Time is ticking down on major sports shortest off-season. A day short of three months is all that separates the last race at Homestead to the action coming up at Daytona. That is like Major League Baseball wrapping up the World Series in October, only to return in January. It is equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl in February wrapping up one season, only to return in May. That does not include any exhibition contests, like NASCAR’s Sprint Unlimited, which arrives eight days before the 500, or any of the testing and training and manufacturing that needs to happen.
Yet, I am not about to suggest NASCAR reduce its schedule. I am way too selfish for that. I like knowing that NASCAR takes me to baseball season, which transfers to football season, and that takes me around to within a week of the Sprint Unlimited. Does that mean I am anxious at the bit to begin it all anew at the moment? Not really. I mean, we still have four NFL teams still in the hunt. In fact, I usually write very little about NASCAR in the off-season. Unlike some, by the time the season is over I am so done. I write something during the holidays, then await something to prod me out of my hibernation. That something just happened.
As much as the Cup guys have tried to kill off the XFINITY series, NASCAR has come up with something that might cause at least a spark of interest in the junior circuit. A Chase format has emerged for both it and the Camping World Truck series. At least, it is something.
As in Cup, XFINITY will have a 26-event qualifying round. A seven-race Chase will feature twelve drivers, with four eliminated after three races, another four gone after the following three, leaving four to battle it out for the title at Homestead. Again, as in Cup, win and you are in the Chase. If more than a dozen drivers have wins, just as in Cup, points will determine who advances. However, as long as the Cup guys are involved, what are the chances of a dozen XFINITY regulars each claiming a win in a season? How about, oh, none?
There is one more way to advance. Drivers get an automatic berth in the Chase if they happen to claim two of the four “Dash 4 Cash” bonuses, slated for Bristol, Richmond, Dover, and Indianapolis. That is the bonus, not actually win the race. As for those four events, a format change sees them divided into a pair of Heat Races, followed by a Main Event. The top two XFINITY regulars in each heat go into the main eligible for a $100,000 payout and the best finisher among those four gets the cash. At least, even if a Cup guy wins the damn thing, a XFINITY driver has something to cheer about. Win the bonus twice, and a Chase berth is theirs.
As for the trucks, they will have a 16 race qualifying round, a seven race Chase eligible to eight drivers, with two eliminated after each round. Sadly, that is not all. They have come out of the closet and instituted an artificial caution at least every twenty minutes. If nothing brings out a yellow beforehand, the clock will, and when the first truck crosses the line on the re-start, the clock starts ticking anew. Maybe that might mean other cautions won’t be flagged unless they are really necessary. Maybe, at least until the final laps when the clock is shut down over the final 20 or the final 10, in the case of Toronto and Pocono. Nor will it be used at all at Eldora Speedway. To be honest, I don’t know what in hell to think about that one. While some suspect that NASCAR throws a caution to artificially close up the field to create some excitement, with the trucks we no longer need to suspect, as we will know.
The Chase format, in itself, is an artificial element instituted to successfully create excitement and should provide a measure of relevance for the respective series drivers. The Dash 4 Cash brings a level of excitement only due to the chance of taking a Chase place by just winning the bonus, not necessarily the race, twice. The 20-minute clock would create some excitement if you believe it necessary to artificially close up the field regularly throughout the race.
Will it cause you to watch more of these other series? Me neither. Now, back to my hibernation.