Good idea or bad idea: A road course race in NASCAR’s Chase

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This weekend marks the end of the 10th year for the Chase playoff format in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. For some, it’s important since it puts NASCAR more in line with other professional sports in having a post-season. For others, it’s a gimmick that has been around for far too long.

But I believe that both sides of the argument can agree that the schedule of tracks that make up the Chase could use a scramble. For the last three seasons, the 10 Chase facilities have remained the same: Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.

Five of them are 1.5-mile ovals, and all but Talladega and Martinsville fall within that “intermediate” label of tracks between one and two miles in length. One could argue that since the majority of the Cup schedule consists of those “intermediate” tracks, the championship should largely play out on those tracks.

But with the racing product at those ovals still not all that special – even with the onset of the Generation 6 cars – it may be time to shake up the final 10-race stretch of the season. Kevin Harvick appeared to think that way on Thursday at Homestead-Miami, before Championship Weekend got rolling.

“I like the format,” he said. “[But the] things I don’t like about it are the same racetracks year after year. I think it would help our schedule, it would help some of the racetracks, help build some excitement around some different racetracks.

“I think there needs to be a road course in it. I think there definitely needs to be some things mixed up in it. I think the format is great, but I think the tracks need to change on a yearly basis.”

Harvick didn’t elaborate further on whether he thought a few or all of the Chase tracks needed to be swapped annually. That may or may not be too big a task for NASCAR to do every year.

But a road course race? “Happy” may be really on to something. Road races, along with short track events, have hosted some of the better racing in Sprint Cup over the last few years if we’re being honest.

I’m also tempted to say that a Chase road race ought to replace Talladega, which often comes down to plain old luck instead of pure driver skill – something I’d prefer to see in determining a champion. But NASCAR benefits too much from having Dega’s particular brands of danger and excitement in its playoff run.

Still, if NASCAR indeed decides to carry out big changes to its schedule in 2015, I think they’d be wise to put a road race somewhere in its post-season and add a new wrinkle.

But that’s just my opinion. I’d like to hear yours. Feel free to sound off in the comments below, just keep ’em clean.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.