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Fanning the Flames: Figuring Out France’s Midseason “Review”

Before we get going this week, allow me a moment. See, a few things struck me last week while listening to Brian France’s annual abridged State of the Sport address at Daytona. Chief among those were his thoughts on modifying the Chase.

Again.

France states that the sanctioning body studies and discusses the Chase format each season “to make sure it’s giving us the biggest impact moments.”

This seems odd to me, because I was under the impression that playoff formats in sports — be it the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, etc. — were structured so as to award a deserving champion, not to serve solely as a platform to manufacture excitement (whatever a ruling body deems is exciting, that is).

I guess the crux of my frustration with NASCAR’s playoff system is not in the format, although I’ve never been a real fan of it, but with the fact that, as they consider a third championship alteration in eight years, it’s becoming harder and harder for the mainstream to take the sport’s title seriously. Not the titlist, mind you; the title itself. And make no mistake, despite the 100,000-plus in attendance most weekends and a multi-billion dollar TV contract, there’s a reason a NASCAR Cup race gets less play on SportsCenter than a single MLB game. Of course, I swore off those Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann wannabes on the four-letter network a long time ago, but that’s a different rant for a different article.

The point is, it’s getting hard even for me — a hardcore fan of the sport since the early ’80s — to argue the legitimacy of a title that the league’s own ownership can’t seem to get behind for any length of time. Throw in the fact that the sport’s chair all but admitted to the media that he’s more concerned with “impact moments” than crowning a worthy champion, and we got serious credibility issues — not to mention disgust towards the vision of the sport’s brainstrust for not getting it right on the first two attempts.

Equally worrisome is that all we heard about in 2004 was how great this Chase was going to be. We heard the same again in ’07. How am I expected to believe this one will be as great as I’m sure they’re going to tell me it is with that kind of track record – and again, allow me to ask incredulously – of three modifications in eight years?!

I believe the time for getting this “just right” is long past. Excuse the adage, but you make your bed, you lie in it – so please don’t roll in another bedroom suit just because you aren’t happy with the color of the comforter any longer.

OK gang, on to this week’s submissions.

Q: Brian France really unloaded on the media at Daytona with a bunch of ideas and possibilities about what might happen in the future. What prompted all this? It came out of nowhere. Was it because NASCAR is at the midway point of the year? And since when does he share his thoughts so openly? I thought NASCAR would do what it wanted, whether the media and fans agreed or not. — Cassie Roberts

A: France typically takes the July visit to Daytona as an opportunity to float some trial balloons by the media. In turn, we’ll write about this, that and the other, and NASCAR can take the fans’ and media members’ temperature on their latest and “greatest” ideas (see: above diatribe).

The sanctioning body is looking at a number of different things this year, and seems more interested than ever to get fan feedback. I know it often seems like it’s all about the bottom line with NASCAR (and this whole Kansas Speedway/casino thing proves that’ll always be the case to a point), but France & Co. really are interested in what will bring in more fans, as well as appease those still hanging around.

Let me give them credit, because I’m the first to criticize. NA$CAR got the NNS CoT right. The Ford and Dodge were refreshing, and I know it’s not NA$CAR’s fault that Chevy won’t run the Camaro (and who cares what Toyota runs).

Q: Being able to instantly identify the Fords and Dodges was awesome! Why NA$CAR went away from that is still a mystery to me. I guess the switch back to cars that look like a Mustang or a Challenger is as close to an admission of wrongdoing as we will see from NA$CAR. That aside, I like the change and am looking forward to it coming to Sprint Cup! — Stevie W., Kernersville, N.C.

A: You’re not alone in your thoughts, Stevie. Admittedly, we’ll never have “real” Mustangs, Challengers, et al, on the track, and yes, this is more of a nose job than a full-body makeover… but as they say, God is in the details. And let me tell you, those grill fascias make a world of difference.

By the way — and I’m throwing this out there for no particular reason — judging by the reaction I’ve gauged, I guess I’m in the minority that I prefer the Mustang over the Challenger. Of course, I’ve always been a Mustang guy, so, you know, personal preference. Just sayin’.

Oh, and to the “purists” that don’t like the idea of a pony car coming to NASCAR: It’s less of a sacrilege than the IROC car that is the CoT. Yeah, I know we’re still stuck with the pig, but in this instance the makeup sure makes a difference.

Q: Hi Matt. A question about Daytona getting repaved. Why won’t it make Daytona more like Talladega? The drivers and TV folks say that they will not be the same, but plate racing is plate racing to me. — Fletcher

A: Because Talladega is an eight-lane interstate and Daytona a two-lane highway. Yeah, Daytona will see increased grip and you’ll still see the pack racing, but it will once again be in extremely tighter quarters than at ’Dega.

We’ll end on this note; a fitting one. As I was punching through dates, scenarios, and logistics, some good news came to me through the magical world of 140 characters, when Denny Hamlin broke the big news of the day on Twitter….

Q: Matt, can you tell me when Jimmie and Chandra’s due date is? I’m aware it is in an off week, but as I can attest, due dates are not fact (a week and a half early!). Almirola will be the sub, so where will Jimmie fly to (N.C.?) and if it happens during a race, will he immediately get out and go? Also, if it happens while he is at the track and not during the race, will he not start the race and forfeit the points? Thank you! Enjoy the column! — Laura Downs, New Jersey

A: No need to worry about this anymore, Laura. Jimmie and Chandra welcomed a baby girl into the world yesterday. At the time of this submission, no further details had been released. And no word on if Uncle Rick inked her to a deal before the ink on her hands from the birth certificate dried.

Thanks for hanging ’til the end, and in honor of Kevin Harvick’s Daytona win last Saturday, check out this *most awesome clip*. One of my all-time favorites. It’s Harvick, the spotter and you in the ’07 Daytona 500. Seeing that makes that win all the more amazing….

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