Although NASCAR’s Chase is ending this weekend with the potential of what chairman Brian France called a “very, very memorable Sunday,” the sport’s officials still plan to make significant changes in the format for next season.
Although Chase changes probably won’t be revealed until January, France said Friday that he continues to seek “big-game moments” for the end of the season and that the fact that three drivers have championship possibilities this weekend won’t change that plan.
In fact, France said Sunday’s championship showdown is proof that the sort of changes the sport’s leaders have bounced around are moving NASCAR in the right direction.
“What’s really clear to me when you put drivers in the position when there’s a lot on the line and they just can’t have a good position and they actually have to win or lead laps or compete high, they do it,” France said. “I think you’re seeing that the last several weeks.
“So that tells us that the more we can do to have incentives – an incentive-basis and decide this championship that puts it all on the line more often, that’s what we need to be thinking about.
“If this isn’t the best racing we’ve seen in a long, long time, I’d be very surprised to hear anybody say it wasn’t.”
France said he remains attracted to the “winner-take-all” concept that often draws widespread attention to other sports.
“Watching someone not just have to run well but have to beat some other people – that’s feeling to us like exactly what we want,” he said. “It’s working out that way in year seven of the Chase. This could be a very, very memorable Sunday.”
France refused to be specific about the sort of changes being considered, but he has said in the past that weekly Chase eliminations and “reseeding” of drivers during the Chase might be used.
“We’re considering a lot of different things,” he said. “We really like the way things have elevated and what that means to our going out on a very strong, positive note. If there’s one thing we can do it’s to simplify how we crown our champion so it’s a little bit easier for the casual fan to understand.
“The idea is to create big moments by the best teams at the end of the year who have to put their best performances forward to win it all. If there’s a better way to do that, I’m sure we’ll consider it.
“Right now almost every sports league, almost everyone, including the NCAA Tournament last year, is looking around at what they need to do to change their formats a little or a lot, depending on who they are, to make sure that their playoffs or their championship runs are what they want them to be. And we are no different.”
With Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick all within reach of the championship Sunday, there is the possibility that the title could be decided with some aggressive racing in the closing laps. But could the racing become too aggressive? Would NASCAR step in with corrective action if a driver took out another driver with blatant action?
“Look, you know, something could happen,” France said. “That’s true. We are going to look at that. But, you know, late in the race, when you’re mixing it up, if something is blatant, obviously that will get our attention.
“But I would expect if two or three are going down to the wire – I’ve said it before, this is a contact sport. You’re going to get shoved around a little bit if somebody is trying to get by and you’re trying to win. A championship is on the line. We are not going to treat this race any differently than we would another. And, despite how much is on the line, they have got to settle it on the track.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.