Chase is compelling, but is it a good circus or bad?

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Matt Kenseth indicated that he is now part of a circus, part of a sport that has turned from a race into an entertainment show on wheels with this new Chase for the Sprint Cup format.

You know what? Circuses can be fun -- as long as the clowns don't get too scary. The 2015 Chase has turned into a circus in which it can be just as easy to laugh as to cry as to wonder if the joke's on you.

"I don't feel anything right now. I'm pretty numb."

That was Kyle Busch. He had just advanced to the third round of the Chase, earning himself his best shot at the championship in his career. He's probably numb because he didn't know what to think. He went from being out of the Chase to back in in the final six laps, more because other people crashed than because of anything he did.

NASCAR has created a format to enhance the drama and intensity, and that should mean drivers who are ecstatic and jumping into crew members' arms after they advance. Instead, NASCAR had drivers with a sense of bewilderment, as if they just came from a circus and not a Game 7 moment.

The bewilderment could be traced to much earlier than the roll-the-dice Talladega race on Sunday. NASCAR has been so successful in creating an intense, all-or-nothing format that it needs to be nimble and adjust to the circus it has created.

That starts with race cars that pass. It starts with NASCAR's decision to not use the low-downforce package in the Chase. It ends with NASCAR's creating a new rule designed for safety but not really doing anything to make the cars safer.

If NASCAR had used a low-downforce package in the Chase instead of listening to teams' pleas to not throw a wrench into their plans, drivers most likely would have been more able to pass each other. There would have been no Joey Logano wrecking Kenseth at Kansas because Logano would have had the ability -- or the confidence -- to complete the pass without punting Kenseth, or as Logano put it, going for the same piece of real estate.

Then came the frustrating Talladega finish, with one attempt at a green-white-checkered that went nowhere before NASCAR tried to make it go somewhere.

Cars were crashing mid-pack when the leaders reached the start-finish line on the first attempt, and the flag man was already waving the yellow flag. NASCAR ruled that it really wasn't an attempt. Their decision made sense and seemed like the best thing for the fans, though the green-white-checkered procedure isn't defined by what happens in a situation such as that.

But it was all good -- until Kevin Harvick wrecked the field on the restart. Intentional? Possibly. But what else is Harvick supposed to do?

If Logano can dump Kenseth while going for the same spot of real estate, then Harvick can do the same while trying to squeeze into the outside lane in the name of getting out of the way with a sour engine. It's all fair, right? It's all -- as NASCAR chairman Brian France said last week of the Kansas outcome -- "quintessential NASCAR." Right?

No, the Chase isn't fair. It is a series of best-of-three races in which one day, one mistake, one dump, one bump-and-run can virtually make all the difference. A roof hatch flap doomed Denny Hamlin. The Harvick deal might have helped Hamlin's teammate, Kyle Busch.

These are multimillion-dollar moves played at high speed when considering how much a championship is worth. That makes earning trophies nice, but it also brings out the intensity and aggressiveness, not to mention conspiracy theories.

NASCAR increased the number of green-white-checkered finishes from one to three in February 2010, after the previous Sprint Unlimited ended under caution. This week, NASCAR opted to change the Talladega rule to only one. Just once in the previous 15 restrictor-plate races did drivers not get at least one green-flag lap before wrecking on an overtime finish. That didn't happen Sunday, thanks to Harvick. It was over nearly as early as it started.

That left a bad taste in the mouths of the fans, a beer-fueled crowd that knows a bad accident can happen no matter how many green-white-checkered finishes. It also left a bad taste in the mouths of several drivers, as NASCAR's rule put Harvick in position to potentially dictate the finish.

The real culprit here was NASCAR's inability to create rules to keep these cars on the ground with confidence to have three green-white-checkereds.

If NASCAR wants a great elimination Chase, one with drama, it needs to do a better job of getting the cars right, making the right decisions and avoiding controversy as much as it can.

NASCAR needs to step up to the plate and give drivers the tools to make results seem more legitimate than they have the past couple weeks.

The current system might make for great TV. But it doesn't make for great sport.