Minter: Chasing More Important Than Winning
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Bristol, Tenn. – As I sat and listened to the questions posed to drivers in the brand-new media center on Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, almost all of them about the upcoming Chase, I thought of what Humpy Wheeler often says about the difficulty of selling tickets to a points race. They don’t sell, he said.
Friday’s questioning showed just how far the sport of NASCAR racing has gotten away from placing importance on winning the individual events.
It’s no longer about being the World 600 champ or the winner of the Bristol night race or of getting a Martinsville clock. It’s about keeping yourself in position to get a berth in the Chase.
The emphasis on points racing is even part of the official structure. For those in the Chase, race wins in the regular season only pay a 10-point bonus.
As it stands now, the points leader going into the Chase likely will have only a 50- or 60-point lead over 12th place. That amounts to about one finishing position per race over the final 10.
Winning regular races isn’t a huge bonanza, points wise, for a driver in or out of Chase contention.
Last week at Michigan, Kevin Harvick led the most laps and won but only earned 15 more points than runner-up Denny Hamlin. And the pay structure is even more goofy and less rewarding. Carl Edwards won more money for finishing third, $146,998, than Hamlin got for second, $144,325. At Pocono a few weeks back, Greg Biffle got $205,850 for winning, while Tony Stewart beat him to the bank by 11,000 with his $216,848 check.
It was particularly odd to see so much emphasis on the Chase, which begins in about a month, given that tomorrow night’s race at Bristol is generally one event that fans talk about all year long. The few questions about tomorrow’s race came mostly from the local media, which brings to mind an incident from years back at Bristol.
In the press box after defeating Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart was asked by local reporter Larry Woody if in the closing laps he was thinking about the run-in he’d had with Gordon in the previous race at Bristol.
Stewart responded, “You must be local.”
To which Woody, one of the most respected members of the media then and now, all but challenged Stewart to fisticuffs outside the room.
But Woody was asking the question that was on everyone’s mind.
It’s highly possible that like Woody several years ago, the current crop of local media types, those who don’t follow the circuit week to week, are more in tune with the fan base than the traveling corps.
Maybe what NASCAR really needs to do to regain TV audience and ticket-buying fans is to start listening to the locals.
Granted, at this time of the season, there’s some drama involved in which 12 will make the cut after Richmond. But realistically, there will be only a single change, or possibly two, in the top 12 over the next three races.
Jimmie Johnson illustrated the lack of drama when said his goal over the next two weeks is to get in position where he’s not part of any excitement at Richmond. That’s good for him but bad for the sport.
And then there’s the debate over whether it’s good or bad for the next champion to have not won a race at all. Going into Saturday’s race, half of the drivers now in the top 12 haven’t won a race this year.
Jeff Gordon, one of those winless drivers, said he’s OK with winning the championship without winning a race.
Kevin Harvick said NASCAR’s more about season-long performance than what a driver does in an individual event.
I’d like to hear more about what the locals think about that.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments