NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Does NASCAR have the Right Combination for 2017?

With only one week left before the 2017 Daytona 500, drivers and teams of the newly-renamed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are making final preparations for the biggest race of the year.

Daytona International Speedway presents a challenge unlike most tracks in NASCAR.  The nature of pack racing in close quarters at 200 mph, leaving s a lot of variables outside of the drivers’ hands.  Nevertheless, it is crucial that each team puts their best foot forward.  Racing always involves luck, but finding the right combination of speed, handling and strategy will set teams up for a strong performance next week.

Joey Logano and Team Penske struck first, mounting a late-race charge to win the rain-delayed Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona early Sunday afternoon. Later on, Chase Elliott captured his second-consecutive pole for the Great American Race, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting alongside.

Assuming Elliott and Earnhardt can keep their cars in one piece through Thursday night’s Can-Am duels, they will lead the field to the green flag next week.

The teams’ quest to find a winning combination for Daytona is much like NASCAR’s challenge to make 2017 a successful season.  Has the sanctioning body finally found the right combination of sponsors, rules and championship system to pump new life into the sport?

Ever since 2004, when NASCAR first debuted a postseason championship format, none of those formats lasted more than four seasons without some revisions.  The current championship rules, featuring points awarded for race segments, playoff points that drivers carry through the different rounds of the postseason and the elimination procedures from the last few years, make up the fifth version of what was formerly known as the Chase.

Each time NASCAR has altered the championship format, the sport’s leaders have extolled the virtues of their new design.  The 2017 changes are no exception.  According to Brian France, these are the conditions that will make NASCAR more exciting.

The partnership with Monster Energy is another big change for 2017.  Despite the fact that France and his associates had been staunch defenders of the Chase, it is not that surprising to see the name go away.  No doubt that Monster wanted to put its own unique stamp on NASCAR’s top division, just as Nextel and Sprint had the opportunity to do.

The energy drink brand is no stranger to sponsoring forms of motor sports, so fans have a reason to be optimistic that Monster will go all out in its efforts to promote its relationship with NASCAR.  However, the true measure of how successful the NASCAR-Monster alliance will be measured in the long term.

The effects of dividing races into segments and awarding points mid-race will be another process to watch over the long term.  At Daytona, there is a strong possibility that the end of a segment will trigger a big crash, as drivers scramble to position themselves in the top 10.  There is also the potential on any race weekend for a driver to win a pair of segments and finish in the back half of the top 10, resulting in more points than the race winner.

Throw in the accumulation of playoff points, and the methods by which drivers earn points look considerably different than a year ago.  When NASCAR restructured its points system in 2011, it was ostensibly to make point totals simpler for fans to calculate.  The push to make drivers race harder appears to have cost the points system that simplicity.

Will 2017 really be a new era for NASCAR?

Some of the names on the cars have changed in the last few months.  While there is some driver turnover every season, this year’s Daytona 500 will not include, among others, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards or Greg Biffle.  Indeed, new names and new rules will be on the minds of fans as the season gets going.

That said, all the changes and new things in NASCAR can be linked back to the same old problem.  For the better part of 10 years, race attendance figures and TV ratings have been declining.  The reality that NASCAR has been unable to return to its peak popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s has hung over the sport like a black cloud.  It influenced the TV deals that NASCAR negotiated in 2014.  It had to have influenced NASCAR’s search for an entitlement sponsor, which dragged on far longer than the sanctioning body intended.  But France has always been the optimist, insisting that better days are on the horizon, thanks to whatever is new in NASCAR at the start of each year.

In 2017, there is a lot to keep an eye on for the long term.  Will the combination of sponsorship from Monster, race segments, and a revamped postseason generate more excitement for NASCAR?  If so, then the sport’s decade-old problem could be solved.  Otherwise, expect postseason version 6.0 unveiled before the 2020 or 2021 season begins, and the assurances from the sanctioning body that, this time, they have it right.

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Russ

At some point the ratings and attendance just can’t drop anymore. Will that be the mark of a successful season? If so, I don’t think they’ve reached it yet. We shall see I suppose although one has to wonder how adding extra minutes of interviews and commercials will help.

Ken

There could well be an increase in viewership for Daytona, as people tune in to see how this new system works. The real test will be the next week, at Atlanta. If people tune in to Daytona, and are completely turned off with this new bright idea of Brian’s, the TV ratings for Atlanta could tank at epic proportions! It would also be interesting to see if ticket renewals from the various tracks has increased, remained the same, or are lower. Then there is the matter of sales to the public after the renewal period is up. Are pre-race sales up? Are they down? Are they non-existent? I was reluctant to renew the tickets for the two races I normally attend, but I renewed anyway. I did not, however, renew for the support races! I only renewed for the Sunday Cup races. The Xfinity series is a joke with the Cup drivers dominating, so I decided to skip that one. The truck race is the same. I read previously about one particular Cup driver who was entered in the truck race, so that decided on non-renewal for that race. Another deciding factor was the track changing their policy for the Xfinity and truck races to be “general admission” and closing off about 80-percent of the seats. They said this was due to the lack of attendance. Well, no thanks! I prefer reserved seats!

