Race Weekend Central

5 Questions for 2011: Did NASCAR Do Enough This Offseason?

New points. New pavement. New attitude. As NASCAR heads towards Daytona in 2011, all around the sport are focused on the positive, looking for the perfect season to recapture a nation and get what once seemed like limitless upward momentum jumpstarted again.

Can they do it? As Speedweeks dawn, both the Bud Shootout and 53rd Daytona 500 usher in a long list of questions along with them, the answers to which could define the sport for not just this year but the coming decade. That means it’s time to get the blood pumping and start that 2011 analysis, figuring out just exactly how the controversies, the Earnhardt drama and the NASCAR tweaks both on and off the track will work out.

This week, we’ll get you thinking each day on one of five big questions facing stock car racing in 2011; as we try and find the answers, 10 staff members you know and love will come at you with our usual blend of facts, opinion and most of all… a sense of humor. After all, we’ll all need to laugh if these predictions blow up in our face come November…

Today’s Season Preview Topic: NASCAR chose to address the issues of the past few years by… tweaking the Chase (slightly) and revamping the points system. Good move? Bad move? What’s the one thing they didn’t fix you wish they had?

Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: One look at my inbox tells you all you need to know in this, what I’m Titling the Winter of NASCAR Discontent. Fans have been clamoring for months to get rid of a playoff system they no longer want, shorten races (which I disagree with) they feel are too long, get more charge out of the drivers they feel have gotten stale and revamp qualifying so it means something.

And NASCAR’s response was… we’re losing fans because they don’t understand our points system? OK, tell me where the heck that was the answer, Alex, because I didn’t see that $2,000 Jeopardy! question on the board. It would have been one thing if the new system rewards aggression, but alas, it’s just changing the numbers to make it easy for fans to follow the “Chase,” from race 1 all the way through race 36. That’s not fixing a problem, that’s highlighting one.

But more than anything else, NASCAR’s biggest regret as the season wears on will be not fixing the Top-35 qualifying system, where all but eight of 43 spots are locked in each week; there’s no incentive for new teams to get started, a limited way for them to make the starting grid and the result could mean a short field or as many as a dozen start-and-park teams by midsummer. The Big Boys have to find a way to get other guys in the game; millionaires like newcomer Andrew Murstein need to be starting a new team instead of keeping an existing one (in this case, Richard Petty Motorsports) afloat.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor & Writer: The points system itself is a good move; it will make the championship appear closer to the casual fan while, in essence, changing nothing. However, the main problem with the system – the Chase – is still in place. While the changes to who gets in are slightly better, two spots for the playoffs reserved for winning drivers just isn’t enough. In the process, NASCAR is still proving their ignorance of what the fans really want, doing what they think is right without actually listening. I do think that the new points tally will encourage racing for the win, though, because that’s the only way to gain any kind of advantage. Losing is more costly.

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: The tweaking of the points system simply did not need to be done. I don’t understand this idea of making everything so simple that a 2-year-old could understand it. It’s like sitting through those stupid directions before starting a standardized test. The old one was fine.

It could be argued that keeping it the same and making people learn that would make for a more informed fan… but it couldn’t have been that hard to calculate the points in the previous system. Why does it have to be assumed that everyone is a moron these days?!? The result of the changes is that there is effectively no effect at the top of the table, but finishing further down the order hurts you just that little bit more since there is the same difference between every position, like in ARCA. Not referenced, but probably worth a mention: The new points system eliminates owner points for those who fail to qualify for races.

I’m still not a fan of the Chase after seven years and never will be. Having said that, if we absolutely have to have a Chase (and, as far as I know, we do until at least 2014), the changes they made are OK.

What’s the one thing they didn’t fix you wish they had? I wish they had killed the Top-35 rule. Never liked it, especially since it came into use at the worst possible time (2005, when they introduced impound procedures for the vast majority of the schedule, creating a “kick them when they’re down” environment). This setup has seen drivers who qualified ninth quickest in a session DNQ because they couldn’t beat the requisite number of people who had to qualify on speed.

I’m not the only person who believes this, but NASCAR should go back to the 36 fastest-plus-seven provisionals system that was last used in 2004. That format was only eliminated due to Brian France looking back at what was probably the quirkiest season of the last 20 years on the surface, determining that people were leeching off the system and making changes to stop that without looking at the big picture. Maybe it could be a 40-plus-three-provisional setup; whatever the solution, I would be fine with either compared to what we have now.

