bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: NASCAR has really messed up this Chase

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I think most sports fans will agree that playoff time is the best part of any sport’s season. The tension and excitement are both amped up when it’s “win or go home” time. NASCAR has taken note of this in recent years, changing its late season format to what it calls the “Chase for the Sprint Cup,” a ten race segment to end the season during which points are reset and only the top drivers from the first 26 races have a chance at the championship. That has been a pretty succesful change, but the modifications made before the 2014 season have made a mess of things, in my opinion.

The original pre-Chase points system rewarded consistency above all else. The driver who won the championship was the one who was consistently good over the course of a long, 36-race season. Winning was not necessary, although just about everyone who won the title had at least a couple of wins to his name. The Chase ratcheted it up a notch, there is no doubt about that. The drivers who made it there (originally ten and then twelve) were still separated by a few points, even though there was a general reset, so drivers who had won races during the “regular season” had a bit of an advantage going in. A bad race during the Chase would damage but not kill a driver’s chances to win it all. Since there were ten races, there was still time to recover from a problem, which is needed in a sport where your problem is often caused by someone else.

Not content with the level of excitement achieved by the Chase, the people who run NASCAR decided this year to try to further emulate the kind of playoffs the more traditional sports have. The Chase is still ten races long, but it is now broken up into four rounds. The first three rounds are three races long each, while the fourth includes just the final race of the year. After each round, four of the sixteen drivers that made the Chase this year were eliminated from contention. Those eliminations were based on points accumulated during that round only. There was no separation between the drivers at the start of the Chase and there was none after each round either. If a contending driver won a race during a round, that driver was automatically locked in for the next round, regardless of what he did in the other two races.

We are now down to the final race of the season, which will happen this Sunday at Homestead. Four drivers remain: Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was eliminated in the second round after a fortieth place finish in the round’s second race (due to a wreck caused by Greg Biffle) was too much to overcome. Brad Keselowski, who led the series with six wins this year, was knocked out after the third round when a 31st-place finish in the first race of that round left him too far back to recover. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who won four races this season, was similarly tossed this week and will not be in the hunt at Homestead. In the third round, Gordon finished second at Martinsville and second at Phoenix, with a 29th place finish at Texas (caused by Keselowski, who wrecked the race-leading Gordon with just a couple of laps to go) sandwiched in between.

Ryan Newman could win this championship. He won zero races this year. Was he consistent? I guess so. When they announced he had made the Chase, I was really surprised, as he had been quite invisible all season, finishing in the top ten only ten times in the season’s first 26 races (only two of those were top-five). Denny Hamlin has had an unimpressive season as well, winning just once. I like Harvick better than Logano, so I guess I’ll root for him. I’d hate to see Newman win after that kind of season. In fact, he doesn’t even need to win the race at Homestead to win it all. He just needs to finish in front of the other three guys. Technically, he could finish 40th and win this thing, as long as his rivals are 41st-43rd. Bleah.

Yes, the last few races have been tension-filled and stressful, that’s for sure. I guess that’s what NASCAR was attempting to accomplish. I can’t imagine people are happy with how this has turned out, though. Playoffs don’t really work when all of the non-playoff teams are still playing and can (and do) have a major impact on the results. I expect more tweaking, and hopefully back-tracking, after this season.

Bad sports, continued:

2) Mere days after signing a big contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback Carson palmer tore his ACL late in Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams.

3) On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys played the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Early in the week, the team started promoting the trip on Twitter using the hashtag #CowboysUK. Read it again. That’s awesome and so true.

4) The Fans of the New York Jets have had enough of the team’s GM. Last Wednesday, one of those planes that drags messages behing it circled over the team’s practice facility with a banner that read “Fire John Idzik.”

5) Constant troublemaker J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks was suspended for a game after he hit Glen Rice Jr. of the Washington Wizards in the groin during a game on Tuesday. This dude is a disaster.

6) NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, another guy who has been in his share of trouble over the years, is being investigated for an alleged domestic assault that occurred in Delaware back in September, it was revealed on Friday. Unlike the other major sports and their recent actions, NASCAR did not suspend Busch pending the results of the investigation. He raced on Sunday in Phoenix.

7) Who knew badminton players could be ranked? Not only can they be ranked, but they can cheat too. The number one player in the world, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, failed a doping test. That was the announcement made on Saturday by the deputy chairman of the Badminton Association of Malaysia. I know it sounds like I am making this all up, but I’m not.

8) We’ve seen this play before, but never quite this way. Kaelin Clay of the Utah Utes was headed into the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown during his team’s game against Oregon on Saturday. He pulled a total DeSean Jackson move and casually dropped the ball behind him as he crossed the goal line, but of course he hadn’t actually crossed the line yet. No touchdown. In fact, Joe Walker of Oregon picked up the live ball and ran it back 99 yards for a touchdown. Crazy. Even more amazing: Clay went to the same high school as Jackson.

Good sports:

1) A lot has been written, including by me, about Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his daughter Leah, who has cancer. Last Thursday night, the Bengals played the Browns on national television and little Leah was there, watching her dad play in the NFL in person for the first time. Fan reaction was fantastic, as was the television coverage. The Bengals announced a donation of $1.3 million to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati in her name.

Bad sports, good sports appears early each week

Alan Spoll is a software quality assurance director from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he lives with his wonderful wife and children. He has spent his entire life as a passionate fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and Penn State. Recent Phillies success aside, you will understand his natural negativity. Follow me on Twitter - @DocAlan02
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