Unless JimmieJohnson suffers a collapse of historic proportions, the final three weeks ofthe 2008 Sprint Cup season will be little more than a high-speed victory tourfor the number 48 team. The reigning two-time champ, who finished second in thePep Boys Auto¬†500 at Atlanta
Motor Speedway onSunday, holds a commanding 183-point lead over Carl Edwards--despite Edwards'swin in Atlanta. Thus, for the fourth time in the last five years, the seasonfinale at ¬†Miami-Homestead Speedway (Nov.¬†16) is likely to lack theone thing the Chase was designed to create: drama. What can be done to injectsome excitement into the Chase? Here are three changes worth considering for2009.
•Create a separatepoints system for the Chase drivers When his engine stalled at Charlotte onOct.¬†11, leading to a 33rd-place finish, Edwards lost 96 points toJohnson, who finished sixth--effectively scuttling Edwards's title hopes. Butof the 27 drivers who finished between Johnson and Edwards, 21 werenon-Chasers. Take them out of the points mix, and Edwards would have emergedfrom Charlotte bruised but still very much alive.
Here's SI's plan:The highest finisher among the 12 Chase qualifiers in each race would earn 12points; second would get 11; third 10; and so on down to one point for 12th. Ifa Chase driver won the race, he would receive a three-point bonus, and if heearned the pole, he would get a one-point bonus. Under this scenario Johnson'sedge over Edwards would be just 19 points, and eight drivers would still be inthe hunt.
•Wipe the pointsslate clean at the start of the Chase Under the current system eachregular-season win brings a 10-point bonus that carries over to the Chase.Under the SI plan, a 25-point bonus would go to each winner in the first 26races, giving a long shot the chance to zoom up the standings over the finalweeks of the regular season. But once the Chase started, all 12 drivers wouldstart with zero points. This would give the Chase more of a March Madnessfeeling because an underdog could catch fire at the right time and win thetitle.
•Add new tracks tothe Chase In the regular season 27% of the races are held on 1.5-mile tracks.In the Chase 50% of the events are run at that length. But shouldn't the Chasereflect conditions in the overall season? The SI plan would take away Chaseraces from Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway--two 1.5-mile tracks--andadd Watkins Glen (N.Y) Raceway (a road course) and Bristol (Tenn.) MotorSpeedway (a .533-mile short track). Not only would a greater variety of tracksspice up the Chase, but it would also reward all-around driving, not just1.5-mile specialization.
"The conceptof the Chase is good, but we need to keep guys from running away with it,"says Darrell Waltrip, a two-time champ from the pre-Cup days. "The Chase isbroken, so let's pleeeeeeease fix it."
Here's ablueprint, DW. It's up to NASCAR to get under the hood and make thetweaks.¬±
ONLY AT SI.COM Lars Anderson's Cup analysis and MarkBeech's Racing Fan.
1 Sunday's Cup race followed a familiar script forMichael Waltrip (right): On-track problems (a blown tire), then a poor finish(37th). Still, you've got to admire the 45-year-old Waltrip's perseverance andpopularity. He's made far more commercials (too many to count) than trips toVictory Lane (four) in his 25-year career, and Sunday was his 1,000th start inNASCAR's top three series. Only Richard Petty has more, with 1,184.
2 It has been a rough year for Kurt Busch. The 2004 Cupchamp has won only one race and missed the Chase, his Penske teammate RyanNewman is jumping to Stewart Haas Racing next season, and Busch's carmanufacturer, Dodge, is struggling. Yet of late Busch has flashed some speed,taking third at Charlotte on Oct. 11 and on Sunday leading 10 laps beforefinishing sixth--signs that '09 might be a little brighter.
GLENN SMITH/AP (TOP)
Despite his Atlanta win, Edwards (far left, and top inset) finds himself behindJohnson.
ROBERT LESIEUR/REUTERS (EDWARDS); FRED VUICH (JOHNSON); JASON SMITH/GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR (WALTRIP)