As I’m watching the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, I realize that Kyle Busch is a man on a mission. He made all the right moves and took his third race win on the season. Only Jimmie Johnson has more wins in 2015 at this point.
The younger Busch brother, who hails from Las Vegas, is pulling out all of the stops in order to earn a spot in NASCAR’s “playoff” system, The Chase for the Championship.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed the first eleven weeks of racing following a crash at Daytona that left him with two broken legs. Now, fully recovered, he has a goal of reaching 30th in the standings to cement a spot into the Chase. With another win in the books, Busch now sits 33rd in points, and the goal is certainly obtainable.
I was so impressed with Busch’s drive and determination that I posted a quick comment on Social Media stating something to the effect of “if Busch didn’t make the Chase with the way is is currently driving, it would be a travesty.”
I quickly received a ton of replies that disagreed wholeheartedly, and I began to put some serious thought into this.
Of course, some of the comments came from fans who just don’t like Kyle Busch. I expect that, Lord knows the young man has his detractors.
Other comments were centered around the Chase format, and those are the ones that really got me thinking.
As a life long racing fan, I am accustomed to a points system that rewards consistency throughout the season. I have long favored a system that puts a premium on winning as well. If you ask this old man, Formula One in the 70’s and 80’s had the best points system with the correct balance of consistency vs. win, but I digress.
My initial comment was based on the parameters of the Chase system, based on those rules and their loopholes. This is exactly how the eligibility rule reads: The top 15 drivers with the most wins over the first 26 races will earn a spot in the Chase Grid — provided they have finished in the top 30 in points and attempted to qualify for every race (except in rare instances).
It’s that phrase in parenthesis “except in rare instances” that has suddenly become a bone of contention. The loophole phrase there gives NASCAR leeway to change the rules at their own discretion as they see fit. That loophole, sometimes known as the Chase Waiver, was granted to Tony Stewart last season following the Kevin Ward incident in upstate New York. As it turned out, Stewart did not make the Chase, so there was no reason for anyone to cry foul.
The rare instance in this case was Kyle’s crash at Daytona, and the fact that NASCAR may have felt some culpability because of the lack of a SAFER barrier on that portion of the track. Busch was granted the “rare instance” waiver, and now the ball is in his court.
With that in mind, I began to wrap my mind around the concept that would take a driver that finished 30th in points, and catapult him to even-keel points status with cars that have run the full season.
Suddenly, I’m not so sure that Kyle deserves that Chase berth. I mean, even with multiple wins on the season, there are 14 cars between 30th place and the bottom of the Chase grid.
Mind you, I take no issue with resetting the points prior to the Chase. It’s what NASCAR wanted out of their latest tweaking of the Chase procedure: a playoff similar to stick and ball sports.
I recall the 2007 NFL season where the New York Giants has a somewhat mediocre regular season, but managed to slip into the playoffs on a wild-card berth. From there, they played like Champions throughout the playoffs and beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The current Chase system, with its elimination rounds, allows for this exact scenario to happen: a team coming on strong in the late season Chase races and winning the Cup. However, the 2007 Giants played football every week, whereas Kyle Busch has actually missed a substantial portion of the season.
If Kyle Busch makes the Chase, this is truly uncharted territory for NASCAR. And, if he were to actually win the Cup, would it be a monumental flop with the hardcore fans?
With high hopes, NASCAR created the Chase concept in their laboratory like the doctor created a monster in Mary Shelly’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein. At the end of that novel, the Monster destroys his creator. That fact is not lost on me at this point.
So, I’m truly on the fence with the Kyle Busch Chase Conundrum.
My heart tells me: I want to see him do it, because he is a talented driver and proving it every week. Coming back from devastating injuries, and rising all the way to the top, makes for a compelling story.
My head tells me: There is no way in hell that a driver should be eligible to contend for a Championship because he made it to the 30th spot in the points standings.
I wish I had the answer, stay tuned…
Image: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images