The last race of the NASCAR season coming up on Sunday in Homestead-Miami will be the culmination of what they wanted when they implemented the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format before the season began.
There has been a massive amount of drama surrounding the Chase so far–not all of it of the positive variety unfortunately. It’s endured the loss of two of the more popular drivers in the series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who failed to advance past the second cut just over halfway through the ten race “playoffs.”
Then there were the incidents involving Brad Keselowski, first after the fifth race in Charlotte and then after the eighth race in Texas, which brought a good deal of publicity–whether it was positive or negative is certainly up for debate–and made things very interesting going into this past race where it was all up for grabs.
Now, there are four drivers–Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman–have one race to win it all, just what NASCAR set up back in February.
Sure, the new Chase format has not been welcomed by all and there’s a sizable faction that’s vehemently against it, but there’s absolutely no doubt that the format has brought incredible excitement throughout the entire Chase. There’s were nerves in the closing laps at Talladega, the elimination race for the second round of the Chase and this past week saw Newman barely squeeze and push Jeff Gordon out with a last lap pass that’s also up for debate about whether it was sporting or not.
And to be quite honest, this is drama that NASCAR needed. It’s been no secret that the fan base for the sport has been growing ever smaller after reaching a high shortly after the turn of the century. Many a time the championship, whether under the old Chase format or no Chase format at all, has been decided before the last race, creating an anticlimactic finish to a 36-race season. So NASCAR had to do something, and whether or not this is, in fact, the correct format, it must noted that there has been a lot of excitement and drama so far in the Chase and it’s only going to bigger before and during the final race come Sunday.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the best driver is going to win the title. Newman is somehow still alive despite not having won a single race all season. Meanwhile, drivers like Keselowski, who leads the Sprint Cup series with six wins this season, Gordon, who would win the title under the no Chase format, and Earnhardt Jr., who won three races before the Chase before being eliminated in the second cut. And if Newman or Hamlin find a way to win, it’d be hard to say that they are a deserving champion.
But at the same time, this is similar to how other sports leagues determine their champion. It’s hard to say that the San Francisco Giants were the best team in baseball this season, or that the Los Angeles Kings were the best team in the NHL’s regular season last season. This is what happens when there’s a playoff. All it takes is getting hot at the right time. Those postseasons, like all postseasons, had great drama, especially with the Game Seven.
Now NASCAR is trying to capitalize on that and no matter the drivers that remain, it has created the drama that they wanted when they implemented the new Chase format.