As legendary Formula One commentator Murray Walker once said of that sport, “IF is a very long word in Formula One; in fact, IF is F1 spelled backwards.”
There’s no way to get “if” out of NASCAR, but sometimes it never hurts to present “what-if” scenarios for the sake of argument or discussion.
And given some of the fan angst over who’s in this year’s final four in the new-for-2014 Chase format, it would be interesting to at least present a what-if scenario if NASCAR was using a different set of rules and regulations for the Chase from the past compared to what has been introduced for 2014.
Via Jayski, one of the best aggregators of NASCAR content, the site has produced two unofficial points standings that could have produced two wildly different title scenarios.
The first is the unofficial Chase points using 2013 Chase rules. As you’ll see below, two of the final four are the same as this year’s, but the points gaps are much larger:
Unofficial Chase Standings using 2013 Sprint Cup Chase rules:
[after Phoenix, race 35 of 36]
1) #22-Joey Logano [5 wins] 2368
2) #4-Kevin Harvick [4 wins] 2342, -29
3) #2-Brad Keselowski [6 wins], 2320, -48
4) #24-Jeff Gordon [4 wins] 2312, -56
5) #31-Ryan Newman, 2311, -57
6) #20-Matt Kenseth, 2296, -72
7) #99-Carl Edwards [2 wins] 2278, -90
8) #18-Kyle Busch [1 win] 2277, -91
9) #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. [4 wins], 2271, -97
10) #16-Greg Biffle [1 win], 2244, -124
11) #48-Jimmie Johnson [4 wins], 2239, -129
12) #5-Kasey Kahne [1 win], 2199, -169
In that case, Logano would only need to finish 29th or better to clinch the championship on Sunday. If Harvick won, he’d get 43 points and if Logano was 30th, he’d get 14 points. Excluding bonus points, that would go to a tie – since both would have five wins, it would then go to the next tiebreaker, the number of runner-up finishes. Harvick has six runners-up while Logano has had zero, so Harvick would win the title.
The next scenario if there was no Chase at all, but the current points system in place. And that produces this:
Unofficial Top 25 in 2014 Sprint Cup Driver Points Standings (not the Chase):
[after Phoenix, race 35 of 36]
(using current points system, but not the Chase rules, unofficial)
1) #24-Jeff Gordon(EC), 1217
2) #22-Joey Logano(C2), 1188, -29
3) #88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.(EC), 1145, -72
4) #2-Brad Keselowski(EC), 1138, -79
5) #4-Kevin Harvick(C4), 1124, -93
6) #20-Matt Kenseth(EC), 1093, -124
7) #31-Ryan Newman(C3), 1093, -124
8) #99-Carl Edwards(EC), 1050, -167
9) #42-Kyle Larson, 1049, -168
10) #48-Jimmie Johnson(EC), 1032, -185
11) #16-Greg Biffle(EC), 997, -220
12) #1-Jamie McMurray, 975, -242
13) #18-Kyle Busch(EC), 964, -253
14) #11-Denny Hamlin(C1), 949, -268 (missed a race)
15) #15-Clint Bowyer, 943, -274
Gordon, who would then lead, would then be in a near identical clinch situation as Logano in the prior “what-if,” needing only 29th or better to secure that elusive fifth career title. With Logano having the win tiebreaker, he’d take that on a tie because a Gordon win would guarantee Gordon would win the title.
Hamlin, given his season, has benefited even more than Newman under this new format – considering Newman is the primary underdog having gone winless, and with only four top-five finishes all season.
So here’s your situation, then. NASCAR has guaranteed at least four drivers will have a shot at the title on Sunday, even though the only driver who would have been in a position under these two systems and is again on Sunday is Logano, who’s both won a high number of races and been very consistent over the whole of the season.
NASCAR has also guaranteed that there won’t need to be the “if so-and-so only needs to finish 29th or better” narrative as has been the case in some Chases in recent years.
NASCAR may have redefined what it means to be a champion, but it has definitely provided more drivers with an opportunity to do so than under either of these two prior formats.
It just depends on your which driver you’re a fan of as to whether you like it or not.