The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: Waving The White Flag Of Surrender... Before It's Too Late by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday July 8, 2010

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Every few months, Brian France feels it behooves him to address the state of the sport. Such press conferences tend to involve a lot of disinformation, misinformation, long words used incorrectly, and non-existent words being formed, as well as much waving of hands and bright red-faced zealotry comparable to a holy roller seeing the first bag of rattlesnakes entering the sanctuary. The assembled press watches, nods, duly takes notes, and wonders all over again how this moron became head of NASCAR.

But what was surprising about the “State of the Sport” speech this weekend at Daytona is that Brian France, his very own self, admitted it might be time to modify the Chase format. The All-Singing, All-Dancing, Chase was purportedly one of France’s very own ideas to better the sport, occurring shortly after realignment and “starting new traditions” like the Labor Day date at Fontana which was very short-lived by the standards of “traditions.” It had to be humbling for France to admit if this Chase dog isn’t exactly one that won’t hunt, it’s flushing out robins and not the pheasants we’re after.

France might not have had much choice but to offer a thinly veiled mea culpa. (He is, after all, the most culpable guy ever to hold his job title.) NASCAR is about to end its relationship for 2010 with a second broadcast partner enduring slumping TV ratings for yet another year, especially in key demographics. Attendance at some tracks is off — and off significantly — and again that’s become an annual trend, not an aberration brought on by poor weather. There was once a time NASCAR proclaimed itself “The fastest growing sport in America” and claimed it ranked second only to the NFL in TV ratings. Nowadays, they regularly use such excuses as the Winter Olympics, any golf match Tiger plays in, no matter how poorly, or even competition from World Cup matches as excuses for poor TV ratings. The World Cup? I know about as many international soccer fans as I do Hindu dwarves, which is to say precisely none. Yeah, I’m a hick from the sticks, but I do in fact know people from the bright lights of the big city, where they have electrical power and indoor plumbing.

A change to the Chase format is on the horizon, again, leaving fans wondering what could possibly be next.

NASCAR is infamous for floating trial balloons to see how fans and the media warm to new ideas (usually quite poorly). Having announced the Chase might need a face lift (and, in fact, I feel not only will that dog not hunt, it won’t even get out of the truck), the first trial balloon I see floating above the cordite-scented clouds is for fifteen drivers to be included in the Chase. After two races five drivers, presumably those lowest in the points at that juncture, would be eliminated. Two races, hence another five drivers would be cut and have their torches extinguished for the season. Two races after that, we’d be left with just three contestants for the title. I don’t know if they’d reset those three contestants’ point totals back to zero in an attempt to make it exciting or what, but I don’t like the idea however it’s framed.

I don’t know every breed of dog, their diets, or the size of their droppings, but I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting a hot, steaming pile of dog poop on the back lawn before stepping in it barefoot. There’s no question the proposed system is too complicated for casual fans and non-fans who might be tuning in to see what the fuss is about.

If the Chase-style format must remain (and I’ll argue it should not until I am blue in the face and need a smoke and a beer) we need to simplify it. The Chase should be cut back to nine races, with ten drivers competing for the top spot. Ten is a simple number to understand. At the culmination of each race, the lowest-finishing driver of those remaining is eliminated, but gets some lovely parting gifts. That’s simple to understand. When we come to the season finale, there would be two men (or people, if by some miracle Danica Patrick ever gets this door-slammer stuff figured out) left standing. Traditional sports fans are used to this finale; two contestants fighting it out for the big prize. Everyone else is background noise out there. Sure, a driver might be champion and finish 15th, but a Super bowl-winning NFL team can only mathematically score a single safety to win the game.

Some will say I have taken leave of my senses. (That happened a long time ago, and I’ve never missed them). One bad race, possibly not of his own making, shouldn’t erase a triumphant season for the fellow who has won the most races. Why not? As I am constantly reminded after my tirades about the Chase, an NFL team can win every regular season game and be eliminated in a contest against the winner of the Wild Card game that perhaps finished with less than a .500 season average. You remember what our friend Forrest Gump said about stuff happening…

