Of course it isn’t. Life isn’t fair. We know that.
But when Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., two of the most dominant cars throughout the 2016 season, had their engines expired at the most inopportune time possible at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend, it really got me thinking: is The Chase fair?
The simple answer is also a quick one, and the one I mentioned above: of course not. But delving deeper, is it really fair, or is there a problem with the format?
That’s not for me to debate. It’s ultimately up to the fans. If they like this new elimination format, then NASCAR won’t change it. After all, fans drive the sport. However, if the fans voice their opinions and want to see change, we’ve seen the sanctioning body adapt to their desires before—for better or for worse.
And for the record: I like The Chase and its elimination format. It beings an element of drama, pressure and a “no mistakes” attitude that had been unrivaled in the Sprint Cup Series for a long, long time. Every week is worth something, and drivers aren’t clinching the championship with multiple races to go, like we have seen across all three series in past years.
But when a driver, team and car—like Martin Truex Jr.’s Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota—becomes eliminated after a blown engine to no fault of their own, it’s beyond frustrating for anybody and everybody associated with that team. If you took a poll of people in the garage week in and week out, I guarantee they’d say Truex Jr. has been either the car to beat or in the top three all season long. After winning two of the first three races in the Round of 16, he was the clear championship favorite. But all that was gone in a puff of smoke.
The same can be said for the No. 2 team and Brad Keselowski. His engine expired after debris on the grille overheated his Fusion, ending his championship hopes. The 2012 champion’s performance in 2016 has been nothing short of consistently excellent. With over 20 top tens, perhaps Keselowski’s best season will end in a points finish as best as ninth.
Which begs the question again: is this Chase fair? My answer: absolutely not.
That then begs another question: does NASCAR need to do something about it?
Personally, I say no. Although luck has determined the fates of two title favorites, we have seen the best driver and team win the title for the past two seasons (Kevin Harvick in 2014 and Kyle Busch in 2015). I have confidence that we will see the best combination win again in 2016. But in the event that the No. 78 and No. 2 win multiple races of the four remaining, it will definitely raise some eyebrows and create dialogue on whether or not something is flawed.
One thing is for sure, though. The Chase is on, and coming down to the final stretch with the Round of 8 kicking off this weekend from Martinsville, things are only heating up.