How to Fix the Spring Cup Chase (for Real) – PGA Tour Edition

This week, the Chase for the NASCAR Spring Cup started.  Apparently, somebody made enough left turns quickly enough to win the race.  As I have noted in previous riffs on this topic, I don’t care about the sport – but find the attempts to have a playoff amusing.  That said, as a business move it made sense – if the sport is greedy enough to want to race 36 times (almost twice the length of any other major auto racing circuit) – the last races were going against the NFL, and too often there were seasons where the last few races did not contribute to the final outcome.  As noted previously, the points system also did not reward winning enough – where an average finish of 12th would be enough to cruise to a title.  This does not denigrate the achievement of endurance and consistency, but sports has no point without being entertaining television, and it failed on that level.

But the Chase has had all sorts of problems – criticism from fuddy duddies, rules which keep being changed, and a continuing to race full fields where 25% of the field was involved in the “playoffs” and the others were just racing for money. This season, NASCAR implemented a “wins based” qualification system, and a Chase where there would be elimination (still full fields) until only four drivers being eligible to win the title at the end.  Making Miami matters – it is a fickle market who would not support a sport without that sort of heft.  So making Miami the world finals is sensible – but how do we get there?  Clearly, the NASCAR people will listen to someone who doesn’t watch the sport – but it seems like the PGA Tour holds a key.  After all, the tour has implemented a playoff – and while it has its own flaws, it’s final is one which NASCAR would be wise to implement.

The TOUR Championship of course, is a limited field event with 30 golfers – with all 30 being eligible to win the title.  This seems like the most common-sense thing for the Chase.  Why shouldn’t every driver at the last event be eligible to win the while thing?  Now it might not be 30 drivers, but it could be 24 or something.  After all, the All-Star race is a limited field event and nobody seems to mind.  That the finals of a playoff should contain only finalists is self-evident.

Of course, a final where all of the drivers have an equal chance to win the title is also silly.  After all, that removes all credibility from a regular season.  We do want to reward consistency, surviving the marathon, and all of the other pursuits which have kept the sport going for years.  The TOUR Championship has answers for this too.  The PGA re-racks the points entering the finals in such a way that while every player in the field can win it all, only the Top 5 can win without any help (win the tournament and win the title) – while the rest have to win while receiving some mathematical help from the field.  There is no reason NASCAR can’t set up a points reset in this fashion.

So, how do you determine the field?  Well, some of the Chase ideas are not dumb.  I like a more top heavy points distribution, but freezing the top of the field at the end of the 26 race period (or 30 race period or what have you) is a good way to reward consistency.  So, if we have a 24 car field, how about the Top 16 by points qualify automatically.  For the 2014 season, using the distribution we have been using – the Top 16 would be:

  1. Jeff Gordon (492)
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr (468)
  3. Brad Keselowski (453)
  4. Joey Logano (426)
  5. Kevin Harvick (417)
  6. Jimmie Johnson (412)
  7. Matt Kenseth (389)
  8. Carl Edwards (303)
  9. Kyle Busch (298)
  10. Denny Hamlin (290)
  11. Kyle Larson (281)
  12. Kasey Kahne (274)
  13. Clint Bowyer (265)
  14. Ryan Newman (255)
  15. Kurt Busch (245)
  16. Greg Biffle (239)

So these 16 would automatically qualify into Miami and get the first 16 grid spots.  Now, the remaining races have purpose – as points continue to accumulate, so your position in the Top 16 can shift.  Moreover, the goal is to get to the Top 5, which means you can win the Cup while winning Miami.  So, now – what of the other 8 cars in the finals?  Well, THIS is where NASCAR’s premium on winning can help out – the first wild card positions can be taken by any other driver who won a race this season.  So to these 16 we add two more:

  • Aric Almirola
  • AJ Allmendinger

So 18 of the 24 spots are filled (note in this framework, if there are 25 race winners, we just go to more than 24 spots).  So where do the remaining wild card spots go?  A-ha, that is what the “Chase” is for.  The final races are full fields, but the Top 6 (in this case) drivers over the Chase interval qualify into the final spots.  This provides some credible drama – Cinderella possibilities based on drivers who finish hot.  Note that the wild card positions go below the other two qualification categories, thus the odds of actually winning are very low.  That said, it allows for many delicious possibilities – including perhaps the Nationwide wunderkind entering a Cup ride late and trying to get onto the Finals grid, let alone redemption of a bad season.  Just playing out the season – after Chicago, the Wild Card Standings

  1. Jamie McMurray (14)
  2. Martin Truex Jr (7)
  3. Austin Dillon (5)
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr (4)
  5. Tony Stewart (3)
  6. Danica Patrick (2)

Anyway, I have no doubt this will not be implemented – and more ad hoc changes will come as TV ratings dwindle.  Fortunately, I don’t care.


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