So what did the much-heralded wild card produce?
Nada. Nothing. Zilch.
All the talk about win and you get into the Chase, and well, it turns out the top 12 got in anyway. And that wild-card berth Brad Keselowski scored? Yeah, it actually hurt him.
Under the old system, Keselowski would have received bonus points for each of his three victories. Via the wild-card system, he doesn't. So instead of going in tied for third, he'll start dead last, 12 points back of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
(How ironic that in its effort to reward winning more, NASCAR wound up penalizing the third-winningest driver of the season.)
Did the wild card provide some drama the last few weeks and during Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond? Sure. For much of the night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be in trouble, having bashed in his grill early in the Wonderful Pistachios 400. Had Junior dropped out of the top 10 in the standings, he would have been out of the Chase and, as it turned out, David Ragan would have been in.
But would that result have been right? Does a driver who is 19th in the standings deserve to be in the playoff instead of a guy who outraces him by some 100 points during the regular season? I don't think so, not that Junior is a threat to win a title.
What the results after 26 races show is that the points take care of themselves. They usually do. NASCAR doesn't need a gimmick in the form of some contrived points system to get the right guys into its postseason. If you win enough races, you'll get in. Not always, but most of the time.
The major flaw in the Chase still remains. The driver who finishes the regular season No. 1 still isn't guaranteed the No. 1 seed. Kyle Busch finished No. 1 in points, but will start the Chase in a first-place tie with Kevin Harvick based on their four wins apiece.
I get that NASCAR is trying to reward winning more, and it can do that by simply offering a larger points difference between winning and finishing second. Do that, seed the Chase according to where each driver stands at the end of 26 races and NASCAR still would promote winning while at the same time reward consistency.
The current system is worse than a high school biology curve where a 70 earns you a B-plus and a 95 an A. The two months Harvick took off during the summer were rewarded with a jump from sixth to first, while the hard work Jimmie Johnson put in got him demoted – from second back to fifth.
Don't expect NASCAR to make a change, at least not next season. They've tweaked the format three times in eight years. Another change would further discredit what some fans already view as a farce of a system.
But to get it right, NASCAR needs to suck it up, admit where it was wrong and fix it. Give more of a bonus for winning races, dump the wild card and seed the Chase per the standings at the end of the regular season.
It won't make a huge difference; the cream will rise to the top. But it will get rid of the gimmickry that delegitimizes the Chase.
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