For the first time since 2011, there was legitimate drama in the NASCAR Sprint Cup finale at Miami-Homestead Speedway Sunday afternoon. Four drivers were battling each other and the other 39 drivers to be the first champion under the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format.
And, after a pretty exciting race, including the final 20 laps, a rightful champion was crowned.
While it isn’t exactly a perfect format, with Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski left out and no-win Ryan Newman having a shot to win it all, the new format provided exciting drama and a first-time champion that deserved to hoist the cup.
There can be no denying that the new Chase format brought new and great drama to the final ten races of the season. While the “regular” season was relatively quiet outside of a few incidents, the pressure and intensity brought out by the new format and the three elimination races and the emphasis on winning produced high drama that draws in crowds and potentially could get the sport turned around in a different direction. Yes, unfortunately there were off-track incidents and fights that some though distracted people from the actual racing, but at the same time those fights were brought about by the intensity on the track.
Plus, the races that had eliminations, or were right before those eliminations, had a ton of drama, especially in the closing laps. From Talladega, with the threat of the “Big One,” to Texas to Phoenix, it’s hard to remember a Chase that had as much drama as this one. The race at Texas, which featured the melee on pit road between Keselowski’s and Gordon’s crew members came about because the final few laps were so pressured packed because both racers needed to go for the win to solidify their spot for the finale and unfortunately it resulted in Gordon wrecking and Keselowski not winning.
And in the end, the system did give a rightful driver the championship. Kevin Harvick was one of the best drivers this season, having a career year with 2,137 laps led, the most by far in his career, and eight pole positions, again the most in his career. Despite this being his first year with a new team at Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick managed to pull together his most consistent season, showed up when it mattered the most in the final races of the year and was rewarded for that.
Of course, other deserving drivers like Keselowski, Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were left without a shot in the final race to win it all and it is concerning, especially when Ryan Newman is able to get in despite having not won a race. But at the same time, in other sports, the best team in the regular season doesn’t always win the title. But with that in mind, I’m not at all opposed to NASCAR opening the Chase to winners only, no matter how many or how few do post a win in the first 26 races of the season.
But for how this season played out, in the end a true, deserving champion was crowned and while the system isn’t perfect and could be tweaked slightly to better emphasize winning, it definitely handed us one of the best Chases in the short history of the Chase for the Cup.