NASCAR has never been a believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In fact, even if something is working well, NASCAR teams will still try to get that extra tenth of a second off of lap times if they can.
But NASCAR itself has continued to break something that wasn’t needing to be fixed.
Today NASCAR is announcing radical changes to the Chase For The Cup in an effort to make the end of the season more interesting. I fear it will have the opposite effect.
The changes start with having 16 drivers make the Chase instead of the top 10 in points plus the two winningest drivers after that.
Then there will be three races, after which the four drivers with the lowest points will be eliminated from the Chase. After another three races, the four lowest point totals are out, followed by the same thing repeating after the ninth race, leaving just four drivers to contend for the Cup in the last race.
Those four drivers will have their points reset to the same amount for everyone and will then race for the Cup, with the best placing driver winning the Cup.
NASCAR is most likely making the changes to prevent champion Jimmie Johnson from repeating what happened last year, when he needed to finish 28th or better to win his sixth Cup in eight years.
But Johnson isn’t buying into that.
“I don’t think that I’m the reason that things have declined in our sport and why viewership is down,” he said at a media day at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “And I don’t think NASCAR is picking on me trying to keep me from winning a championship; I really don’t.”
The new format has one detractor in Carl Edwards, who lost a Cup to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker in 2011.
“You don’t want someone to win 35 races, have a blown tire in one race and not be the champion,” he said. “That would seem kind of odd, juxtaposed to how we’ve crowned a champion – not just in NASCAR, but auto racing.”
The Chase format has been unpopular with NASCAR fans ever since it was introduced in 2004. It’s been tweaked a number of times since then. None have sat well with the fans.
NASCAR has long since wanted to have drama at the final race of the season. I remember a quote from a couple of years back where the head honchos said they wanted a “Game seven atmosphere” at the end of the season.
But this is manufactured drama. If you think there are conspiracy theories about NASCAR now, this will really open up Pandora’s box.
Along with Edwards’ complaints, I think it will cause the other 35 races to be almost meaningless. Just be the best on the day of Homestead Miami Speedway and that’s all you need.
And what if the shenanigans that Michael Waltrip Racing pulled last year with Martin Truex Jr. were to happen in the Chase? There’s three more chances for that kind of manipulation to happen.
Instead of manufacturing last-race drama, NASCAR should have left well enough alone. The drivers can make the Chase close and that will be real drama.
That’s what will help NASCAR.