Drivers Wary Of Big Changes
By Jim Pedley | Senior Writer
Joliet, Ill. – Change is in the air around NASCAR these days. Specifically, change in formats and schedules and especially, change concerning the Chase. Big changes. Sport-changing changes.
“Some wild stuff,” as driver Carl Edwards said of the rumored changes Friday at Chicagoland Speedway.
The impetus for the talk, and some cases criticism, concerning change was a press conference which was keyed by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France last weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
“We like a playoff style format for sure,” France said. “It distinguishes us in motorsports, number one, distinguishes our national divisions number two. And, number three, the big design is to have playoff-type moments that only can be, in any sport, created when there’s a lot on the line at any one moment, right? That’s what the essence of Game 7s, eliminations and all that are.
“What we’re talking about is, you know, enhancing it in a way that will bring out more of the winning moments, the big moments that happen in sports. And if there’s a way we can do that, and there are a couple of ways, we’re going to give that a lot of weight.”
Specifics of the changes have come mostly in the form of rumors.
But several drivers said Friday that some of the rumors are causing some anxiety in the garages.
Especially those rumors which concern elimination-type playoffs.
“I think it comes down to the question of do you want the champion to be the river and the team that has performed best on average through the whole season,” Edwards, of Roush Fenway Racing, said, “or do you want a really dramatic final race?”
Edwards gave vocal support to the former.
“To me, the true way to crown a champion is who finishes best on average throughout the whole season,” he said. “Racing is complex and there are a lot of things that can go wrong so it wold be nice to have a mulligan or two. I just see the potential, even now, to have a guy who wins 30 races in a season and is not the champion. How would you deal with that. Do you want the best team and driver or do you want it to be dramatic?”
Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch won the Sprint Cup championship in 2004 – the first season in which the Chase was held.
He won that championship and did it fairly exciting fashion as about five drivers entered the final race of the season with mathematical chances to be champion.
Busch said that while finishes like that have not been the norm in recent season, he would still prefer the current format to one which features a decreasing number of candidates.
“You have the World Cup where it is eliminations and now you only have two teams to root for,” Busch said. “Would that be good though heading down to Homestead with only two guys to root for?”
Four-time Chase winner Jimmie Johnson said that NASCAR needs to “change with the times”. Times, he said, he said in which people jumping out of airplanes on skateboards has replaced auto racing in terms of being extreme.
But, he said, having the championship decided by one race between two drivers, “I wouldn’t want to see it.”
Driver Jeff Burton of Richard Childress Racing urged caution in going too crazy when it comes to changes.
But, he said, it is not – and should not be – his opinion that matters most. It is the ticket-buying public that should have the biggest voice.
“My perspective is that I’m a race car driver and I care about the sport and the well being of the sport,” Burton said, “but I don’t view it from the same eyes as the fans. I have to be careful. When I say that something is better for the sport, a lot of times I’m thinking about it from a competitors’ standpoint because I’m not sitting in the stands.
“I think by far, from a quality of race standpoint the double-file restarts, all the things you mentioned, have enhanced the sport. I think it has made it better. I think it is wrong at any point, any business, any sport, personal life, whatever, to not always trying to be better, trying to make it improved.
“The fact that it is better because of enhancing the competitiveness and enhancing the aggressiveness, all those things that racing has always been; the fact that it has made it better, I think NASCAR will want to look and try to figure out how to do more.”
Then there was driver Tony Stewart’s answer when asked if he thinks the Chase should be changed once again.
“I didn’t think it needed to be tweaked the first time,” the two time champion said.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments