Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Shortened Races, Puzzling Points & the Real NASCAR Rookie Race

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:
Amy Henderson (Mondays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Summer Dreyer (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR)

Brian France appears set to announce a major points change on Wednesday (Jan. 25), some variation of a 43-to-1 back-to-basics system that makes it simpler for fans to understand. But will it make them more likely to tune into the sport, and should this adjustment be what they’re focusing on in the face of larger problems?

Phil: No, I don’t think it’s going to help anything.
Jeff: They need to focus on larger problems.
Amy: NASCAR is overlooking the bigger issue in all of this – the Chase.
Summer: Well, really I don’t see it having a huge effect on the ultimate championship anyway. It’s not very different from what we have now, and the cream always rises to the top.
Jeff: It is the same system essentially, just lower numbers.
Amy: It’s redundant to make the actual points closer and still try to sell the Chase. Plus, the bigger problems aren’t about the points at all, they’re about competition.

See also
NASCAR Points? What's the Point?

Jeff: It will be OK if and only if they give at least 15 extra for a win. 20 or 25 is even better.
Amy: I like the new system, but it’s flawed by keeping the Chase.
Jeff: As I said, it is the same we have now, just lower numbers.
Amy: I disagree on that, Jeff. The new points will force them to race for wins. Look at the IRL, which has a similar system. Those guys race for wins every week because it’s so hard to gain on those in front of you.
Phil: We’ll have to see about the extra points. Also, we’ll have to see about bonus points, if any.
Jeff: It’s the same on a smaller scale. What do you get now for first? Second? Instead of a 15-point gap, it is only one.
Amy: The bigger problems in the sport aren’t going to go away with a new points system: sponsorships, a lack of new viable teams, cars that allow little innovation.
Phil: Yeah. They aren’t really focusing on the right things. Take the rainout policy change, for example; good idea, but the least of NASCAR’s problems.
Jeff: As far as “fans” understanding the system, the fans don’t really care. Someone is always there to figure it out for you.
Amy: Typical NASCAR. Trying to make it look like they’re doing something, but never the right thing.
Jeff: Exactly.
Amy: If you can’t figure out the system, you aren’t a big fan, because it’s easy to find and read.
Summer: Even then, it’s not like it matters. You don’t have to calculate the points yourself. The TV usually has it for you and with the Internet you can just go check any racing website and they’ll have it up.
Amy: Fans are going to tune in weekly if the product is good weekly. The season’s big picture isn’t what they’re focused on in March. Teams are, but fans care about the race in front of them more than the title race, by and large.
Summer: The casual fans are also definitely more interested in the actual racing than the season as a whole… and from what NASCAR is saying, those are the people they are trying to appeal to.
Phil: I’ll give you that, Summer. Calculating them yourself is a bit time consuming. It took me over two hours to calculate the points for if there was a chase in 1999 (before ESPN did it).
Jeff: Look, we had the old system in place for how many years (pre-Chase) and NASCAR grew and grew and grew. Look at it since the Chase.
Amy: Exactly, Jeff, but NASCAR’s collective head is once again buried in the sand.
Jeff: You’re too kind, Amy. I’d say Brian’s head is buried somewhere else
Amy: Brian France is sitting somewhere plugging his ears and singing, “La la la, I can’t hear you….”
Jeff: It’s just lip service as usual. NASCAR thinks it is looking good, but they are only looking stupider.

What, if anything, can we take away from the two tests at Daytona in December and January? And is a track that’s called “Talladega II” now in private, by both drivers and crewmen alike, a good or bad thing for the sport?

Jeff: HA! Bad. Makes it even more of a crapshoot like ‘Dega.
Amy: We can take away that drivers are by and large afraid to draft on it. The race should be great if you watch for the wrecks.
Summer: It’s great! We saw the good races Talladega put on last year. And as far as the tests, I think it’s safe to assume the two-car draft will be popular.

