Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Does anyone want to win, or just watch their back?

Bristol was benign, there’s no other way to put it. And I think those who’ve decided to blame that on the Chase are at least partly right.
What we’re beginning to learn, I think, is that every year things are going to be different. A few weeks ago, everybody from about third to 14th was piled on top of one another in the standings. It seemed like it could be wild coming down the stretch to Richmond when the Chase field was determined.
But some things happened at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen and gaps started to open up. All of a sudden, the top 10 going into Saturday night’s Sharpie 500 looked at their situations and said, “As long as we don’t do something stupid, we’ll be all right.”
Now that’s not the kind of thinking that leads to all-out racing. And if the Chase caused that then the Chase takes the blame. I do believe some of the guys in that mess between fourth and 10th were “playing defense” at Bristol, and I don’t blame them because given the system that exists that’s the smart thing to do.
You can’t blame teams for doing what they have to do to get into the Chase. They’re playing the system. The problem is, therefore, the system. Specifically, the problem is still the same as it always was. It’s the points system. Winning has to be worth significantly more than it is now or the problem is not going to go away. The Chase hasn’t really changed that.
The Chase is creating some of the problem, though, because more people have to pay attention to points now. If we were under the old system now only Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth would be thinking about and answering questions about points now. Under the Chase, though, you’ve got eight (nine, counting Kasey Kahne) that for the next two weeks have to make every decision in light of where they stand in the points.
Now if the things that pushed everybody apart hadn’t happened in the weeks leading up to Bristol, the tone of that race would have been different. If there still had been 12 guys really in contention for eight spots, it would have been less possible to play things conservatively. Some years, as long as the points system stays the way it is, Bristol is going to be run under those circumstances. Some years it won’t.
I don’t think the track has anything to do with it, although it’s true that Bristol’s surface has about had it. It appears that they’re going to resurface it next year, most likely between the spring and fall races, and NASCAR will use the car of tomorrow there next season, too. That means we don’t really have any idea what we can expect from Bristol’s Cup races in 2007.
I don’t know what NASCAR’s going to do to “tweak” the points system, but I don’t think it’s going to be any kind of major overhaul. It may make winning worth about 10 points more than it is now, which is a baby step in the right direction but a step nonetheless. Maybe if NASCAR awarded a “wild card” Chase spot to the driver outside the top 10 with the most victories, as one fan suggested recently to me in an e-mail, that would be another step. But it’s not one that I see the sport taking.
Again, if it were up to me I would set up a system that makes it highly difficult to make the Chase without winning a race and impossible to win the championship without winning at least one of the Chase races. It can be done that way, and it should be done that way.


Anonymous said...

I'm guessing California will be a "defensive" race just like Bristol. As you stated, that's now the nature of the beast...I mean the nature of the "chase"! But no worries, once it's New Hampshire time and the top 10 are locked in, all heck is going to break lose. It will be a great chase for the championship this year! Vroom!

Monkeesfan said...

Drivers have played defense for many years, ever since the mid-1980s. This is what is so wrong with the Latford Point System and is part of what is so wrong with the Chase format. NASCAR may have wanted to jazz up the points race with the Chase, but the bottom line is they failed.

If they want to get these drivers to try and win, then as far as the points system goes, they need to abort the whole misbegotten playoff format and go to massive quarterly and seasonal point bonuses for most wins and most laps led, such as

200 bonus points for most wins in that quarter.
200 bonus points for most laps led in that quarter.

500 bonus points for most wins.
500 bonus points for most laps led.

Under such a system there will never again be "points racing," because with this the drivers will have no choice but to go for the win every race.

Cato said...

The irony is that one of the supposed benefits of the chase was that it would build some interest during late summer as the cutoff race approached. Instead, it's resulted in the Bristol night race, which is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year, being made into just another dronefest (if you don't know what that is, watch Fontana this weekend).

With all of the changes coming about, hopefully NASCAR will make some good decisions. But, to be honest, it's starting to seem like it's at the apex of a fad. Lots of fans I know who used to watch NASCAR exclusively are following F1, IRL (why Cup can't arrange for split-screen commercials is beyond me), or just getting out of the house more.

They should seriously look at the structure of the chase, but also, try to get speeds and costs down, shorten the longer races, and make passing a competitive priority. And for pete's sake, if you're going to build more tracks, stay away from the 1.5 & 2-mile cookie-cutters.

Mike said...

A lot has been mentioned about the boring Bristol race. Sure it wasn't an all out WWF cage match. It is related to the Chase, but the reason is the lack of contenders to make the Chase. In previous years, there were more drivers still realistically eligible for the Chase, this year only Kahne entered Bristol with a real chance ot re-enter the top 10. It is similar to the last 10 races and making it more exciting. 2004 came down to the last laps at Homestead to decide the winner, last year was less thrilling. It happens. This year the countdown to the Chase is less exciting, but it doesn't mean the last 10 races won't be wild. Nascar, and fans, shouldn't react so quickly based on a short period of time. (By the way, the Chase won't go away, so it's time to give up that fight)

Monkeesfan said...

Mike, the first two Chases weren't close to wild; why should anyone believe this year's Chase will actually justify the concept? And as for the concept not going away, it will the more it continues to fail and the more people point this out to the obstreperous types running the sport.

cato, the sponsors DO NOT WANT split-screen, because it lessens exposure. And why should NASCAR shorten the longer races? Short races are for people with ADD, not real fans. And the cookie cutter tracks are good tracks.

Anonymous said...

Both Bristol and Fontana were BORING!!! I've always been an avid NASCAR fan and never missed a race on TV but, if I miss one now, oh well. Give us back Rockingham and Darlington! At least they had some excitement!