The Lucas Oil Chase is doing exactly what it was meant to do

Ricky Thornton Jr.(20RT) and Hudson O’Neal will among the championship contenders

The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series made some waves over the past off-season when they introduced a new format for deciding their season-long champion. The new system would be a fairly radical change for previous years in which drivers piled up points over the course of a full campaign with the racer earning the most total points being crowned at the end of the season.

The ‘Chase for the Championship’ now being employed by the national touring series still calls for drivers to pile up points until there is just one race remaining. At that time,  the top-4 in the standings will enter finale at Eldora Speedway(Dirt Track World Championship) on equal footing with the highest finisher among those four being named as the champion and receiving the $200,000 reward for that goes with that accomplishment.

So why make such a change, especially knowing that some fans would resist if for no other reason than it sounds too much like NASCAR?

Take into account that the economic model for dirt racing has changed dramatically over the past few years. A sport once driven almost entirely by attendance is now every bit as much, if not more so, propelled by the selling of streaming subscriptions. As a result, the “shows” have to be geared toward that at-home audience. And as anyone who has experience at both attending events and watching a broadcast can say, the two experiences are not at all the same.

If there is more money coming in from the stream than from the grandstands, then the event has to be made more appealing to the folks in their living rooms than for those at the track. Efficiency of the program may take precedence over running numerous divisions or scheduling breaks in the running order for time to visit concession stands and restrooms.

An obvious reason for employing a system that will re-set the top-4 in the series to even points is that it will create a tight battle right to the very end. No one will know who the 2023 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion will be until the checkered flag waves at Eldora on October 21st.

Statistics show that the last time the championship fight went down to the wire for this tour was back in 2017 when Josh Richards edged Tim McCreadie by 65 points. From 2018 to 2022, the leader has averaged being ahead of second place at the end of the season by 390 which is almost leading by the amount of two full races worth of points. And consider that Ricky Thornton Jr. left the most recent LOLMDS race at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway leading Hudson O’Neal by 530 points which would have only added to the average margin of first over second place at this stage of the season.

Having four competitors race it out in the finale allows more drivers and teams to be in the spotlight rather than just the one who would otherwise be going into the finale for the purpose of a coronation rather than having to outrun others for the trophy and the paycheck that comes with the title. Further, this system has allowed more racers to get paid throughout the season by breaking the schedule into increments in which certain positions in the standings were awarded performance bonuses.

The additional money being paid throughout the field in the final series standings as well as those bonuses spread throughout the season no doubt helped to lure big stars who had not been running a full series schedule onto the tour. Namely, Jonathan Davenport and Brandon Overton raced with the Lucas Oil Series all year long in 2023 where they had not done so the previous year. That star power helps promoters in that they can assure fans that many of their favorites will be in competition.

Keep in mind that, before this format was announced, the drivers and teams had agreed to it due to the fact that more money would be available both a season’s end and throughout the schedule.

Perhaps most importantly, the Chase for the Championship is getting headlines for the series and is stirring debate. People are discussing on social media and message boards. Of course, there will be some, perhaps most, who will argue that the format might deprive Ricky Thornton Jr. of a rightful title. Maybe that’s true. Still, debate is rarely a bad thing as it might cause some who are not necessarily die hard fans to be enticed to watch the DTWC just to see if in fact Thornton is deprived.

An old saying by Oscar Wilde goes, “There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that’s not being talked about.” For the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and for broadcast partner, it might prove to be that, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Really, is there someone out there who isn’t going to watch the $100,000-to-win Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway because of the points format?

In a recent interview, Chase contender Devin Moran remarked about the format, “I love it, a lot of people don’t like it, and that’s fine too, everyone is allowed their own opinion. I’m a sports fanatic so everything always comes down to the final game and that’s what it’s going to be at Eldora.”

That sounds like a pretty reasonable summary.

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