If NASCAR wants feedback on how its new Chase format went this year, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage would be glad to give it.
And his message would be simple:
“Don’t change a thing,” Gossage said. “I don’t know how you could ask for anything better.”
Gossage praised the excitement and drama the new Chase format created down the stretch. Racing, for the first time, had a true postseason feel to it.
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The knockout-type format NASCAR implemented rewarded wins just as much as consistency. And it all culminated with four drivers — Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano — going all-out for the championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
All four of the drivers had their moments and were driving near the front of the pack for most of the day, but Harvick ultimately emerged victorious. A championship was the only thing missing from Harvick’s résumé and cemented his spot as one of the sport’s top drivers.
More importantly, though, it capped a memorable Chase that saw TV viewership increase as it reached its climax.
“The purpose of this Chase format was to create ‘Game 7 moments’ and that’s exactly what happened,” Gossage said. “Sunday was a bottom of the ninth grand slam. It was that dramatic.”
The entire Chase had its moments.
We saw a driver — Brad Keselowski — need a win to advance and get it in impressive fashion at Talladega. We saw a driver — Kyle Busch — feel he’d built a big enough points cushion only to be eliminated at the end. We saw a driver — Newman — advance to the championship round without a win, and other drivers — Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson — eliminated with multiple wins.
The storylines didn’t stop there, of course. Nobody will forget Keselowski drawing the ire of his fellow drivers, leading to post-race dust-ups at Charlotte and Texas.
“That’s what you want out of your playoffs,” Gossage said. “Those emotional, tough, gritty performances and storylines. So it was great.”
But there is always room for improvement, right?
One suggestion has been to alternate the races in each “round.” For instance, the “Eliminator Round” consists of Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. The three races went in that order, but it might be mutually beneficial for NASCAR to rotate those races each year.
Therefore, fans in those regions will see the difference between having the opening race of a round compared to the finale.
But Gossage downplayed that idea because NASCAR does not typically change its schedule. After all, NASCAR refused to move TMS’ race last April that coincided with the Final Four in town.
Another area that could be addressed is whether a driver such as Newman should reach the championship round without a win. The new format was designed to reward race winners with automatic berths into the following rounds, but also maintained a way for drivers to advance based on points.
“A point of controversy is Ryan Newman, but wild cards in various sports can go on to win championships,” Gossage said. “We all love Cinderella stories that make deep runs in tournaments because they’re not supposed to make it that far. That’s the same thing here in NASCAR.
“Again, I just hope they don’t change a thing. Why would you mess with a wild, runaway success?”