Then again too, if people tune in to either the truck race on Friday night, and/or the Xfinity race on Saturday, and get their first feel for Brian’s hair-brained scheme, and the reception is not favourable, it could wipe out Sunday’s viewership.

We shall see!

Ken

I think there are a lot of problems that they have not thought through. I think the drivers will drive far less aggressively out of the fear that they will be involved in an accident that would knock them out of the race since they only have 5 minutes to get any repairs done and they can’t use any sheet metal not already on the car. The points given for the first two stage will not impact the racing much because of this fear. I also think there will be a lot of TVs switched off if a viewer’s driver is knocked out of a race due to an accident and they can’t return. If Junior gets knocked out of a race early, we might have a mid-race traffic jam with people leaving early.

I cant wait to hear the Bobble-Head Waltrips trying to explain the points since they can’t explain simple things now. If he was still alive and whether he was racing or not, I don’t think any of this stuff would have been even considered if Dale, Sr. was still alive. I also think Little Boy Brian would have been gone long ago.

Mike

I for one am tired of pointing out the obvious “it’s the racing stupid” –which is obvious to everyone but bzf & his sycophants. I just don’t care anymore. Instead of the clash, I opted for NHL hockey. Can you believe a deep-fired Southern boy from Alabama would watch ice hockey instead of nascar? 30+ years ago I’d gotten my ass whipped for saying something like that. Nowadays I’m more likely to hear “yeah man did yall see the floor checkin’ the Predators put on Columbus” than “did yall see the move Junior put on…”

DoninAjax

“Assuming Elliott and Earnhardt can keep their cars in one piece through Thursday night’s Can-Am duels, they will lead the field to the green flag next week.”

Why don’t you know that the two positions are guaranteed for the 500? I quit reading then.

Matt

Don,
I believe if either the 88 or 24 wreck in their respective 150 mile race and need to break out a back up car they would be sent to the rear of the field. If that’s not the case this year, it’s a new rule but NASCAR is lousy with them in 2017. Not sure if the new wrecked car rule means that if the car needs to go to the garage area or can’t be fixed in five minutes on pit road that the team MUST break out a backup car. They’re coloring in the rulebook as they go.

Joe

NASCAR, Daytona, FL, Jan 1, 2020:
NASCAR CEO, Brian France, announced a new change to the racing format. France says this will increase attendance and TV ratings. Monster Energy applauded the change saying “this is a brilliant collaborative decision to put more excitement into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.”
First rolled out for the 2017 season the race segments didn’t give the on-track action hoped for. France said the races broken into three segments will remain as will the championship points awarded for each segment and the end of the race.
France said the Fan Council was involved in the changes. He said since they do not attend nor watch races other than NASCAR and “since we’ve finally driven out the old-timers, now is the time to remake the series into something millennials and their children like.”
The new format still has the three segment races. The first segment remains the same with the starting lineup from qualifying. For segment two the field will be set by a random draw and the cars will run in the opposite direction.
The biggest change is the last segment. The field will be split in half; drivers that finished in the odd-numbered positions of segment two will line up single file on the inside and run in the traditional direction; even-numbered finishers will line up single file on the outside and run in the opposite direction at the same time. The last segment will run to its scheduled distance or until only one car is left. Championship points will be awarded as before.
France said all the stakeholders have bought in. Fox analyst Michael Waltrip said “The brilliance of Brian France’s mind is amazing! Mere mortals like myself and Darrell (fellow Fox analyst) really can’t grasp the magnitude of this man’s intelligence!” Fox announcer, Mike Joy said “This is the greatest change in the history of racing… I can’t wait for the season to begin.” And Fox analyst, Larry McReynolds said “This will show up the really smart crew chiefs from just the really good ones… It outta be excitin!” Darrell Waltrip’s comment was “Boogity-boogity-boogity, let’s go racing – or something like it – boys!”
The driver’s council initially balked, but France said this is a take-it-or-leave-it situation so they quickly bought in. Driver rep Denny Hamlin said where else can you make $7 million a year driving a race car “So, yeah, looking at it in those terms, we bought into it.”
A Monster rep said “This represents the things we sponsor. We take old-time boring sports and reinvigorate them to attract the younger fan. They don’t really know or care about the histories or traditions of the sport they just want to see action – It’s time to move on!”

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