Jay Pennell, Senior Editor: Overall, I believe this move was smart in terms of simplifying the points system so that fans watching in the stands and at home can follow the points battle much easier than ever before. I do feel there should be more of a bonus for winning, but I think the tweaks they made to the Chase criteria will make the final races of the regular season some of the best races all year long.

Tony Lumbis, Marketing Manager: I really would like to see the old system come back, or at the very least, back to the original Chase format where 10 drivers got in and at the very least, keep the ranking they earned all year. However, knowing that won’t happen, the Chase changes they did make were pretty good. I like the fact that the 11th or 12th-place guy can’t get bumped deep into the top 10.

The new points system is a lot easier, but I’m still struggling to see the issue that NASCAR claims this created. I don’t think fans have been leaving the sport in droves over the past decade because they thought the points system is too complicated. Plus, I still can’t believe they haven’t got rid of the Top-35 rule in qualifying. That makes it difficult for the underdog teams that everyone loves to root for to even make the show! The old provisional system was complicated, but it did the trick. Give the good drivers so many mulligans and if you still mess up beyond that, well, you probably deserved to miss the race.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Another year, another new title chase. Yawwwnnn… come on, NASCAR. This is exactly HOW you don’t gain credibility with the stick and ball crowd you so desperately want to like you. Do the NFL, NCAA or MLB change the rules and the scoring system every three years? At this point, it is beyond comical but yet isn’t really funny anymore. Never once have any of my non-NASCAR literate friends ever seemed confused by the points system. The Chase in and of itself is stupid and has no business in motorsports at any level beyond lawnmower racing.

Enough of the lame reasoning by the drivers that it makes things easier for them to figure out. Please. That is why you have a team of engineers and enough computers on your pit box to run a cooling tower. I’m sure somebody can conjure up an Excel spreadsheet to figure out the points breakdown.

You want the best points system ever?! Go back to the way it was from 1975-2003, 15 bonus points for a win, five bonus points for a pole. There, system solved, ratings go up, winning (and NASCAR) matters and qualifying matters, because the Chase doesn’t matter. As it is, nobody cares and the ratings prove this point beyond a shadow of a doubt. If you don’t think so, you can shut up and wait in the car, because you’re wrong.

Danny Peters, Senior Writer: NASCAR’s big gaffe is easy to find: more bonus points for winning. This, to me is the biggest miss of what is otherwise a move in the right direction. Simplifying the points made sense but now, more than under the old system, a poor finish will be massively punished – especially in the Chase. Overall, I’m happy with the changes but it could and should have been so much better.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: The one thing they DIDN’T fix?? Tell me one thing they DID fix! Other than getting rid of the Chase altogether, can anyone out there honestly say that they know of anyone; friends, family, longtime fans or casual fans who were wanting the points system to be revamped?! Or who thought a “one-time winner” should honestly be in the Chase? The biggest thing that NASCAR needs to change is who is in charge. Brian France is the most out of touch head of a professional sport than any other “commissioner” in the history of professional sports.

Get someone at the helm who A) actually cares about the sport, B) is “not stupider than a stump” and C) to whom his subordinates are not afraid to stand up to. Then, and only then, will NASCAR be able to begin to address and fix the problems that beset it now. Think about it: Mr. France is perceived as a buffoon by most anyone connected with the sport. His father and grandfather were respected. Maybe not liked, but they were respected. I feel Brian is neither, and that’s a problem.

Garrett Horton, Frontstretch Contributor: Honestly? I thought the points system was perfectly fine the way it was. With that said, this new format won’t be too much different, just easier to follow. NASCAR got it right with the two wildcard drivers, at least. It will likely take just two wins to qualify for the Chase, and with just the top 10 in points making it instead of the top 12, consistent finishes won’t guarantee a spot in the Chase anymore. Good finishes will still be nice to have, but this change will promote more aggressive driving.

Kyle Ocker, Frontstretch Contributor: While the new points system is easier for the fans to understand, it still will end up being the same thing. I think the change of allowing drivers with the most wins that aren’t in the top 10 is a good tweak, allowing for some flavor and slightly different names in the Chase. However, those drivers will likely continue to be 11th and 12th since the reason they weren’t in the top 10 in the first place was because they could win a couple of races but they weren’t consistent. As much as we all like to dream about having a championship battle involving 43 drivers heading into the final race tied, frankly? It’s just not possible.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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