By admin | January 26, 2010
By Richard Allen
In recent days the suddenly new and improved, fan-friendly NASCAR has announced that they are replacing the rear wing of the Car of Tomorrow with a blade spoiler, they are doing away with the no bump-drafting rule on restrictor plate tracks and they are going to let the drivers show some personality.
These changes come along with the previously announced plans to fix the start times of races at an earlier and more consistent hour.
While these changes are noteworthy for an organization not known for admitting its mistakes, there is still much to be done.
Yesterday, I wrote about the need for change on the Car of Tomorrow. That vehicle is possibly the most despised part of modern day NASCAR by long time fans. And if the CoT is not the most despised piece of the new NASCAR, then the Chase for the Championship is.
After the 2003 season in which Matt Kenseth had the title locked up well before the season was over NASCAR decided they wanted the championship battle to go down to the last lap of the last race. To assure that they instituted a so called playoff type system known as the Chase for the Championship.
Drivers now race, or rather accumulate points, over the course of the first 26 races. After that point, the top-12 are locked into the ‘playoff’ which determines the season champion over the course of the last ten races.
When I first heard of this idea I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. But then, I’ll admit that I became very much intrigued by the Chase. After the first year it was used when Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon battled right to the last lap of the last race it seemed as though NASCAR had found a winner.
However, what has happened since has been that teams have figured out how to play the game. Since a team’s success or failure over the course of a season is based on whether or not they make the Chase, drivers begin points racing right from the very outset of the season. Where there was once a system in which one driver, such as Kenseth in 2003, coasted to the finish over the course of a few races to add up points, there is now a system in which 43 drivers are coasting for points all throughout the first 26 races.
To create drama over the last ten races, NASCAR has destroyed the first 26 races.
Throughout its history NASCAR has often been criticized for not placing enough emphasis on winning. Consistency has always been key in the sport. Under the old points system a driver could win a season championship by essentially 5th placing his way to the title. However, once eliminated from real contention, or after having fallen behind by a significant number, the other drivers had nothing to do other than race for wins.
Now, drivers always feel as though they have a chance at a championship as long as they can stay near the top-12 in the standings, even after falling far behind. Consider this, approximately one-third of the field in any given event are racing for points and trying to position themselves in the top-12 of the standings rather than placing emphasis on winning the race itself.
When NASCAR talks of changes they are making for the betterment of the sport they are really talking about superficial changes they are making in the hopes of fooling enough people to coax them back into the grandstands and to their televisions. A spoiler, the allowance of bump drafting and earlier start times are nice and they are changes that needed to be made. However, they are not changes that get at the root of why people are moving away from this sport in droves.
NASCAR needs a points system that will create racing for wins, not racing for points. Drivers are far too content to settle rather than risk. There needs to be a reason for them to take risks.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and the Knoxville Journal.
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