The quick fix to tightening the Chase? Race better

A three-man race at the midpoint of the Chase isn't what NASCAR had in mind for its playoff system.

The goal was to keep 12 drivers as close as possible for 10 races. But most of the Chasers have struggled and finished near the back a couple of times.

The result is nine of the 12 playoff drivers don't have a realistic shot of winning the title; they're already too far behind.

So what's the solution?

Some people have suggested the Chasers use their own points system in the playoff, earning points for first through 12th place in each race.

If a Chase driver finished 43rd, he still would get credit for 12th-place points. If the best finish of the 12 Chasers was fifth, he gets first-place points.

Obviously, this would keep the 12 drivers bunched together more closely in the points standings. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Only one problem. It doesn't work. Appearances can be deceiving. I did the math, a painful and tedious process, to say the least.

Although the point totals are closer (11 of 12 Chasers would be within 200 points of Jeff Gordon), the trailing playoff drivers have a much tougher time gaining ground.

The fewest points Gordon could get in a race is 12th place, so a driver can't make up many points in one race.

Check out a few specifics. In the first-to-12th format, Jimmie Johnson would be 52 points behind Gordon and Clint Bowyer would be 55 back. It's a little closer than they are now in actual points, but way worse in the percentages.

The most points a driver could make up this way is 68 -- assuming he won, led the most laps and the 12th-place finisher among the Chasers didn't lead a lap.

So Johnson and Bowyer would be almost a full race worth of points behind Gordon in this system.

In the current system, a driver can make up 161 points in one event. Johnson (68 back) and Bowyer (78 behind) are easily within that amount.

The way it is now, drivers can change position dramatically if they post a top-5 on a day when the points leader has a terrible finish. That wouldn't happen if the worst Chase finisher was given 12th-place points.

Another idea that fans have bantered around is for every driver from 30th on back to receive the same points.

Again, I did the math (man, this story was a whipping) and it doesn't make much difference. The guys who've been awful wouldn't gain enough points to get back in contention.

There is one idea to help the back end Chasers jump up in the standings. Give a huge bonus for winning a race, 50 points or even 100 points.

A win could revive a driver's championship hopes. Once again, there's a kink. That only works if the points leader hasn't won in the Chase.

In this case, Gordon has won twice. If he had 200 more points now, this thing would be over. One would argue, and I agree, that a winner deserves it. But it wouldn't necessarily make the Chase closer.

So, back to the original question: What's the solution?

Race better. That's the easy answer.

Most of the Chase contenders haven't raced well in the playoff events this year. In past seasons, at least half the Chasers ran near the front in every event, keeping things interesting.

When only two or three drivers consistently race up front, this is what you get.

Dario's world
The open-wheel invasion continues next year when Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, and Dario Franchitti move to the Sprint Cup full time, and Sam Hornish Jr. is expected to join them.

All four are experienced and accomplished racers as Rookie of the Year candidates. But it's easy to choose which man will have the best season of the four.

That's Franchitti, who has a big advantage on the other three drivers. Franchitti has a guaranteed spot in each of the first five events. He inherits the No. 40 Dodge, which ranks 24th in the standings.

The top 35 cars in owners' points have a free pass into the field for the first five races of 2008. No such luck for Villeneuve, Carpentier and Hornish, all of whom will start the year in cars outside the top 35.

We've seen this season how difficult it is for the non-qualified drivers to earn one of the eight available spots each week.

Gibbs to the rescue
Michael Waltrip said in a TV interview last week that one reason his team has improved in recent weeks is the help it has received from Joe Gibbs Racing.

JGR is moving to Toyota next year, but it can't make Chevrolet officials too happy to hear the Gibbs experts already are sharing info with the Toyota camp.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.