New Format Encourages Instant Gratification
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Throughout NASCAR’s history the sanctioning body has modified its point system when it felt necessary, but the new one announced Thursday is the most radical in the sport’s history.
To review, under the new structure winning is everything and consistency is irrelevant; points racing is eliminated. To win the championship a driver needs to produce at least four victories. That’s one in the first 26 races and then one in each elimination round to reach the season finale where the title recipient will be determined. In the season finale the only requirement for a driver to win the coveted championship is to finish ahead of the other three competitors vying for the title. That could mean a victory or a top-10 finish.
Granted, if the number of winners in the first 26 races don’t hit the double-digit mark more non-winners can gain entrance into the Chase, but I don’t think that’s a chance the teams want to take. Last year after the season’s first 26 races, a dozen drivers had a victory. That meant surprise Talladega winner David Ragan also would have been in the Chase.
NASCAR has never restructured a point system without one key thought in mind and that was a way to make the sport more appealing so it could build its fan base. From the time the series now known as Sprint Cup made its debut in 1949 until the mid-1970s, the various point systems used by NASCAR were so complicated that the only people who understood them were those administering them.
Finally, NASCAR implemented a point system in 1975 that competitors and fans could understand. It also marked the fifth time the point system had been changed in the last nine years. That point system was designed to encourage more teams to run for the championship.
For the first time in NASCAR’s history every race would carry equal point value and bonus points would be awarded.
Now, it has become obvious to NASCAR that such a system has evolved into “points racing.” Drivers also no longer race solely for a percentage of the winnings. They now have a salary as well as bonuses and royalties.
While I think the new system has the potential to create more exciting races, it concerns me that as time passes those drivers who obtained a championship via a year-long performance will have their achievement diminished.
For example, Richard Petty acquired his 1967 championship with his performance in 48 races. David Pearson’s third and final championship measured his performance in 51 races. It is no secret that 1972 marks the beginning of NASCAR’s modern era when the schedule was greatly reduced. In fact, Bill Elliott had 29 races in his 1988 championship season and Dale Earnhardt captured his seventh title in a 31-event 1994 season. Still all of these drivers and their teams had to be the best over an entire season, not just in the playoffs.
I know Jimmie Johnson is an excellent driver and Chad Knaus is a superb crew chief, but I constantly wonder if they could produce a championship that was determined by a season-long performance. Johnson’s six championships have all come in the Chase format and that team has mastered it.
I think Carl Edwards said it best when he noted the new format means it will no longer be possible to compare the sport’s different eras; something that could make selecting NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees even more difficult.
No doubt, NASCAR’s new system for determining its Sprint Cup champion is a reflection of today’s society. It provides instant gratification and excitement with a goal of producing higher TV ratings. Hopefully, it will turn a sport that was entertaining before corporate America whitewashed it back to its roots when the only thing that mattered was winning. That, however, is something only time will tell.
– Deb Williams can be reached at email@example.com Comments