We’re now one race into the second round, a.k.a. the Contender Round, of the 2015 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Twelve drivers still have visions of the 2015 Sprint Cup, down from 16 in the Challenger Round that was round one. One of those drivers eliminated after the first round concluded with the waving of the checkered flag over the AAA 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Oct. 4 was Jimmie Johnson, the same Jimmie Johnson who’s a six-time Sprint Cup champion, the same Jimmie Johnson who headed into the Chase in a three-way tie with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch with a series-leading four trips to victory lane.
To say Johnson’s elimination in round one was an upset would probably be a gross understatement. Maybe that’s why, after his elimination, some of NASCAR nation cried, “Foul!” I’m not sure if this peanut gallery was full of Johnson fans or folks who hate the Chase, have always hated the Chase and are always looking for reasons to criticize the Chase. In reality, I’m guessing it’s being led by a combination of the two.
No matter what camp they’re from, the most vocal of the group is pointing to Johnson’s elimination as case in point why the Chase format is broken and needs to be fixed, or maybe even dumped completely.
Not so fast.
This is a playoff system, a tournament, if you will. With NCAA men’s basketball as the sport I follow most closely outside of motorsports, I’ll use it to make my point.
Love it or hate it, in this day and time, NASCAR needs to compete with stick-and-ball sports for its survival. Sure, IndyCar and other forms of motorsports in the US don’t have a Chase-like elimination format, but aren’t a lot of those also struggling to put butts in the seats and on the couch in front of their TVs? I think so.
Okay, back to my aforementioned NCAA basketball analogy. Regular season performance gets teams into the tournement. The same is true in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. Race wins and being one of the top guys in points if winless are what get guys into the Chase to contend for the Sprint Cup. And in both cases, those who performed the best are seeded the highest to start their Chase/tournament.
Once the regular season is over and seeds are assigned, the regular season no longer matters. If a top seed loses to a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, that top seed is out, no ifs ands or buts. That’s just how it is.
Fans of the eliminated No. 1 seed in my analogy are depressed, angry, and all other kinds of negative emotions after their team bows out, but they’re not crying that the tournament format is flawed and needs changing. Instead, they lick they’re wounds as they look ahead to next season.
So, why is it that NASCAR fans think the system is flawed when they don’t get the results they want? I guess I’ll never figure that one out.
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