Once upon a time, NASCAR had a pre-Chase version of the Chase. Back then, it was called the "Grand Slam" or the "Winston Million." Win three of NASCAR's most prestigious races -- ones run at the "Crown Jewels" -- and take home a cool $1 million: the Daytona 500, the first Talladega race (formerly known as the "Winston 500"), the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and the Darlington (Labor Day) Southern 500.
The feat was only accomplished twice. Bill Elliott nabbed wins at all but Charlotte in the 1985 inaugural competition. Jeff Gordon scored victories in all of the majors except Talladega during the competition's final year, 1997. The "No Bull 5" replaced the Winston Million, but faltered with constantly changing races and the decreasing significance of a cash prize.
A million bucks just isn't what it used to be for today's Cup drivers. These days, you might find yourself $50K in the hole for tweeting that the potholes at Daytona or Matt Kenseth's personality are "hurting the sport."
It's time to bring back the Crown Jewels, updated for 2011. And here's how we'd do it:
Keep the Daytona 500, Darlington's (now Mother's Day) Southern 500, and the Coca-Cola 600. Add the prestigious Brickyard 400 and finally, the race that is arguably NASCAR's most popular: Bristol at night.
Winning any of the Jewels would be worth 25 bonus points (on top of the normal bonuses for winning) toward making the Chase. Win three of them and take home an extra 100 points. If a driver takes all five, it's worth 200.
As an added incentive, if a driver takes at least two of these races, they earn an automatic berth to the Chase if they are not already qualified (see: Jamie McMurray, 2010). The fans say they want more emphasis on winning. Well, here you go.
Imagine if, in any given year, going into the traditional Saturday showdown at Bristol, drivers from 13th place on back had a crack at anywhere between 25 and 200 bonus points and a Chase berth. The night could be absolute insanity.
This isn't just another fabricated tweak: this is a real reward for a difficult accomplishment, winning NASCAR's toughest, longest, and most exhilarating races.
As nice as a mouthful of brick dust is, I'll bet plenty of drivers and fans would appreciate a nod to the "old" days of the Winston Million.