Frankly, I am perplexed by so many people, writers and fans, accepting the Chase as fait accompli. I read today where some fool said that we cannot go back to the old points system because it was too boring, and drivers could win the title with three races left to run. So what? In fact, the last two seasons, if the points race for the Cup title had been run under the old system, the end result would have been a closer, more competitive battle for top honors. Under the old system, all the season’s races counted equally, which could help sell some tickets again… and not just to the final ten races. The fact is, the traditional fan who is the backbone of the sport has embraced the Chase as if it’s a cactus. And those traditional fans are the ones who keep the lights on at the racetracks, be it Houston Hollow or Daytona Beach.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Robert Frost poem about the road less taken. NASCAR didn’t need to completely overhaul the points system. They needed to take the road less taken and award more points for a race win. I’ve long been a proponent of an even 500 points for a race win. A top 5 finish ought to pay significantly more points than a top 10, and a top 10 finish should pay a bunch more points than a finish in the top 20. Any finish outside the top 20 ought to awarded zero points, which would allow Chase contenders an occasional Mulligan and negate the incentive for start-and-parkers. I doubt there would be too many seasons in which the top four or five drivers would enter the final event of the year out of contention with a potential 500-point swing. And if they did, hey fans revere and not revile the undefeated 1972 champion Miami Dolphins.

Remember the five and five spoiler rules? Remember Labor Day races at Fontana? Remember “NASCAR’s Night In Hollywood?” Remember the 1973 points system that awarded laps completed? Every once in awhile, NASCAR needs to admit they have well and truly screwed the pooch, apologize to the fans, scrap an idea completely, and get on down the highway. It’s about time they started to do so now. For when NASCAR history is written, if there’s anyone left who cares to document the debacle, the Chase system is going to go down as the single worst idea ever to infest the sport.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Kevin from PA
07/08/2010 08:31 AM
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Fully agree with you Matt. However I think you said it best – how many people are still around to care?

My father-in-law and his friends were the die hard fans that built the sport. You couldn’t go to the local auto parts store where they hung out without getting a lap-by-lap review of the previous race. Now? Let’s just say the Bill Elliott Coors car poster is so faded, you can barely see the faces of the 20 year models holding Bill (who looks like their grandfather in the poster).

So regardless of what Brian does (newer Chase; old system) – these guys are over and done with NASCAR. And I really don’t see a lot of people taking their places.

For those still around, I agree that a whole new point system is needed instead of window dressing another Chase. Give enough points to the race winner to where the drivers will race again instead of being content running around in 7th place. BUT make sure that it isn’t enough to where the lead cannot be made up or to where someone can just concentrate on the 1.5 mile tracks.

Sounds like a tough job – sure glad we have Brian at the helm.

DoninAjax
07/08/2010 09:49 AM
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Just what most of us are thinking.
The only thing that would make this system work is if Johnson is eliminated early. Imagine the conversation between Brian and Rick when Rick wants his money back.
What happens if a driver is eliminated early and then wins five or six races?
The NFL has a committee that meets after each season and discuses changes and tweaks for the next season. Then they see how the changes have worked out and GET RID OF THEM IF THEY DON’T WORK. That will never happen in NASCAR because Emperor Brian will never admit he is wrong. Kind of like Bud Selig in baseball and Gary Bettman in the NHL.
We’re stuck with this ad infinitum.
This is a POINTS championship. The number of wins doesn’t count.

Mark
07/08/2010 09:50 AM
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I’ve heard all i ever want to about points . The most important part of racing is winning . Or at least it should be . There was a time when winning at Darlington , or winning at Martinsville meant something . In fact it meant a lot . Drivers and fans alike truly cared about who won .
Thanks to the determined efforts of the France family , now the only thing that matters is whether or not you had a good points day . Didn’t run well enough to win ? Doesn’t matter . Nowdays the only important question is … did you come out of there with a good points day . Did you win the race ? Yes , but much more important is the fact that i gained points . NO IT ISN’T !!! I pay big money to take my family to the races . I’m not interested in watching drivers ride around , staying out of trouble , going for a top ten finish . I’m not interested in hearing the talking heads jump immediately to the god-awful important point standings at the end of the race , usually even before they bother to interview drivers .
I’m sick of points . I’m sick of talking about points . I want to see individual races mean something again , not just another meaningless rung in the ladder to a points championship .
To be honest , i couldn’t care less if there was such a thing as the points championship . It’s manipulated so badly that it really doesn’t mean anything anyhow . If NASCAR just can’t help themselves , if they just have to have a “ championship “ so they can be perceived to be as important as other sports , then they should at least come up with a system that gives the title to the most deserving competitor . The driver with the most wins in a season is the champion . The car owner with the most wins in a season is the car owner champion . The manufacturer with the most wins in a season is the manufacturers champion . See how easy that can be . You put that system into effect and you’ll see every race become vitally important . You’ll see a fight for the lead at every race like you’ve never seen . You won’t see teams coasting through races just to pick up points . You won’t see teams just accepting that they aren’t good at certain tracks and just riding around .

