Woody: NASCAR Needs To Tinker With Care
We hear reports that NASCAR plans an off-season overhaul of its Chase for the Championship.
Before it jumps off the deep end of the pool and does something too drastic (like making the 12 Chase drivers wrestle under a chicken-wire fence or dance the fandango for bonus points) it should to take a deep breath and beware of over-correcting.
On the track if a driver over-corrects – cranks the wheel too hard to avoid a spin – he can end up in more trouble than he already faced. Same thing could happen to NASCAR’s front office.
I’m not sure that the Chase needs much tweaking. Every driver who rolls out at Daytona in February has 26 races in which to crack the top 12 and make the playoffs. Everyone starts even and each race counts the same. That makes it a season-long battle, not merely a 10-race contest as some Chase critics contend.
Under the old points system if a driver wasn’t in the top 12 with 10 to go he had no chance. The Chase at least gives hope to each of those final 12.
Nobody can deny that the chase to the Chase adds drama to the “regular season.” It grows week by week as the season counts down to the 26th and deciding race: who’s in and who’s out.
Granted, once the Chase starts there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be a taunt, down-to-the-wire battle. And there shouldn’t be. In sports there aren’t supposed to be any guarantees.
We can remember lots of Super Bowls that were boring, fourth-quarter yawners. But the NFL didn’t panic and do something silly to artificially create a close finish, like letting the team that’s behind have two possessions to the opponent’s one, or give the offense an extra player. It didn’t over-correct.
NASCAR should proceed with similar caution. It has taken several innovative steps to spice up the action, including double-file restarts and triple-overtime if necessary.
If it does much more than that – if it implements special, gimmicky Chase rules – there’s a danger of going from a legitimate pro sport to some sort of contrived entertainment bordering on pro wresting.
The only thing I can think of that NASCAR could do to inspire drivers to race harder would be to award bonus points for each lap led. Currently a driver who leads one lap gets the same the same number of bonus points (five) as a driver who leads, say, 200 laps. The total lap-leader gets five more.
Rewarding a driver for each lap led would give him more incentive to battle for the lead on every lap and to hang onto it once he got it. It would be a way for a driver who’s down in the standing to quickly make up ground. It also would discourage teammates from shamefully giving each other freebie passes for the lead, assuming they are both chasing the championship.
Other than that I’m not sure a lot of tinkering is advisable, at least until we see how this season’s championship battle shakes out. We have a captivating chase to the Chase in progress with a dozen dramatic, shifting story lines.
Who knows – this season’s Chase might be the most dramatic, thrilling title fight in NASCAR history, with a pack of leadfoots locked in a frantic fight to the finish. It might not happen, but it’s possible. NASCAR should make sure it’s indeed broken before it fixes it.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments