Pedley: NASCAR Needs To Slam A Grand Problem
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Jamie McMurray was one of the major stories of the 2010 NASCAR season. Not because of the fact that he re-emerged as a top-tier Sprint Cup driver, or that he won the Daytona 500, or that he won the Brickyard 400.
The big story surrounding McMurray was that he re-emerged as a top-tier driver, that he won the Daytona 500, won the Brickyard 400 and still did not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
I know how that can be, I just don’t think it is right that it did be.
Victories in the two biggest, most important races of the season and no berth. Don’t like it. Makes no sense. Un-gilds the lily.
But it’s over, it’s done and it’s time to move on.
Rumors are circulating this week that NASCAR is planning on introducing major changes to the way it awards points and structures the Chase. Official word on all of that is expected to come down on Friday in Daytona, where teams are on the track testing tires and participating in the Preseason Thunder event.
One would have to presume that McMurray’s 2011 situation has been on Brian France’s mind in the off season and will figure into whatever it is that NASCAR is planing.
But, in advance of the official announcement, here is a suggestion – call it the McMurray Got Jobbed Suggestion:
Officially establish either a Triple Crown or, best of all, a Grand Slam of Sprint Cup races.
That is, officially designate three or four races on the schedule as special. So special, that the winners of those races would be granted automatic admission into the year-end Chase.
The anticipation here is that such a move would produce the kind of howling which comes from my neighbor’s wiener dog – who has three-inch tall legs – when we get four inches of snow.
The source of the presumed howling would be from people who are nauseated by what they view as non-stop tampering with the sport by NASCAR’s current regime. The type of fan which hates everything from the Chase to all drivers who have any number other than 3 on their car.
But there are historical roots for a Triple or a Slam. Nothing officially official, mind you, but there was a time when there were four races dubbed crown jewels on the schedule. R. J. Reynolds, whose tobacco brand, Winston, was title sponsor of the Cup series, offered $1 million bonus beginning in 1985 to any driver who could win three of the four.
Bill Elliott won the mil the first year it was offered. Jeff Gordon did it the last year it was offered, 1997. The program gave NASCAR a huge boost in popularity.
The crown jewel races during those times were the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega, the Charlotte 600 and the Southern 500 at Darlington.
All were viewed as special races before the Winston Million program, and then,
certainly during it.
Now, other than Daytona, they are just races. Good races. Races which drivers would like to win. But not special races. Certainly not when it comes to overall effect on the season.
Name changing, date shifting and just plain time have eroded much of their historical significance and, heck, dignity. Too bad.
But here is a way to revive much of the excitement and significance of certain races – heck, certain weekends – during the Sprint Cup season and it won’t cause a million bucks.
Which races should be so dubbed as automatic qualifiers?
Well, Daytona in February of course. The Brickyard. Talladega in the spring as the fall race is part of the Chase and, hence, irrelevant in this scenario.
And No. 4? This is tough. The 600 is certainly worthy. Ditto for Darlington. Pocono? Just kidding. Richmond fall race? It would make that race – which is the final race before the Chase – doubly exciting. Infineon? Might be good to have a road course in there.
Perhaps NASCAR should pole fans on Slam race No. 4. That might be kind of fun and certainly be in line with the current NASCAR atmosphere of fan friendliness.
Whichever the four are, establishing them as Chase qualifiers would make sure this year’s McMurray would be making headlines for the right reasons.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments