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Woody: Would Cattle Prod Get Drivers Moving?

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 5 2011

Kurt Busch celebrates his first victory in the Sprint All-Star Race in 2010. Would an All-Star-like format benefit other races? (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

In response to a recent rant about the non-racing that has become the norm in NASCAR, readers suggested numerous solutions – from awarding points to only the top finishers to using an electric cattle prod to nudge drivers along.

To be fair, sandbagging is not new to the sport. David Pearson was famous for doing it. He’d hide in the weeds until the closing laps, wait for attrition to trim the field and let some of the hard-chargers take each other out, then suddenly zip to the front and lead the only laps that counted – the final ones.

Pearson was considered sly. He was called the Silver Fox.

When today’s drivers employ a similar strategy they are considered boring. They are called lollygaggers.

In further fairness to today’s drivers, they are playing the game the way it’s rigged. From the minute they roll out at Daytona, all the focus is on the championship. And the way to win the championship is – let’s be honest – not to race too hard.

A driver who races cautiously and collects safe Top-10 finishes has a better chance at winning the championship than a driver with a win-or-wreck approach. Battling for the lead on every lap is not a championship formula. The points system rewards sandbaggers.

So if drivers are simply doing what they need to do to collect points and contend for the title, what’s the solution? How can NASCAR encourage them to race while rewarding them for not doing it?

Giving the race winner more points won’t help because, as has been proven, the surest way to win is

David Pearson was one sly stock car racer. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

to soft-pedal through most of the race.

One radical ideal is to break each race into segments – halves, quarters or three periods like a hockey game – and award points based on the finish in each segment.

The winner of the final segment would be the official race winner, but points would be accumulated in each segment and totaled at the end. A driver couldn’t afford to run hard for just the final laps in the final segment; he would have to race hard in each of the segments or potentially lose points despite winning. The prize money could be likewise allocated by segments instead of mostly going to the final “money lap” as is done now.

Something akin to this is already being done with the all-star race and some think it’s too gimmicky. But it does inject fresh excitement and strategy into the race and prevent those long, boring stretches of non-racing that have become prevalent in almost every race.

Fans have caught on to what’s going on. They tune in for the start, then tune out until the finish. They know that most of what happens in-between is more riding than racing.

Granted, David Pearson became a legend with that type of racing but that was then and this is now. Today’s action-oriented, TV-generation fans won’t sit around for three hours waiting for 10 minutes of racing. In college basketball they demand a shot every 35 seconds and even the pokey PGA has been forced to speed things up.

It’s not just a theory; look at the empty seats. Even the lukewarm TV ratings are deceptive – how many of those counted viewers watch the entire race?

A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of segmented races, but now I think it’s something NASCAR has to seriously consider. Either that or start a nap-leader award.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 5 2011
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Random says:

    keep the current points system, but give a driver 1 point per lap lead. that will FORCE the drivers to try to get into the lead. If they hang back and just lead the last lap, they only get 43 points, but the guy who was out front the whole race will have 100-150+ points!

  • Chris says:

    How about they black flag any driver complaining about someone racing them too hard? I have yet to see an offensive lineman in the NFL complain about defensive lineman trying too hard to get to the quarterback in “just the first quarter”. Or a batter complain about a pitcher throwing too hard in “just the first inning”.

    We are sitting about a millimeter away from being pro wrestling here. It is awfully hard to convince non Nascar fans that it is a sport when drivers complain about the competition trying too hard.

    Quite frankly, I am so tired of the whining that I am about ready to give up watching altogether.