When the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was envisioned, the purpose was to stage a 10 race playoff over the course of the final 10 races of the season in order to crown a season champion.
The final ten races represent the 26 tracks that lead up to the final 10; short tracks, the mile and a half’s, the one mile and the superspeedway are all represented. The only thing missing is a track representative of two of the stops on the36 race schedule; the road course. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series currently visits two road courses a season; Infineon Raceway in California and Watkins Glen in New York.
Despite their inclusion on the schedule, the road courses are the only type of track not represented in the final 10 races that determine the championship driver for the season. While the discussion concerning the lack of road courses has been ongoing since the Chase was first announced, the talk of a road course included in the final 10 races is louder than ever before.
“I’ve always said in order to make the championship more fully complete and find that true best team and driver, the only thing we’re missing in the Chase right now is a road course,” four time champion Jeff Gordon said. . “I feel like the Chase has about everything right now — from short tracks to superspeedways to intermediates. So I think it’s pretty complete right now.
“But if you wanted to just look at one little thing that is missing, it would be a road course,” he added. “And as exciting as road courses have been here lately with these double-file restarts, I think the fans would be for it as well — whereas in the past, you didn’t have that kind of action and people would say road courses aren’t as traditional as ovals in our sport, so why have one in the Chase? But I could see one in there.”
It has to be noted however that Gordon is NASCAR’s current road course king having won at Watkins Glen four times and at Infineon five times.
For drivers who have never won a Sprint Cup race at a road course, having a road course in the Chase doesn’t make sense.
“There are only two road courses throughout the year, and that’s less than 10 percent of what we do, so I don’t think it does,” 2003 champion Matt Kenseth said. “If you asked somebody what they think about NASCAR racing, I don’t think road courses would be near the top of their list. I don’t think that’s really what we do every week. It’s kind of a novelty and it’s fun to come and do because it’s something different and changes the pace up, but I don’t think it really needs to be in the Chase. But that’s just my opinion.”
Five time and reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson not only thinks there should be a road course in the Chase, but he knows exactly where it should be held.
“I think having more road course races would be great for our series,” Johnson said. “I personally think that heading north into Canada would be the place to do it. There are a couple of facilities that we could put on an awesome show at with a new fan base, new sponsors potentially, a whole new thing for our series and it wouldn’t be too far to tow up there.
“I’m for it. I don’t know if it will ever happen,” he added.”There’s obviously a lot of big contracts that exist between the tracks and NASCAR — and how that all plays out. But I think it would be awesome to have it.”
The fans seemed almost as divided the drivers on the subject of a road course in the Chase. Some argue that without it the champion crowned at the end of the Chase hasn’t demonstrated their skills on every type of track NASCAR races at, while others point out, like Kenseth did, that with only two road courses on a 36 race schedule their impact is minimal.
Don’t look to NASCAR for a definitive answer. This past weekend NASCAR president Mike Helton seemed to indicate that while there are no changes to the final 10 races for the foreseeable future, the door isn’t necessarily shut to the possibility.
“I’ve learned over time to never not imagine the possibilities of something,” said Helton. “But as we sit here today, we still maintain the thought process when we introduced the Chase that we were not going to shuffle tracks around to adapt to the Chase; that the Chase was the last 10 races. Now, however that may work out in the future, if someone comes to us and asks to change stuff around, we would consider it. But there is nothing on the table today.
“We wouldn’t stack tracks up in the Chase for benefit of the Chase. The Chase is the last 10 races of the season. But as the evolution of changes go on, who knows what could end up the last 10 races?”
The debate over the inclusion of a road course in the final 10 races making up the Chase will no doubt continue for years. While the point that road courses make up only a small part of NASCAR’s schedule is valid, many feel that without a road course factoring into NASCAR’s Chase in some form the driver winning the championship at the end of the season may not be the absolute best driver NASCAR has to offer.
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