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NASCAR World About To End? Again?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 2 2014

Matt Kenseth could be on verge of doing the unthinkable. Again. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Late in day on Nov. 16, 2003, NASCAR had its Sprint Cup season champion. But it also had a problem. Matt Kenseth had won the championship even though he had won just one race during the 36-race season and had crashed and DNF’d at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the final race of the season.

Vince Lombardi’s chestnut about winning being the only thing had been twisted for NASCAR into; winning is only meh.

While fans didn’t really freak about the situation, the media and NASCAR officials did. The former wrote about oceans drying up and mountains being leveled, while latter headed back to series offices in Daytona where they closed conference room doors and erased chalkboards.


Two months later it was announced that Sprint Cup was going to a playoff formula. And from then until now, the Chase for the Sprint Cup has been ceaselessly hammered and drawn in an effort to head off another Kensethian armageddon.

Now, on the 10th anniversary of the Chase, the very thing that caused NASCAR officials to concoct a playoff system for its top series, is threatening earth’s relationship to the cosmos once again. Only worse.

With three races left in the season, after two rounds of cut downs in the brand new elimination Chase format, two drivers remain in contention to win the 2014 championship without winning a single race. And one of those drivers is – the horror – Kenseth.

When Sunday’s 500-miler starts at Texas Motor Speedway, the 2003 champ and Ryan Newman will both be looking for their first race victory of the season. That’s right, 13 drivers have won Cup races this season and not one of them is named Kenseth or Newman.

That is not the sound of gasoline gurgling through the neck of a fuel can that you hear. It’s Brian France’s stomach.

This weekend – and undoubtedly next weekend in Phoenix – the critics will reaching into mildew-stained backpacks and blowing the dust off that moronic old question:  How would it feel to win a championship without winning a race?

Newman, in fact, was asked a variation of that Q on Friday at Texas.

For the next couple of minutes, he suppressed the urge to jump from the dais and rake his fingers across eyeballs (something Kenseth often looked like he was getting ready to do 10 years ago) and instead, put things in perspective.

“Mathematically,” the driver with the engineering degree said, “the potential is there. As long as you have four seeds and three winners, there’s that potential. We know that at the max there will be two at this point going into this last round. Nevertheless, a championship is still a championship, and the trophy doesn’t have the number of wins underneath it. If we win the championship, that would be great in any form or fashion. But we’re here to win races as well, and there would be nothing better than to win the next three. There’s no guarantee in any of that.”

Apparently unable to comprehend any of that, the next questioner submitted a follow up.

Again, Newman had the right answer: “We’re riding the wave that’s presented to us, and we’re having fun with it.”

Kenseth and Newman would love to win a race or two or three en route to a potential championship. But if they don’t, the big ugly trophy won’t be dumped into the old-appliance strewn swamps that surround Homestead-Miami in three weeks.

Some fans will feel angst if NASCAR crowns a winless champion; and the old-schoolers will continue to call for a return to 2003. Many media members will stress themselves purple if a winless driver is anointed.

And NASCAR officials? Well, you can bet there is more Chase tinkering in the pipeline no matter who wins the 2014 Cup championship.

Perhaps the question all should be asking is: So what?

The champion will be the team and driver which has done the best under the current rules and format.

Will there be an acidic feeling in the pits of stomachs should a winless driver be crowned? For many, yes. But there has been for many fans every year that Dale Earnhardt Sr. didn’t win the championship.

The only real antidote to the dreaded effects of consistency and points-hoarding is the one that is most obvious and simple. Whoever wins the most races is the champion. In event of a tie, most podiums or most laps led.

But is that fair? Not really. Huge true-champion holes exist in that format.

And, ponder this: If that system had been in place throughout Cup history, Earnhardt Sr. would have won only two championships.

Newman or Kenseth a champion without winning a race? Meh.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 2 2014


  • Mechman16 says:

    I have been watching and following NASCAR for 30 years. I was captivated by the idea of changing the points system in the beginning, now i cant stand it and have all but lost interest. I agree with the idea of a balance between wins and consistency, and they did find it, problem was that the same guy won 6 time in 8 years, and we cant have that the company paying big bucks for the T.V contract doesn’t like that. I hate Brad Keslowski, but its not any better that a driver can win 6 or 7 races in a season and not only not win the championship but possible not even be in the running at the end. The best thing they could do is swallow there pride dump the chase all together and use what they have learned in 10 years and use it to make an old format points system. Besides that was when NASCAR had the best ratings, but they wont do that they cant admit when they are wrong.

  • G Steele says:

    NASCAR has changed what made it interesting. Too much fluff and name dropping, not enough bonding with the paying customers. Look at the empty seats at Texas, looks to be less than 50% of the seats were sold, testament to the public’s lack of interest.

  • Steven says:

    Nascar keeps tweeking their Chase Points system in a lame attempt to gain more viewers. Why not get the top 30 in points to do a green white checkered finish? I love the competition in every race, particularly short tracks and am sick of hearing points points points from the broadcasters. Besides that, their qualifying procedure is a sick joke. Can’t expect an honest reaction from the drivers since their bread is buttered by Nascar.