Ron
07/08/2010 10:49 AM
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After watching too many races where I wondered why I just wasted several hours in front of the TV, I’ve now adopted a new approach —- I wait until the following days to read the online summaries and to watch the video clips of the highlights on the internet.

JerseyGirl
07/08/2010 11:32 AM
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thank you, Matt. Great article, its a shame that Brian France will never do this – admit he’s wrong? Ha!

NASCAR, by going to a playoff system tried to make itself like all other sports, except its playff doesn’t work like that. As you said, fans watch individual races and cheer for their particular driver. It is the major mistake that both NASCAR and the TV pundits miss — I don’t stop following MY favorite driver just because he didn’t make the chase. I DO stop watching races on TV when they don’t cover what is happening in the race.

If you didn’t lead the points and beat out all comers at all kinds of tracks, you’re not the champion. I don’t care how many times Johnson wins the chase, he’s never won over a full season.

Rick
07/08/2010 12:06 PM
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Drop the chase!

Kevin in SoCal
07/08/2010 01:00 PM
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Matt said: “In fact, the last two seasons, if the points race for the Cup title had been run under the old system, the end result would have been a closer, more competitive battle for top honors.”

Its my opinion that you cannot compare results like that as easily as you claim. For one, drivers will race differently if they know they’re already locked into the Chase than if they’re in 10-14th place fighting to get in. That wouldnt happen under the 2003 and prior point system. Under the old system, by the time September came, there were only about 5 drivers with a realistic shot at winning the championship, and the other 38 were just mailing it in, or testing for next year. Now, for the last ten races, you have 12 drivers all with a shot at it, and they’re all racing their butt off trying to win.
We wouldnt be having this discussion if Johnson didnt win the last four years. I would much rather see a driver beating everyone by 100 points over the last 10 races, than see a driver beating everyone by 300 points over all 36 races. Just my opinion, and I know I’m in the minority.

DansMom
07/08/2010 02:15 PM
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I agree Kevin,

Matt is so far out of the realm of reality it is unreal.

When I read the title of his column today I thought MATT would be waving the white flag of surrender. Turns out, it was just another McAwful column about how piss poor he thinks NASCAR is.

DoninAjax
07/08/2010 03:23 PM
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For a while there I thought DansMom had gone back to Roswell and got in her spaceship and tried to find another galaxy to match her intelligence?

Before the chase there were 43 drivers in each of the last 10 races. Now there are 12 untouchables (One really) and the rest disappear and can’t race the other 12.
Just because the POINTS leader is way in front doesn’t mean you ignore the others running for positions.

If wins matter that much to so many people give the driver with the most wins a trophy. The team with the player who hits the most home runs in a season doesn’t usually win the World Series. The NFL player who scores the most TDs in a season isn’t usually on the team that wins the Super Bowl.

What’s the difference if the leader in the chase is 300 POINTS in front or the leader before the chase was 300 POINTS in front with two races to go in the SEASON?

no Spin
07/08/2010 03:48 PM
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NFL Sunday ticket, I never believe I would buy in to it BUT THIS NY SECOND YEAR

steve-o
07/08/2010 05:07 PM
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I’m just sick of the announcers. Points, points, points. And in Nationwide how they kiss Danica’s uncompetitive butt. Somebody hits the wall they say “good job” Somebody spins out they say “good job.” Somebody finishes 25th they say “good job.”

Chris from TX
07/08/2010 08:46 PM
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Prior to the existence of the chase, I considered season championships to be largely irrelevant.

I’ve been watching racing a pretty long time. I grew up watching it. Any auto racing. F1, Nascar, SCCA, Grand Am, Cart …whatever. My interest, at any given event, on TV or in person, was the finishing order of that race, and who was going to emerge victorious.

