It is rare that a Reddit post got me thinking – but as someone who is utterly fascinated by NASCAR’s difficulty settling on a proper championship playoff format, I was genuinely intrigued by this question:
If we were to re-imagine the Chase, what would you be looking for? Suppose let’s set some ground rules:
- It should be simple – one of the big issues I have with the Chase is that the points are confusing. NASCAR uses wins and points in such a way that seeding when the playoffs start can be hard to follow. Which leads me to the next rule.
- There is a playoff – saying “run the 36 races” does not work. The series wants to race in the fall – with the sports competition out there, it makes sense for the series to give its later races some extra oomph. If you are charging real prices, it is hard to have a year where the field is out of luck.
- Winning during the season matters – NASCAR wanting wins to be the goal of any race is commendable.
- Make consistency matter – older point systems did not reward winning enough – but we still like the idea that consistently cranking out Top 10s is inherently valuable. The tortoise and the hare can get to the same place by very different means.
- The winner should not be arbitrary – the playoff should be exciting, and it’s okay that a Cinderella comes true now and again. But the top drivers during the year should generally work out.
Using these rules, this “alternate reality” works like this (assuming we keep 36 races):
- The points system is based on F1. However, we stretch the points system to capture the Top 20 finishers. (F1 only gives points to the Top 10, but their fields are half the size)
- 60 points for 1st, 45 points for 2nd, 38 points for 3rd
- 35 points for 4th, 32 for 5th, 29 for 6th down to 20 points for 9th
- 10th is 18 points, 11th 16 points and so on down to 4 points for 17th
- 3 points for 18th, 2 points for 19th, 1 point for 20th
- 6 bonus points for most laps led.
- The regular season encompasses the first 29 races. One of the issues with the Chase is that it is too long. This plan makes the Chase quicker and more impactful.
- The playoffs are much more inclusive than currently – realistically, every driver out there should have a chance at the Cup. Instead of watching a 43 car race where only a subset are aiming for the big prize, simplify things.
- 6 races before the final. No points reset
- Points are tripled. So 180 points for a playoff win, and 18 points for most laps. These should all be the largest money races too.
- The Top 40 drivers start the playoffs. This means that pretty much getting a few Top 20 finishes gets you on the board.
- The field is cut to 30 drivers after 3 races. After 6 races, the field is whittled to 20. The field for the races consists of only those drivers.
- There is one points reset before Miami. We use the PGA Tour reseed model. The Top 5 drivers can win the Cup with a win in Miami. A winner outside of the Top 20 could win the Cup too, but he/she needs higher ranked drivers to stumble.
Now, this system allows for a guy who had one good result – a road course specialist perhaps – have a chance to win the title. This is true, but to do that the driver would have to basically win 4 or 5 chase races and then win Miami. It’s just not something which can practically happen – but at least someone can enter the playoff thinking it is possible.
To see how this could have played out, we looked at how the 21st century would have played out with this points system. Obviously the drivers would have driven a lot differently – especially in the final race – if the points system were different, but still interesting. (when I refer to “won” the final, I use the highest finish among the 20 qualified drivers …)
|Year||Leader Entering Playoff||Top 5 Entering Final||Final Winner||Champion|
|2001||Jeff Gordon (+231)||Gordon, Stewart, J. Burton, Jarrett, B. Labonte||Sterling Marlin (6)||Sterling Marlin|
|2002||Tony Stewart (+9)||Ku. Busch, Stewart, Gordon, Dale Jr, Jarrett||Kurt Busch (1)||Kurt Busch|
|2003||Matt Kenseth (+2)||Newman, Johnson, Gordon, Dale Jr, Stewart||Bobby Labonte (9)||Bobby Labonte|
|2004||Dale Earnhardt Jr (+1)||Johnson, Gordon, Dale Jr, Ku Busch, McMurray||Greg Biffle (19)||Jimmie Johnson|
|2005||Tony Stewart (+141)||Stewart, Johnson, Biffle, Edwards, Martin||Greg Biffle (3)||Greg Biffle|
|2006||Matt Kenseth (+41)||Johnson, Stewart, Harvick, Kenseth, Kahne||Greg Biffle (15)||Jimmie Johnson|
|2007||Jeff Gordon (+139)||Johnson, Gordon, Stewart, Kenseth, Ky Busch||Matt Kenseth (4)||Matt Kenseth|
|2008||Carl Edwards (+24)||Johnson, Edwards, Ky Busch, J Burton, Biffle||Carl Edwards (2)||Carl Edwards|
|2009||Tony Stewart (+61)||Johnson, Gordon, Hamlin, Martin, Stewart||Denny Hamlin (3)||Denny Hamlin|
|2010||Kevin Harvick (+45)||Harvick, Hamlin, Johnson, Edwards, Ky Busch||Carl Edwards (4)||Carl Edwards|
|2011||Kyle Busch (+47)||Edwards, Stewart, Johnson, Kenseth, Ky Busch||Tony Stewart (2)||Tony Stewart|
|2012||Jimmie Johnson (+87)||Johnson, Keselowski, Kenseth, Ky Busch, Bowyer||Jeff Gordon (9)||Jeff Gordon|
|2013||Jimmie Johnson (+10)||Johnson, Harvick, Kenseth, Ky Busch, Dale Jr||Matt Kenseth (3)||Matt Kenseth|
|2014||Jeff Gordon (+39)||Harvick, Logano, Gordon, Keselowski, Dale Jr||Kevin Harvick (1)||Kevin Harvick|
|2015||Kevin Harvick (+143)||Logano, Harvick, Dale Jr, Johnson, Keselowski||Kyle Busch (9)||Kevin Harvick|
Some observations from alternate history
- It puts a lot of emphasis on winning Miami. Only 3 times in 15 years does the champion not win. Now, you would imagine the leaders would run up front more and try harder in this scenario (and with a smaller field there would be more space for that sort of driving).
- Jimmie Johnson’s excellence is again highlighted – yes he only wins the Cup twice in this imaginary world, but he is in the Top 5 (the “win without help” group) 11 straight years and 12 of the last 13. (and judging by this year, probably 13 of 14)
- Now is it fair that in a year like 2001 or 2007 that a guy with an enormous lead lose? No – but it is something you sign up for with a playoff. And each of those drivers still had the best odds of any of the Final 20 to win the cup. (about 25%)
Anyway, some food for thought as 2016 rolls forward.