Following six years in which five championship battles were decided before the last race of the season, NASCAR decided to shake things up with the Sprint Cup Series' title races.

Seemingly the panacea to NASCAR's worst case scenario of a title wrapped up a race or two early, all the right ingredients for a close, "World Series, Game 7" type moment were in place for the Cup division.

Save for Tony Stewart's exciting duel with Mark Martin in 2002, the sport's top stock car ranks needed that extra push for fans to be on their feet from Daytona to Homestead-Miami.

Most of the time, the only thrilling aspects of the season finale was who'd win the race, which somewhat paled in comparison with a battle for the Cup crown.

Sure, fan favorites like the late Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, and Matt Kenseth earned their trophies, but their "road to the coronation" wasn't exactly Hollywood-like.

Implemented in 2004, the Chase for the Cup introduced some new variables into the sport that were designed to narrow the championship field in a "best of 10 races" format.

Essentially, NASCAR adapted a playoff system, although top officials refused to label the Chase as such.

Immediately, the Chase system was received with lukewarm reception, with some fans feeling like it'd add a twist to the championship while others felt it would make the race for the title seem artificial.

Like it or not, in its first year, the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup championship was a harbinger to the end, as the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon duked it out with Roush-Fenway Racing's Kurt Busch.

Through triumph and tragedy, Johnson and Gordon gave it a valiant effort to bring home a championship for their car owner Rick Hendrick. Johnson drove with inspiration during his amazing three-race winning streak, taking the checkers at Charlotte, Martinsville, and Atlanta.

However, Busch's consistency and a bit of good fortune during the season finale at Homestead-Miami "wheeled" him to an upset championship over the Hendrick juggernauts. Busch edged out Johnson by eight markers and Gordon by 16 points, which became the closest 1-2-3 points finish in the history of Cup racing.

To say the least, while it wasn't exactly as nailbiting and truly amazing as the late Alan Kulwicki's comeback in 1992, it was NASCAR's greatest and closest title fight in 12 years. Their new points system and Chase format worked masterfully - which might have been their undoing in the following years.

In 2005, it was another good, close championship battle which pitted Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson in a battle royale to the finish. While it sounded great on paper and that it was a hotly contested battle to the end, it'd be the last occasion in which "another" racer won the Cup, which was Stewart.

Since 2006, the Chase has been won by the same driver and team, as they've seemingly found the keys to success in beating the NASCAR and playoff system.

That potent combination is Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's Hendrick Motorsports crew, who have been virtually unstoppable no matter what obstacles stand in their way.

Challenger after challenger, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus just know how to elevate their game to the next level for championships every year.

From Matt Kenseth to Denny Hamlin, the cagey El Cajon, CA native just racks up the trophies while the competition (and in that case, some fans) are left scratching their heads, wondering what it'll take to beat the Johnson Express.

To call the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship a total disaster is like wearing a pair of "Negative Nancy" shades, which you can find at your local fax, print, and photocopy shop nearest you (or at Harvard Square).

However, it's not a stretch to say that while the Chase format has good intentions to deliver close, competitive races for the championship, it does have gray areas of concern.

For one thing, a driver and team could theoretically limp their way into the Chase, especially in the newest format. By simply winning enough races but staying in the top-20 points standings until Richmond assures a Chase seed via one of the two wild card slots. Talk about a "gimmie for Jimmie" or a "gimmie to beat Jimmie."

Additionally, consistency, which has always been an aspect of winning titles, may be just enough to win a Cup trophy. Garnering multiple top-fives and top-10's will assure a driver and team of a top-10 seed, where they can turn it up in the fall to look like and essentially be the Cup champion.

Sound familiar?

While the Chase changes are definitely not made to help certain drivers make it to the "playoffs," the very reason for its existence seems to backfire on itself when the same driver and team have won it the past five seasons.

That's not to say that Johnson and his No. 48 team are unworthy of the Cup, because they have found what it takes to win championships. At the same token, wouldn't it be nice to see them battle for a title without the Chase?

Say what you want about the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but while it does add on the excitement factor come football season, will it ultimately attract new fans and sponsors?

Or for that matter, will it measure up to being as genuine and hold as much integrity as the pre-Chase championship system?

Think of it this way: would you want a champion who's earned it through solid performances in a 36 race season or because they just hung in there for 26 weeks and then won it all in just 10 events?