Hate the Game.
It rings as true for the Hellman’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway as it ever has.
The second elimination race wasn’t entirely uneventful. Truex blew up early. Keselowski led most of the race before also blowing up at Lap 148. Logano took a floor jack around the track at 150 mph. Bowman spun the 88 car and brought out a caution with four laps to go. Dillon and Hamlin were tied in points following the race, eliminating Dillon from the Chase by way of race finish. Harvick punched teammate Kurt Busch in the helmet after minor contact on the track. Logano found his way to Victory Lane with another impressive burnout.
Secured for the next round are: Johnson, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Edwards, Kenseth, and Kyle Busch, and Logano.
Despite the [relative] excitement surrounding the Hellman’s 500, fans were mostly left feeling unsatisfied... surprisingly, via Joe Gibbs Racing.
With sustainable Chase points, Edwards, Kenseth, and Kyle Busch hung back in the pack and intentionally posed no competitive threat to save their equipment for when it would actually make the difference in winning a championship.
In the days following the race, JGR received immense backlash from fans and media personalities for their lack of performance in the race.
But can you really blame them?
They had enough of a cushion to sacrifice a strong finish and keep their equipment safe. Winning the race wasn’t as important as salvaging valuable equipment because these particular drivers are already neck-deep in championship country. Any competitive racer in the same position would agree that a Sprint Cup title trumps a Hellman’s 500 trophy.
The problem here doesn’t lie with the drivers or teams. The problem is the format.
The Chase was supposed to be a solution to the problem: you win, you advance. However, due to the give-or-take 43 cars on the track, added to the fact that only three drivers can win in each Chase round… there’s a lot of room to advance by points without a win. And as we’ve seen, one driver can potentially win two or three consecutive races within a round while the unexpected may leave other top drivers with flat tires or blown engines, leaving all other advancing drivers to do so by points alone.
So, in practice, the Chase has already failed itself. Instead of creating a “win and advance” playoff-style atmosphere, the opportunity to run away with a championship by points alone has only strengthened.
Whether or not the recently crucified JGR team agrees with the rules (which they should, considering their success), they are doing what any sports team within any organization has to do to survive: adapt.
However, explaining the logic behind JGR’s strategy hardly satiates the underwhelmed race fans.
NASCAR fans are like fans of any other sport: they want (and pay) to see competition at the highest level. They want to see athletes pour their lives into this. They want to see them battle their guts out.
At this point, it seems virtually undeniable that NASCAR needs to spend the 2016-2017 off season back at the drawing board. Although Talladega has already been removed as an elimination race next year, we won't likely see many heavy changes for the 2017 season. The time is now to look to the most important critics (the fans), and find out what it will take to bring excitement back to 2018.
Should the Chase format be amended, or done away with entirely? If you think you have the answers, share your thoughts in the comments.