By admin | January 22, 2014
By Richard Allen
In a story first posted by the Charlotte Observer late last week, details of a proposed new system to be used to determine the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion were unveiled. To say the least, the changes are very different from the Chase for the Sprint Cup format that has been used since 2004. And further, the new system would render the original season-long system barely recognizable.
NASCAR only commented to say that they would not comment until whatever changes are to be made were official.
According to the story written by Jim Utter, the Chase field will be expanded from its current number of twelve to sixteen. Winning a race would be the primary qualification for making the playoff with overall points filling out the field should there not be sixteen event winners within the first 26 races of the season.
From that point, those who make the playoff would enter into a contest that will see the bottom four drivers eliminated after three races. Another four would be dropped after the sixth Chase race and still another four after the ninth event. Going into the season finale, the four remaining drivers would decide the championship in a winner-take-all single event.
Upon reading just how absurd the proposal was, my first thought was that this must be some sort of publicity seeking joke. Surely it was an attempt to float something out that was far too ridiculous to be true only to garner attention for the real announcement that would come later, an announcement that would make it seem as though NASCAR had heard the outcry of fans and reined in their initial proposal to settle upon something less radical.
But then the realization set in that such an idea would be giving far too much credit to the powers that be in Daytona Beach.
If this rumored system proves to be true, it will complete the evolution of NASCAR from what was once a legitimate sport to what is now little more than a Sunday afternoon reality themed game show. As has so often become the case, those who lead NASCAR appear to be putting all of their eggs in the basket of quick pop gimmicks rather than that of long term planning.
Once again, fans who grew up loving this sport have been sold out in the never ending “chase” for a demographic that this sport will never catch. About a decade or so ago, NASCAR began to believe its own publicity releases that far overstated the sport’s popularity and television viewership. And as a result, they began to sell themselves to the country’s big corporations in hopes of landing big money.
For a brief time, that strategy seemed to work. Grandstands were filled in the new palace like “cookie cutter” tracks built near major metropolitan areas and sponsors appeared to be on waiting lists to get involved. However, that bump provided by curiosity seekers is now gone and the sponsors are leaving at a rate that exceeds those coming in.
But again, the powers that be are believing their own press releases. This “dip” in attendance is surely just the byproduct of a lagging economy, right?. TV ratings will soar when the new network package goes into effect, right?. Sponsors will come back when the grandstands fill back up, right?.
All it will take to kick start that inevitable upward trend is the next great idea, right? Turning a championship that was earned by drivers like Petty, Earnhardt, Yarborough, Elliott and Kulwicki into a copy of American Idol or Survivor will provide that bump, right?
NASCAR chairman Brian France has often touted “Game 7 moments” as something NASCAR needs. The NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball have those type of moments so why can’t NASCAR? Mr. France seems to forget that this is not football, basketball or baseball that he sits at the head of. And, when those other sports have their “Game 7 moments”, they are not so manufactured as this newly proposed system would be. This sport was not built for that and if he thinks a final race showdown will provide those moments, he is setting himself and his sport up for disappointment.
As has been the case for several years, NASCAR contests long races over the course of a long season in a bad race car on bad race tracks. That’s their problem. Until they get away from the gimmicks and address the real issues, their audience of desired demographics as well as their long time fans will continue to dwindle.
So this new Chase system is really just a joke, right?
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