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Is NASCAR's Chase for the Cup a Gimmick? Maybe, but If so It's a Great Gimmick that Has Made the Sport More Exciting

Without the Chase, We Would See More Runaway Champions like We Have in the Past, and Fans Don't Want That

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COMMENTARY | They're out there.

I'm not sure why, but they do exist.

Who am I talking about? Detractors of the Chase for NASCAR's Sprint Cup title, the new road to the championship that was introduced in 2004 and this year will see its tenth go-around.

There are a couple things that anti-Chase advocates throw out on a regular basis in their complaints -- first, that's it's just a gimmick, and second that it rewards streaky drivers and not necessarily the best overall driver that year.

Those might seem to be valid remarks at a glance, but when examined they are full of more holes that Swiss cheese.

Gimmick?

One ridiculous argument I often hear about the Chase is that it's just a gimmick.

Well, if it is, call me a gimmick lover, because it certainly has worked in making the sport more exciting.

Prior to the Chase, we would see extremely boring battles for the championship on a regular basis. I remember when Jeff Gordon was so dominant back in 1998, he clinched the title prior to the final race at Atlanta even being run. In 2003, Matt Kenseth only won a single race, but still dominated in points and took the Cup. And way back in the day Richard Petty would win his titles with simply ridiculous point margins over the second-place driver in the standings.

Then in 2004, the Chase came and introduced the era of playoffs to NASCAR's Cup series.

It delivered the first year out of the gate, with a thriller of a finale at Homestead that led to Kurt Busch just barely winning the Cup (if his wheel had fallen off a little further up the track and he hadn't reached pit road, he wouldn't have won the title).

Sure, we have seen five straight Jimmie Johnson titles during the Chase, but there were some intense title battles among those five years, including the year Denny Hamlin had the title won and essentially gave it away to Jimmie at Homestead.

In 2011, the ultimate Chase battle was held, with a rejuvenated Tony Stewart awakening from his season-long slumber to dominate with five Chase wins and literally tie Carl Edwards for the points lead. Since Tony had more wins, he got the crown. That ranks right up with the Kulwicki-Elliott title battle in 1992 as the greatest finale ever.

So if it is a gimmick, it's a great one. It's a gimmick that rewards winning by giving drivers bonus points. It's a gimmick that creates exciting title battles where there probably wouldn't have been.

And I'll all for that kind of gimmick.

Playoff needed

The other complaint that people throw out about the Chase is that it's not fair because it doesn't necessarily honor a champion who is the best all season.

This argument is very silly, as it's essentially arguing that NASCAR shouldn't have a playoff.

Take that logic to other sports and see how it applies. Should the NFL not hold playoffs or a Super Bowl, and instead just honor the team with the best regular season record?

Should the MLB playoffs and World Series be cancelled?

What about the NBA Playoffs -- just give the trophy to the team with the most wins, right?

Wrong.

Playoff battles are among the most interesting aspects of the sports universe. Even now in NASCAR, the excitement is about to ramp up this summer as drivers fight harder than ever to stay in the top 10 and keep a Chase berth. Drivers in positions 11 through 20, and even those just below that level, are working every lap to do whatever they can to get a win and qualify themselves for the Chase via a Wild Card position.

And every week that we move closer to the Chase, the more heated the battle gets. It adds a whole new aspect to the sport for fans who are tracking their driver's progress. (And fans of Martin Truex Jr. are no doubt quite thrilled to see him get a win at Sonoma and break into that top 10). On the opposite side of things, Brad Keselowski's are watching him teeter in 9th on the verge of falling out of the Chase, and are no doubt a little nervous.

No better alternative

Still, there are plenty of folks who say that the Chase is a bad thing and one of the worst ideas ever to come to NASCAR. To them, I pose a simple question: What would you prefer?

Do you not want a playoff system at all? Should NASCAR just add up the points all year and crown the champ? We've seen how that works in the past and it's nothing we want to return to.

There's no need to get mad because a driver gets hot during the Chase and takes the crown.

The L.A. Kings won the Stanley Cup and they came in as an 8-seed when the NHL playoffs began. How great would it be for a Wild Card entry in the Chase to go ahead and take the Cup?

To all you common-sense thinkers out there who appreciate the Chase, rest assured, the Chase isn't going anywhere. It's possible they'll tweak some rules here and there, but the basic concept isn't going anywhere, nor should it.

There may be fewer fans in NASCAR stands in recent years, but if the Chase had never been introduced I bet those numbers would be even lower today.

And whether you like it or not, there's no arguing the fact that the Chase has made NASCAR competition more exciting over the past decade.

Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

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