NASCAR said Tuesday it is open to rewarding the driver who has the point lead after the 26-race regular season. How should that driver in each series be recognized, if at all?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: My first reaction was that it’s about time NASCAR rewards the best driver for the majority of the season. Unfortunately, my second was that it’ll probably be some sort of trophy and check instead of what it should be: a first-round bye in the Chase and the points lead, or at the very least a piece of it, after the reset. Make it worth some serious bonus points (I like 25 at least, maybe 50) so that teams race harder for it during those 26 races. I hate that a driver earns a lead and has it taken away for another who earned fewer points during the year; that just doesn’t seem right.
Dan Greene, Webmaster: NASCAR is doing everything it can to patch up the Chase without admitting that it didn’t have the results for which it’d hoped. The champion is the champion by whatever system that is at the time. Rewarding the points leader before the at the end of the regular season just seems redundant. Bringing back a program like the Winston Million would generate more interest.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: In racing, money talks. If NASCAR feels it’s necessary to reward teams for their success, I suggest offering a healthy cash bonus to the organizations out front in points after the regular season. Logic would dictate that the team leading in points would also be eligible for its respective Chase-based title run. That said, I’m not sure why NASCAR feels an additional prize is necessary.
NASCAR added post-race height and weight violations to the list of infractions that will lead to an encumbered win and not guarantee a starting spot in the next round in any Chase. Was it the right move, or too harsh?
Greene: The only way NASCAR can avoid comparisons to professional wrestling is to make rules and actually enforce them. Continually changing the rules confuses fans and competitors alike. If NASCAR wanted prove it’s serious about enforcing the rules, it would take away wins. The penalty is actually too light, but it’s as good as we’re going to get.
Howell: Legal means playing within the rules; illegal means violating the expected standards. If a team can’t get its car to achieve post-race requirements, and there’s no way said team will lose its win/finishing position, then the very least NASCAR can do is to jeopardize its advancement in the Chase. If it’s all about the Chase, it should be all about advancing, according to the rulebook.
Henderson: I agree. I wish that, if a car is out of tolerance in post-race inspection, NASCAR would strip the finishing position and points. But since that’s not happening, this was a great move. I don’t have a problem with tweaking rules to make the racing more fair, and that’s what this decision does. I hope NASCAR takes a long, hard look at post-race inspection procedures in the offseason and decides it’s time to take finishes away, or at the very least that if a driver wins a race and fails, it’s not good for a Chase spot.
Alex Bowman has had some good runs filling in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the No. 88 this year. Is his performance enough to earn Bowman a full-time gig in a national series next season?
Howell: I could see Alex Bowman getting a steady/full-time XFINITY Series ride, but I don’t think his performance in 2016 is indicative of a full-time Cup gig. Bowman has talent, he’s been paying his dues, and he’s certainly been kicked around by the business (getting dumped via Twitter totally sucked), but I’m guessing Cup owners want to see more from Bowman if they’re going to hand him a full-time ride in a top-tier car. I certainly hope he lands a great deal for next year, but it’ll likely be at the XFINITY level.
Henderson: I think he’s definitely earned a chance in top-flight XFINITY or Camping World Truck Series equipment; I’m not sure he’s ready for a full-time Cup bid quite yet (if it was just about talent, he probably wouldn’t have been let go at Tommy Baldwin Racing), but he has earned a shot, and I hope someone can give him one in XFINITY or Trucks.
Greene: Bowman’s runs in the No. 88 have hopefully gained him some respect in the garage and some bargaining power in future deals. He hasn’t done enough to knock any regular Cup starters out of their seats next year, but he’ll definitely get a good XFINITY ride and made a few Cup starts.
Tony Stewart is rightfully considered one of the best drivers of the past generation in NASCAR, yet he’ll retire without a win in either the Daytona 500 or Southern 500. Does Stewart’s failure to win two of NASCAR’s biggest races hurt his standing among the sport’s greatest stars?
Henderson: It certainly shouldn’t. There are some drivers with prestigious race wins who can’t hold a candle to Tony Stewart’s accomplishments, which include three Cup titles, an IndyCar title and the USAC Triple Crown. Stewart isn’t just one of the best NASCAR drivers of all time — he’s one of the best American racecar drivers of all time. Three races (include the Indy 500, because that’s the one he really wanted most and probably a bigger deal than either NASCAR race) don’t change that.
Greene: The fact the Smoke hasn’t won the Daytona 500 or the Southern 500 just proves how hard those races are to win. Stewart has three Cup titles, wins in all three of NASCAR’s national series and is 13th on the Cup all-time win list with 49 wins. He’s already in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the USAC Hall of Fame and is a certain NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. His standing among NASCAR’s greats, and as one of auto racing’s greats in general, is secure.
Howell: Stewart will get a favorable pass from the history books despite winning neither a Daytona 500 nor a Southern 500. Stewart has won numerous open-wheel titles and he’s the only driver to win a NASCAR Cup-level championship in three different eras — Winston Cup, Nextel Cup and Sprint Cup. That demonstrates some career consistency, even though Smoke has come up short in those aforementioned famous events.
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