I’ve received several letters through the year about the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup points system, the “chase” format and its stage wins format. I promised these readers that I would wait until the last race was completed to explain why NASCAR’s current championship format is loaded with rules that can ruin fan interest and excitement as opposed to what NASCAR thinks is best for generating interest. It is also a format that could easily crown a champion that doesn’t deserve the honor.
First and foremost, Martin Truex Jr. deserved to be the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Champion, hands down. He was the dominant driver throughout the year, scored the most wins (8), most top fives (19), most top 10s (26) and most stage wins (19). No other driver came close to these dominant numbers, yet with NASCAR’s rules, three other drivers could have won the NASCAR championship at Homestead this past weekend.
Let’s look at it this way. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are all former past NASCAR Cup champs and each one deserving. But in Sunday’s Nov. 19 finale, none of this trio deserved the champion laurels in my book. That’s correct…none were deserving of the title in any manner. The entire season was dominated by Martin Truex Jr. and his Cole Pearn crew chief led Furniture Row/Bass Pro Shops Toyota. With thanks to the racing gods, Truex Jr. found it in him to hold off a hard charging Kyle Busch for the title in the last 20-laps of the event. (Nail biting yes, but all for the wrong reasons).
And here’s why NASCAR’s current system of crowing a champion is flawed.
Let’s say that the “Final Four” Chase drivers included Chase Elliott, who even though he did not win a race the entire year, somehow got into the final four on points, which is possible under current rules. Let’s just say that instead of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick winning two of the last Chase final four races, Truex won them all. And let’s further say that Harvick didn’t have enough points to get him in the final four and that Elliott, on strong second place finishes, did. So now we have Truex Jr., Busch (the second most deserving driver), Keselowski and Elliott as the final four.
The green flag drops at Homestead, and Truex Jr. bolts to the lead with Busch in hot pursuit. Then on lap 50, Busch is involved in a skirmish, his car is bent, and he’s out of the race and finishes 34th. Truex Jr. is still leading, with Keselowski and Elliott running in the top10.
Then on lap 150 while running third, Keselowski’s Ford it tapped on the left rear tire by a non-playoff driver and the tire lets go. He's into the wall and ends the day with a disappointing finish of 30th. Now it’s just Truex Jr., dominating the race, and Elliott, who is running eighth.
I think by now you’re getting the picture.
With 22 laps to go, Truex’s engine lets go on lap 245. He’s done and finishes 27th. Elliott, meanwhile, drops out three laps from the end with a blown engine and finishes 20th. Chase Elliott, sitting in the garage area, is crowned the 2017 NASCAR Cup Champ. He’s never won a race all year but according to the “exciting” playoff rules, he’s “earned” the overall NASCAR Championship.
(This nearly happened in 2014 when Ryan Newman qualified and went into the final race at Homestead without a victory. However, Kevin Harvick won the championship).
For whatever reason, NASCAR still wants to try and compete with the stick and ball sports when it comes to playoffs and a final “Super Bowl” or “World Series” type event. But it just does not work and is flawed right from the get go.
So, here are some new rule recommendations:
1. Eliminate the Chase playoff system: This “playoff system” has not generated the expected fan interest or increased TV ratings. In stick and ball sports, playoffs work. There is no way a Philadelphia Phillies player can come into a World Series game in a Houston/Los Angeles matchup and ruin the outcome for a playoff team. In NASCAR, the “playoff” allows a non-Chase driver to race and potentially spoil a chance for a driver trying to move on to the next leg of the playoffs. Every race should be just as important points wise as all the others. Go back to the way NASCAR grew in popularity with one season long point structure.
2. Keep the Stage wins: These extra point formats are exciting for fans and make for better racing. Points are awarded to the Top 10 at specific intervals. These stage wins and top 10 finishes now become more important to the overall points outcome.
3. After the second stage, have a 15- to 20-minute “halftime” where the race is stopped. Fans can visit for refreshments, rest stops, souvenirs, etc. and drivers and crew can take a short break.
4. Keep the “green, white, checker” finish rules: Even though I never liked this rule and didn’t have a problem with races ending under yellow, I think it’s too late to reverse this from a fan standpoint.
In ending, let’s get back to real racing where the winners and top performers receive their just dues…all year long. Same goes for Xfinity series and the Camping World trucks. If a driver secures the championship with four races left, so be it. Also, if a driver wins the championship without a win but had a great top finish season, so be it again.
Let them all run for the championship from day one.