IndyCar Series has formula right
Alex Carson | Wednesday, September 10, 2014
I grew up a little over two hours down the road in Indianapolis. In addition to being around high school basketball and cornfields, growing up in Indiana means you’re surrounded every May by my favorite sporting event in the world, the Indianapolis 500. And, of course, if you were to make a Buzzfeed list about sports in Indiana, you’d have to put the 500 alongside Peyton Manning, Reggie Miller and the 1954 Milan High School basketball team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.”
As a kid, I heard stories about Andretti, Foyt, Mears and Unser. And one of my most cherished memories is meeting Helio Castroneves at a local car dealership and then going back the next year so he could sign the picture of the two of us.
But despite my love of open-wheel racing, I’ve found it harder and harder each year to maintain an interest in NASCAR. So, no, please don’t ask me if I’m a NASCAR fan next time I tell you I’m from Indianapolis. Whereas the open-wheel cars used in Formula One and the IndyCar Series are sleek, the stock cars used on the NASCAR circuit are slower. Whereas the IndyCar Series races on a near-equal combination of unique road, street and oval courses, NASCAR features a litany of tri-ovals and superspeedways — tracks that, from week-to-week, seem similar.
And perhaps more than anything, the IndyCar Series doesn’t have a gimmicky “Chase for the Sprint Cup”-type format to determine its champion. Especially one as poor as the format NASCAR is employing for this year’s Chase.
Before I rip in to the rest of it, I’ll give credit where credit is due: NASCAR’s major change in qualifying for the Chase was a positive. The series emphasized drivers that won races — all 13 series regulars that won a race qualified for the playoff — over drivers that simply paraded around the track to turn in top-five finishes, guaranteeing their spot in the final setup.
But past that? It’s poor at best. The Chase starts with 16 drivers and more or less resets them to the same point total. Then three races come along and the bottom four are eliminated. That’s fine, and the same thing is repeated twice over the next six races, leaving the series with four competitors for the championship going into the final race. Cool, I guess.
But that brings us to the point where — if it hadn’t already been done with the institution of the Chase in the first place — NASCAR completely jumps the shark. Simply put, the driver out of the four who has the best finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16 will be the series Driver’s Champion. End of story.
That — above everything else — is the most frustrating part of the current NASCAR setup for someone that, quite frankly, already isn’t a big stock car fan. Instead of saying, “every race leading up to the finale matters,” one just simply has to cross their fingers and hope nothing goes wrong on the final day.
Let’s put it more bluntly. Brad Keselowski has four wins this season, more than anybody else on the circuit. Let’s say he wins four of the first nine races in the Chase — it would be impressive but it’s still entirely possible — and no other driver wins more than one. He’d have, at worst, twice as many victories as the second-most-winningest driver in the series this year but could very well be taken out in a first-lap wreck. And then we’re all supposed to believe he wasn’t the driver that deserved the title win on the season? Please.
For the series that instituted green-white-checker finishes, has “competition cautions” after it rains and randomly finds debris on the track when it wants to bunch the field back up to create a better show, the “Championship race” idea is perhaps its worst gimmick yet.
Oh, yeah, and did I mention the IndyCar Series championship has been decided on the final race of the season for nine straight years without magically needing to reset the points four times in the final ten races?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.