So…The Chase, for better or worse, puts the focus on the driver’s points championship. Now, it is considered more important, at least in the broadcast, than the race results.

I actually like the idea of an elimination format, assuming that they wish to continue with some sort of playoff-style format at all. If you want to make it feel like a playoff series, then do it. Weekly Eliminations in the chase. And, while you’re at it, make winning a requirement to get into the playoff, or at least weight wins so heavily that it is extremely difficult to get in without winning.

If there is one real failing of this championship format, it is the points system itself. There’s nothing quite like having a points system that rewards strokers, and punishes risk takers, and then complaining that the drivers are stroking. You want the first 26 races to mean something? Make a win worth a whole bunch of points, 2-5 worth alot of points, and outside the top-10 basically worthless. Cap the races (except specials) at 3 hours long. The racing in each individual race is much better, the championship will take care of itself.

mkrcr
07/08/2010 10:15 PM
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Brainless France could float more trial balloons than are released at the Indy 500, he still wouldn’t listen to the fans. Unless it suits him.

Bill B
07/08/2010 10:40 PM
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Yeah Brian France is admitting the Chase isn’t working. But what does he do? He digs the sport deeper into a chase format that just isn’t fair and doesn’t fit.
Please Brian, go the last yard and admit it was a mistake and total failure and go back to the old system (with perhaps a few tweaks but no points reset). You will gain more credibility than you could imagine.

DoninAjax
07/08/2010 11:29 PM
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Let’s say only wins count for the championship.
What happens if two drivers win 18 races each?
What happens if nine drivers win four races each? Who wins the championship?
Only wins count.
I don’t think Emperor Brian will shell out for nine trophies. It’ll cut down on the profits.

panthalassa
07/08/2010 11:41 PM
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i’m perversely hoping that jeff gordon continues his current ways, finishes third through sixth in every chase race, and wins the 2010 championship without actually winning a race. this absurd scenario would create a fan and media backlash that would force the powers to revisit the chase format and, more importantly, the points system.

Mike
07/09/2010 08:22 AM
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hoping that jeff gordon continues his current ways, finishes third through sixth in every chase race, and wins the 2010 championship

I’m pretty sure Mark Martin almost pulled that off a few years back – before the ‘Chase’ format. And while I would have been happy to see him do that, it would have highlighted the need for more points for a win.

Kevin
07/09/2010 09:19 PM
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“Prior to the existence of the chase, I considered season championships to be largely irrelevant.”

It’s much more irrelevant now, at least for the first 26 races. What does Harvick get for being the point leader now? Absolutely nothing! But if he was fighting hard to maintain his points lead because he knew it wouldn’t disappear in a couple of months, that would be a much more compelling story than what we have now.

Brian France needs to step up, admit that it didn’t work, and get rid of the chase once and for all. I don’t really expect this to happen, but that’s what he needs to do in order for NASCAR to regain some of the respect that it has lost.

robert
07/10/2010 03:07 AM
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I’ve been reading Matt from way back. And I was a big earnhardt Sr. fan. I’ve been watching Cup racing since the late 70’s I’m in no way trying to start anything, but I saw a change to the chase coming with Earnhardt Jr. doing so bad. When it was 10 drivers and he didn’t make it, it went to 12. Now he may not make the top 12, make it 15. (then eliminate him the first week) that ain’t going to work either. I truely believe the chase was thought up to give him a chance to match or beat his fathers 7 championships. (looks like J.J. might just screw up that plan)
NASCAR has turned the racing into a joke. I never used to miss a race, NEVER. Now I record, fast forward through it, stop if anything looks interesting, and watch the last 20 laps. Even then most weeks I wonder why I even spent the 40 minutes or so doing that.
As for the old points, I didn’t mind when the champaion was decided with 3 of 4 races to go. With it out of the way, sometimes those last 4 races of the year were the best. Just pure racing, no one worring about points. I’m one of those old time fans, and I think that this will be my last year also. I keep watching and hoping, just for that one race that is the “Classic” of the year a 6 pack on the beer scale, just one more, just one more time, but as each week goes by it ain’t happening. I find myself disappointed yet again.
Matt keep up the good work, as much as NASCAR has changed (and not for the better) at least you are a constant. I feel your pain also……