NASCAR's latest Chase change shows the dilemma auto racing is in
NASCAR honcho Brian France has made no secret of his obsession with having "Game 7" moments. Every sport has to decide between emphasizing the competition and emphasizing the show, and NASCAR has mostly gone all-in with the latter. That decision resulted in the creation of the Chase in the first place, and also Green/White/Checkered finishes, and probably the questionable "debris" yellows near the end of races, something they may be transferring to the unified sports car series they own.
All of this is an attempt to get eyeballs of a younger generation that has no patience for anything. It's not their fault, it's a product of the technology that's existed and how things have been presented to them, in a frantic, immediate sense at all times. As a competition, this mentality does not favor auto racing, where races take anywhere from two to five hours and there's no guarantee whatsoever at an exciting finish. That's a lot of time for people these days, lots of without big action necessarily.
For a season as a whole, the craven need for a "Game 7" has resulted in the new Chase format, and it's based off the same problem. Sports are event driven now. This is why the NFL is so big. They've made it so every game practically is an event. NASCAR wants to emulate that, and this Chase format, which forces a winner take all format, is the only way they could guarantee it. It's an easy marketing pitch. "Come see who wins the Sprint Cup!" every season finale, without fail. The rest of it is just details to get to that point. Those details have plenty of potential flaws, but NASCAR likely doesn't give one iota about them, just that they get their Game 7 moment at Homestead this November.
Let's be frank, race fans. The racing series we love do not care about us. They have us, and they know that, and more importantly, there aren't enough of us. Thus, these changes are not for us; they're part of a chase for new viewers. It's not just NASCAR that is trying new things either. Formula One might be making their season finale worth double points this year in an attempt to keep the title race alive to that point. You can probably how that's going across the pond, but guess what, the FIA is probably going to do it anyway. What the current customers think for the most part doesn't matter, it's what potential new customers might want.
The emphasis on winning is certainly a plus, but that could've been done in a much simpler way: make winning worth a bunch more points. There's a bigger points difference between first and second in IndyCar (10) then in NASCAR (4)*, even though in NASCAR you have to beat more cars. Again, that still doesn't guarantee anything.
NASCAR though is forgetting two important things. One is that Game 7 moments aren't guaranteed in other sports either, save for the NFL. MLB, NBA, and the NHL all have the potential for winner-take-all Game 7's, but they have to be earned first. Sweeps and 5 game series wins happen all the time. By forcing it, NASCAR lends itself to yet more criticism about artificial outcomes. Will new customers like that? They haven't warmed up to the Chase yet...
The other issue is that in stick-and-ball sports, it's just one team against the other. In tomorrow's Super Bowl, the Jaguars won't be around at the same time as the Broncos and Seahawks. At Homestead though, the four drivers that can win the title have to deal with 39 other competitors. It's a variable that differentiates racing from stick-and-ball sports, and yes, it's add an element of unfairness, when a David Gilliand type could wreck in front of a title contenders and end his title hopes.
In the end, NASCAR is trying to make itself more like a stick-and-ball sport, even though racing is clearly not. I'm skeptical that it will work, but the problems NASCAR is trying to solve are very real for the entire sport, and I have to begrudgingly give them credit for trying something to alleviate them.