See also
New Cars, New Asphalt: Testing Comes Back to Daytona

Amy: Yep, takes away what made Daytona better than Talladega – the fact that setups mattered.
Phil: It’s not really good for the sport. Yeah, it might get some more people to check it out on FOX, but it makes the event substantially more dangerous.
Summer: It makes it more exciting, too. You’re not going to have safe, exciting racing. The more exciting, the more dangerous. It’s not like these cars haven’t stood the test of time, either.
Amy: It does, and NASCAR is showing a little complacency in the safety area of late. No new research on better walls, no real updates on restraint systems, cars faster than ever and it’s all OK because nobody’s gotten killed in 10 years. I worry the sport is poised for another loss.
Jeff: Just what NASCAR needed, another track to mimic another one.
Amy: Exactly, Jeff, and Talladega is already terrible.
Summer: How so? They took away the wing and that was a big safety concern.
Amy: The wing was a smokescreen and everyone knows that.
Phil: It wasn’t bad. Just didn’t really help the situation.  Remember how AJ Allmendinger went airborne last fall.
Jeff: The wing never should have been on the car in the first place.
Amy: But cars go airborne with a spoiler and have for years.
Jeff: And cars always will, Amy, but at least the roof flaps have a chance to do what they were put on to do in the first place. With the wing, they could not overcome it.
Amy: No excuse for these things not constantly evolving. The new car is safer, but as speeds get higher, there needs to be more research.
Jeff: I disagree, Amy. You can never take away the risk. That’s what makes it racing. And safety is at an all-time high… Dale Earnhardt Sr. would still be here if they mandated the HANS five years earlier.
Amy: Maybe he would, Jeff. Maybe with SAFER barriers, too, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be improved as new technology becomes available.
Jeff: Well damn, you want rubber walls?
Amy: No. Of course you can’t take away the risk, but shame on NASCAR for not doing everything it can to minimize it.
Phil: It could be argued that with the closer packs, the chance of someone hitting a backwards car and usurping the flaps is at an all-time high. By the way, the HANS device was just in development in 1996. Then again, someone was using it in the Rolex 24 that year.
Amy: So Jeff, we should just stop trying to make it safer, go with what we have, and pray? That’s BS.
Phil: I guess NASCAR just doesn’t want to spend the money on that kind of stuff.
Summer: I don’t know what more they can do. They’re constantly looking at new safety innovations. Just because there aren’t announcements all the time doesn’t mean they aren’t looking into it.
Phil: Makes me wonder just how much money they have.
Summer: I would imagine the last thing NASCAR wants is for a driver to be severely injured or killed.
Phil: No one wants to see that.
Jeff: But hey, the truth is Dale’s death, while tragic, shot this sport to the moon.
Amy: I’m not really looking forward to the “new” Daytona. It wasn’t built for three-wide racing. Between the track and Steve Wallace in the field, look for a wreckfest.
Phil: There’s no guarantee that Steve Wallace is going to wreck someone.
Amy: There’s no guarantee that he won’t, either.  Whatever happened to having to prove yourself on short tracks before NASCAR would let you even set foot at Daytona?
Phil: You could argue that Steve did. He’s done more restrictor-plate races than quite a few drivers did before their first Cup race at Daytona. Yes, he doesn’t necessarily have the best track record in them, but the Nationwide Series as a whole doesn’t have the best track record when the plates go on.
Amy: That would be all well and good if Wallace only wrecked on plate tracks — but he spins his stuff everywhere.
Phil: I’ll give you that. Steve’s maturation in the Nationwide Series has been a lot slower than planned.
Jeff: Getting back on topic, I think people tune in for the danger.
Phil: Truth is, injuries are down significantly ever since the CoT was introduced. Just about no one’s really gotten hurt in one of them.
Amy: But why on earth should that mean they stop trying to make it even better, Phil?
Phil: I think they’ve grown a little complacent.
Jeff: What do you think they can do, for Pete’s (whoever he is) sake?
Phil: In regards to the wreck potential, our boss, Tom Bowles fears that there will be a big wreck really early in the Daytona 500.
Amy: I also fear the Daytona 500 will be reduced to a wreck-fest. Not a good thing for the Great American Race.
Jeff: The fact is, the beast that is plate racing is not going to change that much, new pavement or not. They have been calling it the Big One ever since I can remember; there is a reason for that.
Amy: Daytona plate racing was always different from Talladega’s brand of mayhem, though. Now, that appears to be gone.
Phil: Let’s be honest, Amy. After last year’s travesty, what choice did they have?
Jeff: They had to do something to Daytona; it was just getting too bumpy.
Summer: I wish they hadn’t had to repave it, either, but they couldn’t afford another fiasco.
Amy: They had to repave, of course. But could it have been done differently? Probably. Could they have made it harder to drive?  Sure.
Jeff: Well, the damned thing was underwater, too. That does not help any surface.
Phil: None of the pictures that surfaced from that flood showed any of the racing surface underwater. However, the skidpad on the backstretch was partially submerged.
Jeff: New pavement is always going to be faster. How can you repave differently, Amy?
Amy: Not sure, but could they have kept it bumpier/more uneven, or made it abrasive and hard on tires to break up the big packs?
Jeff: Now you want them to “levigate” it? We’ve seen how THAT works!
Summer: That would be kind of an elaborate “repaving.”
Phil: I’m no civil engineer, but they could have sourced a different type of pavement.
Amy: It’s on the ocean, put some sand and shells in it.
Jeff: Two laps and the tires would be gone.
Phil: As it stands, they used the same company that paved Talladega and they used the same compound (pretty much).
Amy: Yes, and now you’ll have the same race. What a shame. Daytona was always by far the better track because you had to race so much smarter.

