By admin | November 4, 2010
By Richard Allen
In 2003, Matt Kenseth did the least exciting thing a NASCAR driver could do, at least in the eyes of the sanctioning body and the television networks. Although he won only one race that season he consistently gritted his way through the Sprint Cup(then Winston Cup) schedule and won the championship by a comfortable margin. His style may not have been very exciting, but it was incredibly effective.
After that season, with major money having been spent by the television networks and a new series sponsor, NASCAR decided to shake things up a bit. No more would a driver be able to coast into the final race of the season and ride around to his trophy presentation. In the time of the year in which NASCAR goes up against football on Sunday afternoons there had to be a tight championship battle to keep the attention of those fickle fans who might otherwise be swayed to the NFL.
So in 2004 NASCAR instituted the Chase for the Championship, a ten race playoff system in which ten(now twelve) drivers had their point totals re-set for a dash to the championship trophy.
No doubt, the powers that be in Daytona Beach envisioned a system in which every year there would be multiple drivers going into the final two or three races with only the slightest of margins separating them. And on a few occasions, such as in 2004, that has been the case. On other occasions, the would-be champ has been able to put some space between himself and his closest pursuers so that he need only to finish at the back of the top-20 or lower to claim his prize.
This year, NASCAR is getting exactly what they had hoped for. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are about to enter the final three race stretch of the season separated by only 38 points. Except there is one slight problem with this ideal scenario… no one is watching.
In 2010, television ratings have come up short more often than not in year over year comparisons. The really bad thing about that statistic is that 2009 was a particularly weak year as well.
And more, fans are staying away from the tracks in staggering numbers. The huge number of empty seats in Talladega last week are testament to that.
What short-sighted NASCAR planners did not see at the end of the 2003 season was that by artificially creating a close points race at the end of the season they turned every race on the schedule into a points accumulation contest. Drivers have become far to content to ride in a comfortable position and settle for a ‘good points day’ rather than take the risks necessary to win individual races.
To create a close points battle the events themselves have been made to suffer and the fans have shown how hey feel about that.
So, NASCAR is getting exactly what they wanted when they devised the Chase for the Championship, with one rather major exception.
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Here are other columns you may find interesting:
Does Junior Nation keep other drivers from speaking their minds? http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1305
NASCAR races should end at the start/finish line http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1303
Bloomquist returning to Charlotte one year after controversial penalty http://tennesseeracer.com/?p=1225
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