NASCAR should not change the current Chase format.
Robin Pemberton leaned against a picnic table in the promenade outside of Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway enjoying the post-race afterglow.
As newly-crowned Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick was feted on the frontstretch following a three-hour title bout, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition was at a loss to suggest any aspect that could have enhanced the 2014 Chase.
“I was speechless,” Pemberton said. “I was just over the top. All I needed was a smoke.”
If NASCAR was hoping to recreate the expectations of the 2011 Cup championship when Tony Stewart knocked Carl Edwards out of the points lead in the season finale by winning the race, the objective was achieved.
Yet instead of just two drivers entering Homestead with a shot at the title, all four drivers that transferred from the Eliminator Round of the Chase – Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman – had equal opportunities.
Down to the wire
The title was decided on the final lap. Harvick beat Ryan Newman to the finish line by 0.500-seconds – to earn the win and a one-point advantage over the No. 31 team.
Yet until Lap 250, when a miscue by the No. 22 team’s jackman relegated Logano to 28th and the decision to keep Hamlin out on the track rather than pit made the No. 11 a "sitting duck", the final four contenders were all in the game.
I don’t have anything else to say other than it was the best stuff I’ve ever seen in my life.
“You go back 10-11 months ago with everybody working on the Chase format, to have things come out the way they did,” Pemberton said. “Even though I heard some shallow comments like, ‘if only you could get guys to race that hard all year long,” but if you go back and look at the races all year long, they raced hard. It was hard racing throughout the entire field.
“The example is being put out that Tony Stewart won on a tie-breaker and what a point means, now you look back at a Jeff Gordon and what a point meant to him and what a point meant to Ryan Newman and when you go back and look at those things, would you change your strategy? Only if you look at history would you change your strategy. In my opinion, you adjust for the moment and adjust your strategies around your competition.
“I don’t have anything else to say other than it was the best stuff I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Yes, that comes from NASCAR brass, but it’s also a statement from someone who started out as a mechanic in 1979, graduated to a crew chief and then moved to the manufacturer side of the sport while missing maybe a half-dozen races over that time.
Let's agree to disagree
Sure, certain fans whose drivers were knocked out of contention early, whether it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who were bumped out of the Chase after the Contender Round or Jeff Gordon, who couldn’t recover after his incident with Brad Keselowski at Texas, might struggle to accept anyone winning except their favorite racer.
But in the big scheme of the playoffs, Harvick’s numbers more than qualified him as a worth champion with five wins, 14 top fives, 20 top 10s and 2,137 laps led. Sure, Keselowski had more wins (six) and Gordon had the best average finish (10.4), yet under the rules that were presented to all competitors in January, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team prevailed.
Understandably, Harvick didn’t have any changes to propose to the current format.
I think the racing world has enjoyed it, and that's what it's all about in the end.
“It was very easy to follow, and in the end you knew how those cars finished, that was going to be your champion, and that was going to be your top four in the points,” Harvick said. “I think the racing world has enjoyed it, and that's what it's all about in the end.”
Eye on the future
Although Keselowski did not transfer to the final round, he agreed with Harvick on the entertainment factor. The 2012 Sprint Cup Champ was non-committal on the success of the format, reserving his judgment on future fan metrics.
It’s one of those scenarios where we either grow the sport or we die.
“I don’t know what more to ask for out of the sport,” Keselowski said. “As to whether it’s good or bad for the sport, that relies on growth.
“We have to grow the sport. It’s one of those scenarios where we either grow the sport or we die. That will ultimately decide the success of any format.”
Prior to the season finale, NASCAR Chairman Brian France reserved the right to make “modest to zero” changes to the Chase if necessary. For Pemberton, replicating the excitement of the Chase – particularly the magic at Homestead-Miami Speedway is foremost on his list.
“I just hope everything else can meet what we have here today,” Pemberton said. “It was phenomenal. I don’t know what you’d do next.”
Hopefully, the answer is nothing.