Black Flag: NASCAR Chase Moves Past Challenger Round

DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 28:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, lead the field to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Photo courtesy of NASCAR

When NASCAR first announced the all-new, 16-driver, four-stage chase format it was met with a mixture of haughty derision, excitement and cautious scepticism. This writer was in the “excitement” camp – it’s a format that rewards winning, and closely mimics the finals formats of major stick and ball sports. In a sport with 43 drivers and a rich history of promoting winning above all else the Chase in this format makes sense.

After this weekend’s race at the Monster Mile in Dover more and more people are getting behind the chase.

In a nutshell, this system allowed the 16 drivers who either had a win, or were in the top 16 in points, to enter the Chase for the Sprint Cup. After each round of three races, four would be cut. Now the Challenger round is complete, we’re in the Contender round after which only eight will remain. After the three races of the Eliminator Round the final four drivers will race off in the season finale at Homestead in Miami – the driver who finishes highest in the 43-car field for that race will claim the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

This Sunday’s race at Dover showed that the format has injected genuine excitement into the final races of the season. With elimination looming, there were only 10 positions on track between the drivers from 11th to 14th in the Chase. That meant that four drivers were in with a shot to fill the final two places in the next round – and ultimately it was Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger who lost out.

Scraping his way in was Kasey Kahne, who was three laps down at one point in the Dover race but managed to claw back onto the lead lap and keep his title hopes alive. Jeff Gordon won the race, guaranteeing his path through to the next round. Other drivers still in the hunt are Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Ryan Newman.

The Chase added intrigue and excitement to an otherwise bland affair, with plenty of close racing but none of the fireworks the Monster Mile’s reputation would imply.

I’m not advocating a Chase format like this for other motorsport, mind you. The points system in MotoGP, Formula 1, V8 Supercars and IndyCar is appropriate for those – though F1’s gimmicky double-point finale can bugger right off. In NASCAR though, a revolutionary system that ties neatly into that category’s “win at all costs” ethos and is accessible to mainstream fans more familiar with stick and ball sport finals series is downright perfect.

MotoGP

MotoGP raced this weekend at Aragon, and Marc Marquez failed to claim a record-breaking 12th win of the season after late-race rain triggered havoc. Valentino Rossi fell on lap six, long before the rain, and suffered a concussion but is otherwise okay. That left Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo in a scintillating battle for the lead. The trio swapped positions corner after corner, lap after lap until the rain began to fall. Lorenzo dropped back quickly and was the first of the leaders to pit for his rain bike. When Pedrosa crashed a lap later, it looked like Marquez would have time to pit and maintain the lead, but incredibly the reigning champ stayed out. That decision fell on the wrong side of the line between brave and stupid, and Marquez crashed just two corners past pit entry.

Both Pedrosa and Marquez re-joined, but Lorenzo cruised to an eventual victory over Aleix Espargaro and outgoing Ducati rider Cal Cruthlow. Espargaro’s second was the first ever podium for an Open Class bike and his best-ever MotoGP finish.

Green Flag

This week’s Green Flag is awarded to the 2014 inductees of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. Toronto Star Wheels Editor Norris McDonald was the first ever journalist to be inducted, and he was joined by Canada’s first and most-successful female racer, Diana Carter, car builder John Magill, former Le Mans winner Scott Maxwell, IndyCar legend Paul Tracy and former Formula 1 and IndyCar world champion Nigel Mansell. All six gave entertaining and gracious speeches during a ceremony in downtown Toronto on Saturday night. Congratulations to all of them.

Black Flag

On a week that saw Marc Marquez make a catastrophic error of judgement it would be easy to award him the Black Flag – but it’s hard to chastise someone for going for a win. Especially when he still leads the championship by 75 points with only 100 more on offer.

Everybody else was on their best behaviour apparently, and so this week’s Black Flag goes to TSN. The women-as-ornaments thing is a frustrating and antiquated but ubiquitous and therefore tolerated part of motorsport. I’m used to having that conversation with my daughter. What I’m not used to is ads with women effectively wearing lingerie bashing each other up in a ring. Well, pretending too. The wrestling diva’s ad was not appropriate for daytime Sunday. I got used to turning off the TV on ad breaks, but I’m angry that I have to protect my daughter from violence and sexual exploitation while we’re trying to enjoy a car race. Poor form TSN.

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Jacob Black

Jacob Black

Jacob is a writer and a journalist who enjoys cars, driving and jokes. Sometimes he writes a series of jokes and loosely connects them to a car he was driving. Jacob Black is not a werewolf.