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Friday, January 28, 2011

NASCAR changes everything but the kitchen sink ... here are the hits and misses

Everyone knew it was coming ... after a disappointing year in the ratings and race attendance, NASCAR had to shake things up to try and get more fans back watching on TV and coming to the tracks.

And after an endless stream of offseason rumors, the change has finally arrived ... and it was plentiful.

In case you missed anything, here's the rundown, and my humble view of whether it's a smart move or just plain silly.

-- Pick a series
Drivers can no longer run for a title in more than one series, which is a long overdue move that makes the Nationwide finally have its own identity again. Gone are the days of Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch winning a Nationwide title while in the Cup series full-time, and we can actually see the young NASCAR talent battle for the titles in the Nationwide and Truck series, which the Cup guys can still dabble and go for wins and money.

-- Qualifying adjustments
Another good move, to spice up the qualifying procedure, will be to set the order of qualifiers based on practice speeds, starting from slowest to the fastest. This means that when every driver goes out to qualify, there is a decent chance the pole speed will be broken, and the drama will go down to the last car on the track. This is better than the current setup, which has completely random and often lacks drama.

Even better, when qualifying is rained out, NASCAR will go back to practice speeds to determine the starting order. This is especially good news for people like Boris Said who try out for road courses where qualifying is often rained out. If he and other non-regulars are fast in practice, they will make the race. Beyond that, practice will take on new importance when rainout of qualifying is possible, as everyone will be working hard to get their best time in and not just tinkering in advance of the race.
These qualifying changes won't necessarily bring in new fans, but the current fans are more likely to care about this part of the weekend.

-- More manufacturer identity
Efforts are being made to distinguish the Cup cars so that manufacturer identity is more clear. This is a positive thing, and an extension of efforts similarly made in the Nationwide series in 2010. Fans don't want the cars to all look the same, so the more unique the better.

-- Chase "wild card"
The Chase will still have 12 drivers, but now only the top 10 in points will qualify automatically. The other two will be the two drivers in positions 11 to 20 in points that have the most wins but didn't make the top 10. This rewards the drivers who are good enough to win, but might have had some bad luck during the year (for example, Jamie McMurray in 2010). This does something I really like -- puts an extra incentive on winning, which might make drivers push a little harder as the race come to a close, creating more drama in the process. And as we all know, drama brings fans.

-- Simple points system
This is the only boneheaded move out of the bunch, in my estimation. The race winner will get 43 points, and the last-place driver gets 1 point ... this is the same for all three top NASCAR series. The winner gets 3 bonus points, plus there is a 1-point bonus for leading a lap, and a 1-point bonus for leading the most laps.
Brian France said the goal is to make the points "simple" so fans can understand the system.
"Many of our most loyal fans don't fully understand the points system we have used to date," he said. "So, we are simplifying the points system to one that is much easier to understand. Conceptually, it is comparable to our previous system, but it is easier to follow."
When I hear this, it sounds like a parent talking to a small child, dumbing things down so the kid can understand. NASCAR fans are not kids though, and I don't like being talked to like a child.
The points system isn't the reason weren't watching. If the racing is good, they will watch. I understand that percentagewise, it's pretty close to the old system, but I just think it's a pointless and unnecessary change that doesn't really accomplish much.
And I can see where it may actually hurt competition, too. For example, if you're in fifth and racing for position, how hard are you going to really fight for just one measly point. (In the old system, point gaps were higher the closer you were to the front.)

Maybe I'll be proven wrong, but I don't see this system doing anything to improve NASCAR or attract more fans, and it's the only bad move I can see in the otherwise solid improvements made in this list of changes for 2011.

Driver views on the changes?
So what do drivers think of the changes.

Kasey Kahne, who will be driving for Red Bull Racing this year, said he thinks the changes will be positive:

"I like all of it. I think it's kind of similar to what we have now. The only differences are -- I think it's a little easier for the fan. It's easier for the fan in the grandstand to keep up with the points when things are close or to see where their favorite driver is in the points. I like it. Making the Chase -- I think wins is a big part of the sport still. NASCAR has really kept that a big part of the points and a big part of the Chase, which is good."

Michael Waltrip said it's a good start, but he wants to clarify even more aspects of the sport for the fans.

"I think we not only need to look at the points system but beyond that. Look at the tracks to make sure that people understand where pit road speed starts. You know if you look at the Dallas Cowboys new stadium that's the new standard. That's where the bar is set with those big video screens and all sorts of technology. That's where we need to head with our race tracks. We don't need a cone set up at the end of pit road saying that's where pit road speed begins, we need it either shot across digitally or it needs to be a big sign saying 'enter here - speed limit 45.' We need to show that so a fan in the stands can see those things. I think that is the direction we're going and this is just the first little step."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

" This is not going to help the ratings. Especially the dumb point system changes. Why dont nascar just give the championship trophy to Jimmy Johnson again untill he has eight consectutive championships to surpass dominators of the sport that he has no comparison. I mean afterall all he has to do is make the chase and then he gets to race the same final ten he has ran since the chase began. The sport sucks and I use to be a true fan watching since 1985. They should go back to the old points system, the hell with some stupid chase. Champions are determined throughout the entire year not 10 races.

January 29, 2011 at 6:05 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They can count the points anyway they want but if they reset them for a playoff it becomes a farce.

January 29, 2011 at 9:31 AM 
Anonymous Michael said...

I disagree that resetting the points for the Chase makes it a farce. That is how all playoff systems work. Nascar has come up with a unique way to have a playoff system for a set of drivers while still having 43 cars out there racing for the last ten races of the year. I know I'm in the minority with my thoughts about the Chase, but I think Nascar did good with it.

January 29, 2011 at 3:20 PM 

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