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Will new Chase format succeed?


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Today’s racing pop quiz: What is the name of the final event on the NASCAR schedule?

Hint, the race is in Homestead, Fla.

You don’t know? Join the club. By the way, it’s the Ford EcoBoost 400.

Question two: What is the name of the first event on the NASCAR schedule. Hint, the race is held in Daytona, Fla.

Oh, the Daytona 500. Everybody knows that.

And gentleman and ladies, that is what has caused NASCAR to start its engines when it comes to change.

How do you make the finale as big as opening day?

I have criticized NASCAR in the past for coming up with a championship formula that requires three analysts and a slide rule to explain.

It’s obvious that I wasn’t the only unhappy camper. Give NASCAR executives free oil changes for a year, they are listening.

Although they made the entire Chase process somewhat more complicated in a math sense, they made it much easier for the fans in the final race of the season.

Four drivers will be eligible to win the championship when they line up for the — yes, that one — Ford EcoBoost 400. Math be darned, the one who finishes farther up the leaderboard is the season champion.

Now that’s something I can understand.

No more, this guy wins the title if he finishes 12th or better and that guy places fourth or lower. Pretty simple stuff now, at least on the final day. Place in front of the other three guys or bust.

The whole process does seem more complicated, but I don’t mind because I won’t pay any attention until they let me know the names of the final four.

The gist is that the first 26 races of the year set up qualifying for the Chase, and winning one of those races will carry more weight than ever before. Undoubtedly, fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. will take note. Earnhardt made the 2013 Chase without winning a race. The new system will make that harder to accomplish.

Once the 10-race Chase series begins, three rounds of three races will get us to Homestead and the final four. Each round eliminates four drivers (the Chase field has expanded to 16 overall this season).

If you are a Jimmy Johnson die-hard, don’t worry. Johnson always has been a winner, and the new format shouldn’t hinder him. Las Vegas has made him the prohibitive favorite to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. with his seventh championship.

Is the new system perfect? No. But at least they are trying.

I do understand that auto racing has a very tough problem to figure out. Fans don’t necessarily want to pay admission to see a race with four cars. That means that you need to have a bunch of cars on the track that are just in the way when it comes to the final day.

So you still have that double winner deal, where one guy wins a race and another wins the series championship, and perhaps when the stars align, it will be one and the same.

It’s just all kind of strange.

If NASCAR wants to get away from strange, I would suggest that it even consider another drastic step and follow the example of the PGA. Go to a wraparound season that starts in one year and ends in the next.

Make the Daytona 500 the final event of the year.

Too weird you say? The NFL season started in 2013 and ended in 2014. So did the NHL and NBA seasons.

Why not NASCAR?

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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