Race Weekend Central

MPM2Nite: Answering NASCAR Questions Nobody Asked

One of the quickest ways to ensure a business disaster is to come up with a slipshod answer to a question nobody was asking, anyway. From such endeavors marketing disasters like the Edsel, Pontiac Aztek, New Coke, the Sony Betamax and the softer side of Sears were born. Eventually, we’ll be able to add NASCAR’s Chase points system, which has proved deadly effective in driving loyal customers from the fold to the list, but before you can start totaling up the casualties you have to wait for the train wreck to stop.

So unless you’re totally clueless, loathsome and spent the offseason clubbing baby seals in Canada (and how are you, Randy G?) you’ve probably heard at least passing mention of the new points system NASCAR has adopted for all three top touring series this season. The winner gets 43 points, second place 42 points and so on down to one point for finishing 43rd.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: NASCAR Keeps the Chase? It Means the Rest Is Smoke & Mirrors

The winner gets a way too small three-point bonus, anyone who leads a lap gets a one-point bonus and the driver who leads the most laps also gets an additional one-point bonus. And presumably, the winner of the most races gets an Edsel wagon equipped with a Betamax player and a cargo hold full of New Coke.

There’s just one problem with the brandy-spanking new points system: it shares the same three fatal flaws of last year’s relic. A driver who finishes third but leads the most laps earns more points than the fellow who finished second but didn’t lead a lap. A driver gets a point for leading a lap even if the race is under caution. And a driver who gets wrecked out early at Daytona (a not uncommon circumstance) but wins the next three races (think Bill Elliott circa 1992) can earn less points than a guy who cruises to four top-10 finishes in the season’s first four races. That’s not just counterintuitive, it’s plain old stupid.

It’s simpler to understand, Brian France pointed out proudly. Yeah, well a Model T is simpler than a new Mercedes Gullwing, but which would you rather drive from Daytona to LA? (Calm down, I love Ts too.) I never had that big of a problem understanding the old Latford points system. I tape a copy of the points awarded per position on the top of my computer and place another on the inside cover of my notebooks every season.

And if NASCAR is adopting simplicity, how come the qualifying system for the upcoming Daytona 500 is so bizarre and Byzantine it reads like something Rube Goldberg would have devised while partying with Timothy Leary?

The message I keep hearing from fans and former fans here in this tiny outpost of the People’s Army of the Citizens’ Journalist Corps branch location (stuck right in the frozen tundra of Guthriesville) is that the fans think the racing would be better if winning paid a large points bonus.

If you’ve read my ramblings for over six months you know I’m a staunch proponent of a points system that pays 500 points to the winner, 250 points to the second-place finisher, 125 to third, 75 to fourth and so on down to around 20th place, which would be worth five points. Finish below 20th, and we have some lovely parting gifts for you, thanks for playing but no soup (er, I mean points) for you. Realizing just about every driver and team is going to have a few DNFs at the end of the season, whenever points are tallied to decide a title a driver’s worst three finishes would be thrown out.

France went on to note another change to the Chase, wherein 11th and 12th spots will go to the drivers in the top 20 in points (after Richmond in Setpember) who won the most races, but missed a top-10 points position (Think Jamie McMurray last year as an example). I’m not a complete contrarian: I actually applaud the thought behind this move. But once again, NASCAR is failing to heed the message fans and ex-fans are sending.

The fans who write me here at Eyesore Acres don’t want to see the Chase tweaked. They want to see the stupid thing eliminated, as in go Billy Jo McCallister on the thing and toss it off the Tallahatchie Bridge. No single move would better convince fans that NASCAR does care than scrapping the Chase. After all, last year the Chase accidentally produced a decent finale after all these seasons and the polls I read afterwards still said four out of five fans don’t like the system.

I mean, if I’m running a business and four out of five customers dislike a change I’ve made, I’m changing back. Call it the “Ruthanne White-Sharon Malasics” factor.

In the same press conference, our dear friend and illustrious leader Brian (who ought to be bought a one-way ticket to Chocktaw Ridge for a tour of the Bridges of Tippah County) announced major changes to the qualifying system. In the event qualifying is rained out, the field will now be set by final practice speeds.

Hooray! I wish I’d proposed the same thing over the last dozen years… oh, right, I did. But here’s the kicker. If qualifying is held (and if qualifying is held and nobody watches, is it qualifying all you fallen trees in the forest fans?) the slowest cars in practice will go out first and so on up to the fastest driver in practice, with the exception of the drivers who must run their way into the field who still go out last. (Again, simple, right? Sort of like Chinese calculus.)

Here’s the message NASCAR missed. The fans who write me hate the Top-35 rule that ensures any driver for a team in the Top 35 in owner points makes the race. But rather than admit a mistake and scrap the system, NASCAR once again decided to tweak it rather than eliminate it. You can add all the salt and pepper you want to a bullsh*t sandwich, but it still isn’t going to taste good. At this point, the Top-35 rule has made qualifying such a non-event (what hangs in the balance is pit selection) that it has turned grandstands into ghost towns most Fridays.

Some tracks, including Pocono, have decided to throw in the towel, cancel qualifying on Friday and run it on Saturday as a companion event to the ARCA or Truck races. Now I’m old, but I’m not ancient. I recall an era when on a nice Friday summer afternoon on Pocono race weekend it could take up to an hour to exit the parking lot so many fans attended qualifying. The proper answer, at least for me would have been to just scrap the top 35 rule and let the 43 (and speaking of simple, why 43-car fields?) fastest cars qualify.

Now hold on there a second, Bubba-Louie, some fans proudly polishing their “fan for almost three years” medallions are hollering. If I’m laying out my hard-earned bucks for a race ticket, I want assurance Jimmie Johnson is going to race that weekend even if he blows an engine in qualifying. Yeah, OK, and if I book a hotel room in Indy next February I want an assurance that the Phil-a-dulph-ya Iggles are going to be in the Super Bowl. It just doesn’t work that way in sports. Not in legitimate sports, anyway, where “legitimate” in this instance means “not run by the France family.”

The key to problem solving is first to correctly identify the problem. Then, you come up with a solution that doesn’t mitigate the problem but eliminates it. The 2011 Cup Series season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already throwing my hands in the air in frustration. Keep your hands in the car, kiddies. This is going to be another dark ride.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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