FOX Sports Chairman David Hill spoke up during the media tour and said he feels all races should be fit within a three-hour window. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Amy: Three hours as in a time limit like IRL has? No. Looking at some races that are notoriously long and shortening them? Perhaps.
Phil: No. I don’t agree with David Hill.
Jeff: What the heck does David Hill know about racing?
Phil: I like vegging out while watching a race all day. I watched ESPN’s entire 1996 Rolex 24 coverage to write an article that will run Friday. Granted, I didn’t watch it all in one sitting.
Jeff: If FOX doesn’t like how long the races are, then screw them. They knew how long they were when they signed on.
Amy: I think there’s some room for compromise, though. Take Talladega. They don’t race for 500 miles there, they cruise for 480 and race for 20. Reducing laps at some venues might improve the racing, but ending at a certain time regardless of laps completed is a terrible idea.
Summer: Maybe. I think it would make the races more exciting if they were shorter. Plus, I’ve felt for a while now that races should only be 500 miles on special occasions. And no, I’m not in favor of timed races. But only ones like the Daytona 500, Southern 500, etc. should have those titles. I think all the others should be 400 miles or laps.
Phil: Adding 63 laps at Phoenix wasn’t a good idea, but that was time related. Timed races on ovals is incredibly stupid. Champ Car did it once at the Milwaukee Mile… it was ridiculous.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with the short tracks going 500 miles at all, because there’s racing somewhere in the pack all day long.
Jeff: Again, NASCAR and stock car racing got to where it was because of … why??? Now you want to go and change the length of those races, too? Might as well have all NFL games only be three quarters long, then.
Phil: Jack Roush threw around the idea of a 500k endurance race at Watkins Glen a while back. That would be interesting.
Amy: Places like the intermediates and speedways (Pocono comes to mind) could use fewer laps to encourage more racing. Not all of them, Jeff, just some, where they don’t race all day anyway.
Phil: I’m fine with what we have now, to be honest. Even the 500-mile marathons at Pocono. However, we need shifting back at that venue.
Summer: I just think making some of the races shorter will make them more interesting. It will discourage “hanging back.”
Phil: I still wish Watkins Glen was longer.
Jeff: Part of racing has always been about endurance, guys.
Summer: I agree they should be endurance races. I don’t think many of them should be shorter than 400 miles. At the shortest, somewhere around 350. I just think several of them are longer than necessary.
Phil: Stuff that’s shorter than 350 miles currently: Phoenix, Martinsville, Infineon, Bristol, Watkins Glen, Richmond, New Hampshire.
Amy: No track needs a 700-lap race.
Summer: OK, laps/miles. Work with me here.
Phil: You could argue that the inconsistent distribution of yellows contributes to the problem.
Jeff: The bottom line is that shortening the races to suit FOX and David Hill is NOT going to do one damn thing for ratings or attendance.
Summer: And, by the way, I think some of the races you just mentioned are great.
Phil: Riverside’s January race was 500 miles up until the mid 1970s. 191 laps on a 2.62-mile road course. Good idea for NASCAR?
Amy: I think making a few races shorter would help ratings if you’re looking at people tuning in for the whole thing. Right now, there are events where you can tune in with 50 to go and not miss much.
 Take Pocono. If you make the second race 400 miles, teams can no longer go back with the same setups and pit strategy as they used two months before. They have to make the cars come to the driver faster and they have to change fuel strategy. The two races wouldn’t look interchangeable every year.

While the Nationwide Series has zero Rookie of the Year candidates at this point, over in Trucks the list is booming, a full field expected for the majority of races during 2011. Who out of that crop of rookies could be this year’s Austin Dillon and why?

Amy: I think Nelson Piquet Jr. could turn some heads in the KHI truck.
Summer: I know Johanna Long is running for ROTY. I don’t expect her to do anything spectacular, but I think we can look for her to have a few solid top-10 runs.
Phil: Agreed. Nelsinho’s got a lot of confidence. If he’s happy with his situation at KHI, he should do very well. I know for a fact that he didn’t like Eddie Sharp Racing in ARCA. And for the record, we’ve got Piquet, Long, Joey Coulter, Dusty Davis, Justin Johnson, Chase Mattioli, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Miguel Paludo and Craig Goess competing for top freshman honors.
Summer: Oh yeah! Joey Coulter… forgot about him. He’ll definitely be someone to keep an eye on.
Jeff: I’ll go with Jeffrey.
Amy: I think Long could also show promise, but not sure if she has the equipment. I liked what I saw of her in 2010, though.
Summer: I think Coulter and Piquet will be in the best equipment, so flip a coin.
Phil: I think Piquet will win Rookie of the Year, but don’t count out Paludo if he can do the whole season.  He impressed last year.
Amy: Who the heck are Dusty Davis and Justin Johnson?
Jeff: Another JJ? Just what we need.
Phil: They are the west coast rookies that will drive for Vision Aviation Racing (merged with Billy Ballew Motorsports).
Amy: No relation to J.J., either, unless there’s a long lost fourth nobody knows about.
Phil: I’d never heard of the other J.J.’s team before the end of last year, either. Turns out, though, Vision Aviation Racing ran Kyle Busch’s late model team a couple of years ago.
Amy: And why does VAR insist on drivers with matching initials?
Jeff: You sure they are not related, Amy? Johnson isn’t a very common name.
Amy: Funny, Jeff. To wrap, I think Piquet is a pretty decent driver. Coulter is also talented, while Long and Paludo show a lot of promise.
Phil: There’s an actual rookie race this year. It’ll be fun to watch.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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