will be the days when being consistent was as an integral part to securing a championship. If the goal is to give drivers incentive to take chances, then this format should do just that. The message is translucent: Win. And at all costs because everything else is of no real consequence.

On the surface there is some merit to rewarding those who find Victory Lane and penalizing those who do not.

Would fans really object to seeing their favorite driver attempt a last-lap banzai pass for the win and then be awarded with a chance to challenge for the championship if they're successful? Maybe this is the jolt many felt was needed to revitalize the sport back into the consciousness of the sporting public?

But realistically these changes might skew the delicate balance NASCAR has long juggled between sport and entertainment. And by integrating a system that so heavily leans one direction presents a multitude of new complications.

Back in September, NASCAR was dealt a black eye when Michael Waltrip Racing orchestrated one of the biggest scandals in the sport's history: The attempt to manipulate the finishing order of the regular season finale was directly correlated to the pressure the team felt to have its drivers qualify for the Chase.

With a chance to secure a championship and the millions of dollars that go with it, that pressure will only be intensified at the end of each season. Will teams conspire and issue orders that fix the outcome? The possibility exists, and certainly more so than ever.

If you thought teammates going out of their way to help one another at Richmond was borderline egregious, just wait until the stakes are raised considerably. This may not be what France had in mind for a "Game 7 type moment," but this very well could be what he ends up getting.

It's called a rabbit hole and NASCAR may be about to enter it.

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