NASCAR & Auto Racing

Former Observer columnist David Poole finally gets his wish for Chase

NASCAR adopted The Chase format in 2004 and Observer racing writer David Poole almost immediately argued for a major change: Winning races should count more. Then, award consistency. Now, a decade later, racing is about to do that. Here are columns written by Poole, who died of a heart attack in April 2009, advocating change:

June 8, 2004

Halfway through the regular season, or whatever NASCAR wants to call the 26-race run-up to the 10-race scrap for this year’s Nextel Cup championship, it’s not too soon to already be thinking about how to improve this new and improved system.

Certainly, there are things about the new format we haven’t figured out yet; ways smart teams are going to approach the 26-10 plan to make it work in their favor.

That, in fact, is already happening. When Jimmie Johnson won at Lowe’s Motor Speedway two weekends ago, crew chief Chad Knaus said the requirement to be only 10th or better after 26 races to be in the championship chase actually freed that team to chase race victories in situations where points considerations otherwise might have taken precedence.

Anything that makes teams think first about winning and then about points is a grand idea.

Fans didn’t sit through nearly five hours of the MBNA 400 on a gray Sunday at Dover for the points race. They came to see somebody win, like Mark Martin eventually did.

Winning a race ought to be the biggest deal it can possibly be and still make a championship race relevant.

So here’s the idea.

During the first 26 races, each driver gets a 500-point bonus for his first win of the season. If a driver wins seven races, he only gets the bonus for the first time, but everybody who wins one of those 26 races gets that bonus.

What would that do?

It would make it imperative for a driver with desires to be part of the 10-race championship chase to get a race victory. It would also reward a driver appropriately for getting a victory. Martin is now 13th and Rusty Wallace is 14th in the standings, but both have won races this year.

Six drivers ahead of them haven’t won a race yet. Shouldn’t a driver have to win something to have a right to race for the ultimate prize?

Such a bonus also could produce drama throughout racing’s summer stretch. Martin was the eighth driver to win a race this year.

Suppose we get to Richmond for the season’s 26th race and only nine guys have won. That means anybody within 500 points of 10th place in the standings could jump into the top 10 at the last minute by winning that race.

That would be like a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, a 15th-round knockout punch by a boxer hopelessly behind on the judges’ scorecards.

It’s more likely, of course, that more than 10 drivers will have at least one victory after 26 races. In that case, the bonus cancels itself out and the 10 drivers who’ve been the most consistent get into the title chase, as they would without the bonus. All the 500-point boost does, basically, is make a victory the one card you need to have in your hand to get a seat at the table for the 10-race title chase.

The bonus would then reset after 26 races. Each driver’s first win among the final 10 would again earn him a 500-point bonus, putting an even higher premium on winning in that part of the season.

Under the current system, the champion is as likely to be a driver who avoids trouble in each of the final 10 races but wins none as someone who wins three of them but also falls out three races because of crashes or mechanical issues.

The 500-point bonus would ensure the champion would have at least one victory in the final 10 races, and that’s not at all unreasonable.

Suppose we get to the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a driver is 450 points out because he hasn’t won in the previous nine races. Second place is no good to him, but if he wins the 10th race, he can still pull it out, and the best way for the other guys to keep him from doing that is to win instead.

In other words, it’d all be about winning.

The way it ought to be.

June 2005

Hey, I tried.

Last June, I gave NASCAR the answer to a problem that now looms over this season. Nobody paid it much attention, and I’m used to that. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t, and still isn’t, what needs to be done.

A Nextel Cup driver should get a 500-point bonus for his first victory each season. He’d get it only after his first win through the first 26 races. Then, things would reset, and drivers would again get 500 extra points for their first wins during the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

It’s still the right thing to do because it would make winning a race the most important thing a driver can do in trying to win a championship. What could be wrong with a system that has that as its basic principle?

Jan. 11, 2009


My problem with the Chase system is the same one I had with the old system: Winning races ought to be a bigger deal. My idea to give a 500-point bonus to a driver for his first win (not each win, just his first) during the first 26 races and then to repeat that during the Chase would mean drivers know they’d most likely need to win to make the Chase and would most definitely need one of the final 10 races to win a title. People just can’t get past that 500 number. It’s too far out there to be adopted.