Fair or unfair? Not every driver is a fan of resetting Chase standings
When NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France announced this past January that NASCAR was moving to an elimination-style Chase format for the 2014 season, much of the talk centered around how race wins would mean more than ever.
Well, wins have meant a lot in 2014. They were the ticket by which 13 of 16 drivers gained entry into Chase, and a win in any Chase round automatically punches a driver’s ticket to the next round. Furthermore, as in past years, any win in the 26-race regular season equalled three bonus points to be carried into the Chase.
However, drivers don’t carry bonus points from one Chase round to the next.
But should they?
It really all depends on whom you ask.
"I hesitate to talk about any ‘shoulds’ or whatever, because I feel like whatever points system we have, we should just keep it the same for a long time so that it has the highest level of credibility and it’s easiest to understand," Chase driver Carl Edwards said. "I just hope we keep this the way it is for a while, you know what I mean?"
With the standings reset following last weekend’s final Challenger Round race at Dover, the 12 remaining title contenders are deadlocked with 3,000 points each entering Sunday’s Contender Round opener at Kansas Speedway.
That means that Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon, who all won in the Challenger Round, are now on equal footing with the nine other drivers who advanced out of the Challenger Round.
Like Edwards, Chase driver Kasey Kahne doesn’t mind the dearth of bonus points for wins in the Chase. He even maintains that would be the case if he had won one of the first three Chase races.
"I don’t necessarily care, because it’s kind of the first year for this new format, and we have to kind of see how it goes," Kahne said. "To me, it’s fine. It’s exactly how NASCAR wants it, at this point, so I don’t need to critique it."
But do the drivers who who actually won in the Challenger Round feel a little bit gypped not to be reaping any tangible benefit of that win now that a new round is about to commence?
"It’s much, much harder to get a foothold on the Chase this year as far as a foothold on the top, because you win a race, and, well, that was great, because three races later it means nothing," said Keselowski, who led the standings before the re-set following Sunday’s race at Dover. "You win another race, (and) alright, three races later, it means nothing. You win another race, (and) alright that was great and it means nothing. You’re like, ‘damn,’ you know? At some point I’d like to be rewarded, but who wouldn’t?
"It’s still the same rules for everyone and as long as that’s the case, that’s all you can ask for. The rules are what they are, you know. So we’ve just got to make the most of them."
Ryan Newman didn’t win in the Challenger Round and hasn’t won a race all year, but he is adamant that drivers who do win should carry points bonus from one Chase round to the next.
"I don’t think it’s fair for them for a guy like me, who hasn’t won a race at all this year, to come in and be equal with them going into this next three-race bracket," Newman said.
Logano, Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, makes no bones about wishing he could carry bonus points into the upcoming round for his victory two weekends ago at New Hampshire.
"Sitting in the shoes that I am right now, yes, I would love it," Logano said. "If I was sitting in someone else’s shoes right now, I might say, ‘No, no. Three thousand (points) for everyone’s great.’ So I think it just all depends. But I think we’ve kind of set this whole thing up to reward the win. The win’s a reward to get into the Chase, and it’s the reward that gets you through to the next round."
But with the Contender Round about to begin, a win in the Challenger Round is now essentially meaningless. No bonus will be carried from the Contender Round to the Eliminator Round, from which the championship field will be whittled from eight drivers to four. Then the standings will be reset once again entering the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where four remaining title contenders will show up with equal points.
Just as competitors in other professional sports typically start fresh in each playoff round, NASCAR adopted the same philosophy with year’s revised Chase format. But Newman doesn’t like the comparison.
"We’re not other sports," the Richard Childress Racing driver said. "We can’t lose that fact. We’re still not other sports. This isn’t stick-and-ball and is nothing to do with anything like that, so I struggle to compare ourselves to other sports. We’ve made a really good living being ourselves, and we can’t lose that side."