By admin | August 25, 2009
By Richard Allen
No doubt, there were many people hoping Mark Martin would give Kyle Busch a not-so-friendly tap at the end of Saturdayâ€™s Sharpie 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway. However, that did not happen which should have come as no surprise to anyone.
First of all, Martin is not the type of driver to dish out such a late race punt. But more, had Martin opted to try and force his way by Busch in those closing laps he would have risked a crash which could have resulted in losing a top-5 run and thus might have cost him a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
In todayâ€™s NASCAR it seems as if drivers are all too willing to trade potential wins for â€œa good points dayâ€. Racing for the sake of winning individual events is quickly becoming a thing of the past, particularly if the drivers in question are on the fringes of making the Chase field.
This was clearly evidenced in the two road course races run this season in Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Juan Pablo Montoya, an accomplished road racer who has only one Sprint Cup win to his credit, said that he was going to use the road courses as a means of scoring solid finishes rather than going all out for wins because he wanted to be certain of making the Chase.
Letâ€™s get that straight. A driver with only one win to his credit who was going to tracks where he would have been considered a favorite to win intended to run for points rather than victories.
And that is not to pick on Montoya. Most other drivers would think the same way in similar circumstances.
When I first heard the idea for the Chase for the Championship I thought it was one of the dumbest ideas I had ever heard. Then, I considered that the playoff format might actually encourage better championship battles by bringing more contenders into the mix.
However, after a few years of the playoff format I have come to realize that it has done just the opposite. The Chase has turned the entire season into one long points run. Every race is run by drivers living in constant fear of falling out of the top-12 in the Sprint Cup standings. Few are willing to risk making a daring move for the win in the final laps because a late race spin could drop a driver to a 30th place finish. That would in turn endanger the driverâ€™s Chase hopes.
There is something inherently wrong with a system that takes winning races out of the mindset of drivers and teams. Points have become far too highly valued. And sadly, this is not just in NASCAR. In every series and even on local short tracks drivers speak of not taking chances for fear of losing points.
Whatâ€™s wrong with just going out and winning races for the sake of winning races? The two men who have won more NASCAR championships than any other drivers, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, did not go out in hopes of having a good points day when they went onto the track. They raced to win and let the points fall where they may. That mentality resulted in a total of 14 championships.
The Chase for the Championship was meant to add entertainment value to the series as a whole. Instead, it has helped to sap the joy out of individual races.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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