Hello drivers, and welcome to the NASCAR Adversity Program. We’ve decided to crank the intensity level up a few notches and make your aspirations to be crowned Sprint Cup champion at the end of the year, a heck of a lot harder to reach. It goes a little like this…
No longer will you be allowed to do a single lap in qualifying and then talk about how you gave up a 10th in turn three. Now, you must bully your way through every single car in the field, just to get a clean lap. If you succeed, then we throw your hard-fought lap time in the trash and your evanescent stay at the top of the charts comes to an end. Then you must repeat that performance, but this time against 23 of your fastest rivals.
If you accomplish that as well, your lap time is once again thrown in the garbage and you now have five minutes to battle 11 adversaries for pole position. Oh, and you are only allowed one set of tires for the entire session. Sounds a bit more challenging than before, doesn’t it? And that’s just qualifying. You want to make into the Chase? Well, good luck. You drivers used to be content with top 10 results and be upbeat about your good points day while the winner does victory burnouts in the background. Solid finishes were good enough to make the Chase, but not anymore.
It’s very simple actually — win a race and you’re in a Chase. Well, simple to explain, to do is a whole ‘nother animal. Yes, if you want to make NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, you must win. So if the white flag flies and you can see the leader, you better go get him. The controversial “checkers or wreckers” mentality will come into play on more than one occasion in 2014; I can guarantee you that.
Congrats, you’ve made the Chase. Now catch your breathe and get going before you’re eliminated in the Challenger Round. Yes, after just three races, four drivers will be gone. The next three races are known as the Contender Round, and another four who once had dreams of a Sprint Cup title are removed from the fight. So you’re fifth in points with two races remaining? Sounds like a comfortable position to be in but in reality, you better get up on that wheel before you too are eliminated from championship contention after the penultimate event at Phoenix.
So you won a race, made the Chase, escaped elimination three times and now have the points lead going into the finale? Sounds like you are sitting in a solid position, but don’t make the erroneous mistake of feeling confident. You see, now we’re resetting the points. You are now tied with the drivers in second, third and fourth in the standings. You have one race to win the title and no buffer over three of your fiercest rivals. Bonus points for leading laps are no longer awarded; it simply comes down to whoever crosses the finish line first.
You must push hard and be ready to take risks that most would never dare to. Go for that gap that may or may not be there. You must drive that car as deep as possible into the corners. I’m talking about the place, as Humpy Wheeler would say, “where angels fear to tread and where real race car drivers are born.” Be prepared to trade paint, make contact and do whatever it takes to win it all. Remember, you are chasing racing glory and NASCAR immortally here. Now either bring back that trophy or the steering wheel…
…and welcome to the NASCAR Adversity Program.
(Note – This story does not necessarily reflect my opinion on the new Chase format. I was simply utilizing a second person point of view to demonstrate how much more difficult NASCAR is making it to win the championship at the Cup level.)
Nick DeGroot is a Contributing Writer for Rant Sports NASCAR. Connect With Him on Twitter @ndegroot89