Ryan: ‘Erase the Chase’ is an idea whose time had come

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CHARLOTTE – It was time to erase the Chase.

No, Monday’s announcement by NASCAR didn’t eradicate the 10-race stretch that has determined the champion of its premier series for the past 13 seasons. The structure remains largely untouched aside from a new wrinkle that carries over points from the regular season to ensure less arbitrary title outcomes.

But Monday did mark the death knell of what had become the primary pejorative in a NASCAR vernacular littered with unwieldy and unappealing terminology.

They are seemingly innocuous words that stoke the most hateful, negative and ugly reactions from passionate fans who claim precious ownership of racing like no other sport.

The Car of Tomorrow.

The top-35 rule.

The Chase.

Each of these terms, however well-intended, became the third rail for hyperbolic fan outrage on satellite radio and social media

And each of them now has disappeared into NASCAR’s dictionary dustbin of history.

The Car of Tomorrow was reconfigured and then renamed as the clever “Gen 6” car.

The top-35 rule essentially was erased and then replaced by the more benign charter system.

And now …

“I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said with a sly smile, “this is a great day for them.”

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Slapping a new title on a championship structure that has been maligned during its 13-year existent won’t be a cure-all for those who never have been fans of the format.

This admittedly is a PR and marketing exercise. It will have no impact on competition or the opinions of those who already believe the Latford points system of 1975-2003 shouldn’t have been abandoned.

There are Jeff Gordon fans who remain steadfast in their opposition to the Chase because they believe it cheated their hero out of multiple championships.

And there are others who actually will lament the disappearance of “Chase,” because they believe the term helped differentiate NASCAR.

But in an image-conscious sport desperate for corporate sponsorship, the switch to “playoffs” still matters even without an iota of on-track impact.

This isn’t a rebranding a la the Gen 6.

It’s about appropriating an existing sports term that carries major-league cachet.

The mere utterance of “Chase” became a dismissive rallying cry for many who hissed its name while railing about the system.

It’s harder to sound so disparaging when complaining about the “playoffs” (unless you’re Jim Mora). In fact, it sounds silly.

“Playoffs” are synonymous with indelible moments and must-see drama.

They connote an appealing sports conceit with an elegance and simplicity that always eluded “Chase”.

“When they’re talking about sports, people understand playoffs,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “We introduced a new word, i.e. the Chase, and we liked it at first, but when you really talk about it, when (Hendrick Motorsports president) Marshall Carlson is out talking to a sponsor, well, it’s ‘What’s the Chase?’  Well, it’s our playoffs.  And people immediately get that and they understand that.

“This is a big sport built on sponsorship for sponsors to understand, for fans to understand, and it’s a common word that most sports fans know.”

Some of us have been lobbying for ditching the Chase since NASCAR most recently overhauled it three years ago (and ratcheted up the action, intensity and pressure as a result).

But there always had been resistance to calling the Chase a playoff, despite how natural it seemed.

NASCAR heavily messaged the January 2004 news conference that introduced the Chase for the Championship. Reporters repeatedly were told by officials that “this is not a playoff” because “all of our events will continue to be Super Bowl-type races with 43 drivers competing.”

No one wanted to hurt the feelings of longtime fans asked to absorb a sea change that was antithetical to some core principles that were preached as gospel for decades.

There was major pushback on anyone who intimated that the Chase created two distinct seasons. When the Chase was introduced, NASCAR tirelessly emphasized there were no knockout rounds or points resets or anything analogous to how other pro sports handled their playoffs.

But things have changed. All that stuff has been happening in NASCAR since 2014.

There are eliminations. There are points resets (and still are with a few caveats). There is segmentation from the regular season.

It’s a playoff in every sense of the word – which is why the word changed.

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

NASCAR America: Comparing severity of Harvick, Keselowski and Allmendinger penalties

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NASCAR handed out two crew chief suspensions in the Cup this week following the race weekend in Phoenix while another was upheld on appeal.

Brad Keselowski‘s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was suspended three races and the team was docked 35 driver and owners points for failing weights and measurements in post-race inspection.

Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, was suspended one race and the team docked 10 driver and owner points for an unapproved track bar slider assembly.

The penalties for AJ Allmendinger‘s team, including the suspension of crew chief Randall Burnett, was upheld after an appeal.

The NASCAR America crew debates which team is hurt the most by their penalties.

 

Mario Andretti tries out, approves of Charlotte Motor Speedway road course

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We now have two positive reviews of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Following AJ Allmendinger‘s comments back in January, IndyCar legend Mario Andretti has shared his thoughts on the 2.4-mile circuit that will likely host a NASCAR Cup race in fall 2018.

As a guest of the track and the NASCAR Racing Experience, the 77-year-old driver piloted two cars – a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid and a 2017 Cadillac CTS-V. Andretti maxed out at 177 mph in the Porsche.

“It’s very difficult sometimes to really create a road course where you can ‘stretch your legs’ inside an oval,” Andretti said in a press release. “From that standpoint, I think they did a good job by giving it rhythm by putting some banking to the hairpin corners – which obviously invites some overtaking. It’s wide enough that you can choose a line. You’re not really trapped. … It’s got a multiple-line (groove) that you can choose from, depending on the capability of the car.”

The “roval” circuit would use most of the 1.5-mile oval NASCAR already competes on.

Allmendinger took part in a data test on the road course in mid-January and later said it “was a lot of fun.”

Earlier this month, Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith said the track “learned a lot” from the test.

“We have done a lot to engineer a world-class road course that would include the ‘roval,'” Smith told NBC Sports, adding that “several truckloads of crash walls and catchfence” were being transported in for installation.

The Cup Series has two road courses on it schedule, at Sonoma Raceway in California and Watkins Glen International in New York.

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Drivers unhurt in crash of Furniture Row Racing hauler near Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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The drivers of the Furniture Row Racing hauler carrying Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota were uninjured Thursday in a hit-and-run accident 15 miles north of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Travis Watts, who was behind the wheel, and David Shano were traveling from Phoenix Raceway to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, when their tractor-trailer rig was struck shortly after midnight on Interstate 15, according to a team release. The team said a car carrying two occupants pulled off the shoulder and back onto the highway directly in front of the truck, causing front-end damage to the tractor.

The team said there was no damage to the trailer or its interior, which was carrying Jones’ cars.

“We’re all very relieved no one was injured in the incident,” team president Joe Garone said. “There was substantial damage to the tractor, but everything in the trailer was checked out thoroughly and is OK. We’ve rented a tractor and the No. 77 hauler is on schedule to arrive at Auto Club Speedway later (Thursday).”

The team rented a replacement tractor at a Rush Truck Centers in North Las Vegas.

According to the team, the Nevada Highway Patrol apprehended and arrested the occupants of the car. The team is working to supply police with a video dash cam from the No. 77 tractor.

NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET: Auto Club Speedway preview, iRacing simulator

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and previews this weekend’s action at Auto Club Speedway.

Krista Voda hosts with Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut. Dale Jarrett joins them from Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show:

  • My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows continues as we visit Central Arizona Speedway in Casa Grande. We’ll also discuss some fun facts about the Grand Canyon State.
  • 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick has been on a roller coaster ride through four races this season. Now, he heads home to California where he looks to grab his first win of the season. We’ll take a trip to Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield and examine his Racing Roots.
  • Kligerman jumps in the simulator to see what challenges the drivers will face this weekend in Fontana.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.