NASCAR’s regular season champ should be rewarded

Photo by Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

By Tyler Head
Staff Reporter
June 5, 2016

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Over the past couple of weeks, calls for the regular season champion of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series to be rewarded for their effort over the first 26 races of the season’s campaign seem to have grown louder and more frequent. And why not? While a good number of fans like the current Chase format, there are plenty more who will tell you they long for the days, now 13 years past, when the results of all 36 races were tallied to crown the season’s champion.

Those days are now gone for a number of reasons that this article doesn’t intend to dwell on, but now many fans are clamoring for consistency over the first 26 races to receive some reward once NASCAR’s version of the playoffs begin.

The suggestion that has been tossed out most frequently is to give the regular season championship a “bye” into the final round at Homestead, leaving the other 15 drivers to fight for three spots to compete for the championship in the season finale. The people advocating for this often say it would make each of the 26 races that leads up to the Chase important again. They argue those races have less value because the field gets reset after the checkered flies in Richmond.

Jeff Gordon stands on pit road prior to the start of the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in November of 2015. Gordon was the regular season champion in 2014.
Photo by Brian DeGruchy/The Racing Experts

The problem with this suggestion, in this writer’s eyes at least, is that it creates a new problem in the process. Sure, the battle to be the points leader after 26 races would carry a lot more weight and significance if it punched that driver’s ticket to Homestead, but one of the complaints lobbied so often by fans right now is if a driver wins early in the season, they in theory don’t have to worry about any of the races between their win and when the Chase starts at Chicagoland. Therein lies the problem with giving the regular season champ a bye to Homestead: for the next nine races, there is in theory nothing for that driver to gain over the next nine races, other than the glory of winning. A smart team would take that gift and use it as a nine-race opportunity to test new things in the race, if they don’t work it’s no big deal since you’re locked in to Homestead anyways. It’s the same problem, just deferred until later in the season That said, I buy in to the argument that the regular season champion should be rewarded when the Chase starts, because as it stands now a driver could lead the points after Richmond without having earned a win, and as a result find themselves with no bonus points when the Chase starts. So what, then, is the solution? I submit that the regular season champion should earn a large sum of bonus points at the beginning of each round of the Chase, as outlined below:

  • Round of 16: Regular season champ starts with 20 bonus points.

  • Round of 12: Regular season champ starts with 15 bonus points.

  • Round of  8: Regular season champ starts with 10 bonus points.

  • Round of 4: No bonus points for any driver.

This provides a significant advantage for the regular season champ – not only do they receive a big bonus in the first round like the winners of multiple races do, but they also receive bonus points in the following rounds that give them a leg up on the competition. However, the still need to perform to a fairly high level to make their way into each subsequent round.

Kevin Harvick practices for the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2015. Harvick was the 2015 regular season champion.
Photo by Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts

And to be clear, these bonus points would be in addition to any bonus points awarded for the start of round one based on wins in the first 26 races. That means the regular season champ would receive 20 points for round one, plus three points for each of his or her wins just like the other 15 drivers in the Chase field. This system would offer the best of both worlds.

Being consistent in the first 26 races of the season brings a big reward that puts the regular season champion much closer than the other 15 drivers in the Chase field to Homestead, but not so close that the regular season champ doesn’t have to fight for every position over the first nine races of the Chase. While we’re at it, I think there’s another tweak that should be made to the Chase. As it stands now, if a driver wins the opening race of a Chase round they automatically advance to the next round, and in the context of the championship battle have nothing to gain from doing well in or even winning the other two races in that round, a caveat that has earned some grumbling from fans in the last couple of years. To address this, I would grant the driver who earns the most points in a Chase round five bonus points towards the next round. So the winner of Round 1 starts Round 2 with five bonus points, and the winner of Round 2 gets the same for Round 3. But Round 4 is the championship round at Homestead, so we can’t reasonably give the winner of Round 3 five bonus points for the next round – it makes everything much too convoluted for the season finale. So, what do we give the winner of Round 3? First choice of pit stall at Homestead.

This might seem like a small reward, but every race we see how valuable that first pit stall at the end of pit road can be as far as gaining valuable positions in the pits goes. When everything is on the line in just one race, any little advantage is big. While these adjustments won’t bring back the glory days some fans clamor for, when a driver could clinch the championship before all the races had even been run, I believe it these changes would address the concerns fans have about every race being important.

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