New Chase brings more uncertainty 
along with added drama

Photo by NASCAR via Getty Images
Kevin Harvick celebrates his most recent Sprint Cup victory at Dover International Speedway with a burnout. Harvick's win enabled the driver to advance to the next round of the Chase.

By Justin Melillo
Staff Reporter
October 10, 2015

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

CONCORD, N.C.—I know it’s not the first time it’s been said and it won’t be the last. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship is something different, uncertain, and exciting to watch.

For example, after the first round of the Chase, Jimmie Johnson will no longer be competing for a seventh championship in 2015.

Not that Johnson had a bad season—in fact, Johnson was ranked as the number one seed heading into the post-season.

With elimination style racing, one mistake or problem could change the entire playoff picture. Johnson didn’t win at Chicagoland or New Hampshire, and a broken rear axle seal at Dover cost him enough points to fall out of the top-12, and a chance at moving forward towards a championship.

“Definitely disappointed,” Johnson stated following last week’s race. “It’s tough having a very inexpensive axle seal be the culprit and take your championship hopes away.

“It’s racing, I’ve had mechanicals take me out of championships growing up that led to some success for myself and I’m sure helped me with a championship or two.  It’s just part of racing.  It just shows how critical everything is on a race team.”

Kevin Harvick went into Dover with a very slim chance of advancing. He finished 42nd at Chicagoland after being involved in a wreck after contact with Johnson, and then finished 21st at New Hampshire after running out of fuel while leading. 

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson turns laps during a practice session at Dover International Speedway. 

Harvick dominated and won at Dover, and now he’s one of the favorites to win the championship again.

All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars are still in the title hunt, but as we saw last year with Kyle Busch at Talladega, any one of them could find trouble and become eliminated.

This system requires the need to be flawless, or to win when it’s appropriate, which is unlike previous seasons and systems, where it was most points wins.

There are always those “Cinderella stories” though, of the underdog team that had virtually no chance of winning take down the power house. The one that always gets me is when the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl after the Patriots hadn’t lost a single game that season.

Ryan Newman was that possible “Cinderella story” in 2014. Once again, Newman is winless so far in 2015, along with Jeff Gordon, and they both still are alive in the Chase.

“I want to get a win, our fans want us to get a win, our team wants that win and have been working hard for that,” Gordon said Thursday afternoon in the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Center. “And if we can win a championship or find our way to Homestead, I think that would be huge, as well.”

I do think that nine times out of ten, the Chase will crown a champion that has shown strength and the ability to win. Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch come to mind, even though they may not be a clear favorite.

However, with the way they have performed in 2015 alone, it would be ludicrous to think that either Jeff Gordon or Ryan Newman has a legitimate shot at winning this year’s title. But they could if the chips fall their way, and that is the uncertainty and excitement that this Chase system brings.

I’ve heard it called “artificial excitement” before, which, in a way, is true. I feel like it’s more a bonus to what we already have. No, the racing isn’t perfect, and the package they run isn’t a fan favorite. It’s being worked on, and hopefully we will see it improve next season and beyond.

Will a winless driver advance to the Championship 4 Round like last season?
Still to early to tell