Happy Hour: Who wins the Chase in a single-elimination knockout?

Jay Busbee
January 18, 2012

Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/one-liner at happyhournascar@yahoogroups.com (note new address) or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.

There's something about single-elimination, winner-take-all battles that gets everyone fired up. We talked about this last week, and I put out the challenge to see how a single-elimination Chase would have worked out. I got a ton of great responses, but the first one in came from John Lawson, who laid out NASCAR's version of Mortal Kombat in this way:

Denny Hamlin — eliminated 1st at Chicago
Ryan Newman — eliminated 2nd at New Hampshire
Tony Stewart — eliminated 3rd at Dover
Jeff Gordon — eliminated 4th at Kansas
Jimmie Johnson — eliminated 5th at Charlotte
Kurt Busch — eliminated 6th at Talledega
Matt Kenseth — eliminated 7th at Martinsville
Kyle Busch — eliminated 8th at Texas (Did not race)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. — eliminated 9th at Phoenix

That leaves Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards contending for the championship at Homestead. With the points reset to zero their final positions in the standings would have been:

1. Carl Edwards (finished 2nd in race)
2. Kevin Harvick (fishished 8th in race)
3. Brad Keselowski (finished 20th in race)

Great job, John. And here are a few of the other responses from people who took the time to follow this through:

"Fans of the eliminated drivers would have had no reason to watch the latter Chase races. Instead of having a slim chance to recover lost ground and win a championship, Gordon and Junior fans would have had no hope at all." — Mike, State College, PA

"The true hard pill to swallow in all this would have been after two wins in a row, Stewart being eliminated the very next week for a 25th-place finish. He literally was the lowest finishing Chaser in that race, with Junior and Newman finishing in the two spots ahead of him." — Greg LeJeune, Gladstone, MI

"Of course, these results may differ if drivers and teams knew that's what they were racing for." — Eric Christy, Bolingbrook, IL

"Kyle would have been in the running at Phoenix [if he had controlled himself at Texas], and without everyone saying he was an idiot, he may have been able to pull an upset championship." — Ben, Ypsilanti, MI

Well done, everyone. That was a pretty cool exercise, one that will only serve to make Carl Edwards even more upset about how the Chase turned out. I love the idea but I can see why it will never be implemented. Still, maybe someone ought to do a knockout winner with a million-dollar prize to whichever driver hangs on the longest. A million dollars can't be that hard to find in this economy, right?


I believe this schedule for the Chase would be better than the current one. If this really is the NASCAR equivalent of the playoffs, they should race on all the different types of tracks NASCAR races on. Also, instead of the last ten races being the playoffs it should be the last five and each type of track should be a part of it. A sample of the schedule could be this:

1 1/2 mile: Pick any of the cookie cutters
Mile: Dover
Short Track: Martinsville
Restrictor Plate: Talladega
Road Course: Sonoma
With this schedule, a driver will have to focus running well on all types of tracks, not just one which is the case now, i.e. cookie cutters.

— Sean
San Diego

I've never quite understood NASCAR's reluctance to put a road course into the Chase. I think it's more a matter of scheduling inertia than anything else, but still, you can't tell me there's not a huge difference between, say, Talladega and Martinsville. Not the same gap between road and oval courses, true, but still: two different skill sets.


I get so sick of hearing all the rednecks who want pack racing to return to Daytona and 'Dega. They are not interested in racing, they are simply interested in large wrecks. What is exciting about 40 cars bunched together going around a track? No one can pass, no one can do much of anything other than wreck. At least the two-car tandem shows different cars leading and passing and RACING. Sure they wreck less ... what a novel idea, race instead of wrecking. I wonder why NASCAR hasn't thought of that?

— Tim Palmer

Tim is a brave chap. I get what he's saying here, that pack racing isn't inherently superior to tandem racing, but I think the team-up aspect of tandem racing infuriates some people. There's definitely strategy involved, but when team orders and manufacturer loyalty start playing more of a role than racing skill, well, that's when it starts to break with the authenticity of racing.

Regardless, NASCAR has been busier than a middle-school chaperone trying to break up the coupling at Daytona, so we'll see soon enough if the changes end up working.


This is NASCAR, the top league. It isn't the minor leagues or some off brand of football, but the top level. Equivalent to the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL. My point is, are there teams allowed to be there to start a game and bow out? No, they get their butt kicked if they can't compete. The point being, there are no guaranteed spots, they are in the league to compete. There shouldn't be guaranteed spots in NASCAR Sprint Cup. You want to run with the elite? The top 43 on speed get to compete. If you don't or can't make the speed, pack it on a truck and go home. There are no guaranteed spots in NHRA. It is put up or pack it up. Sprint Cup should be no less.

— Martin Gore
Southgate, MI

Well, some might argue with your definition of "start a game and bow out;" sports fans can think of plenty of teams that have start-and-parked on their season (looking at you, Indianapolis Colts), but I get what you're saying. The problem, my friend, is sponsors. They don't care about the purity of racing, they care about getting a good return on their investment, and a lot more people see their logo if it's on the track on Sunday than if it's heading back up the highway on Friday afternoon.


Kurt Busch is driving for what most would call a very small organization. Having said that if he wins, does that make his case as a great driver even stronger? Back when Jimmie Johnson was dominating NASCAR, (seems so long ago) it was the argument I heard all the time: take him out of the best equipment, put him in a car that doesn't have all the breaks that Hendrick has, and let's see what he can do. Could this finally be that moment where a great driver has to drive a less than awesome race car like Johnson, Gordon, Edwards, and Hamlin drive week in and week out? Does winning where there isn't a ton of cash to put into the team make a driver great?

— Wes Rose
Pikeville, KY

This is actually a great question, because this is the truest test yet of driver-vs.-equipment in the success equation. It's also going to force people to reconsider Kurt if and when he does end up winning. (Of course, the underlying theme will be that Hendrick supplied Phoenix Racing, but whatever.) I see nothing but upside for Busch in the situation he's in now; he'll be entitled to a ton of credit if he manages a win, but he'll have no one to blame but himself if he loses.


One of four children of a father who won Michigan twice and died unexpectedly, this man is popular but faces many critics. After finishing in the top 5 numerous times early in 2008, his drive fell short. In 2012, despite solid support and popularity, even some among his most ardent supporters doubt whether he can win the Big One.

Mitt Romney or Dale Earnhardt Jr?

— Joshua

Oh, well done. So I'm guessing that would set Newt Gingrich as Tony Stewart (a trail of messy romantic travails in his wake, but might just win the damn thing), Sarah Palin as Danica Patrick (insanely popular even though a large segment of the populace wonders if she has any idea what the hell she's doing), and Barack Obama as Jimmie Johnson (he won the Big One, though oh, does it infuriate a large chunk of fandom).

And since that's as far as we're going with politics before someone torches the joint (we learned our lesson from the Michelle Obama/booing fiasco), we're out. Thanks to all our writers this week. You want in? Fire up the computer and hit us with whatever's on your mind, NASCAR-wise, at happyhournascar@yahoogroups.com. You can find Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR coverage on Facebook right here, and you can follow me on Twitter at @jaybusbee and on Facebook here.  Make sure to tell us where you're from. We'll make you famous!