Race Weekend Central

Championship Gimmicks: When Is it An Enhancement?

I’m not a big fan of gimmicks. Which is why, when the announcement came down from INDYCAR that the three Triple Crown races would be worth double points, I wasn’t particularly keen on the concept. It seemed manufactured, among other issues.

2014 IndyCar Pocono Montoya Munoz Kanaan on track
Was adding more prestige to the races at Pocono and Auto Club a gimmick or a needed change?

“Adding more weight to the 500-mile events rewards teams and drivers that continually rise to the occasion at key times of the year,” said INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Derrick Walker. “We looked at various ways to improve the way we decide our champions, and this will only make the championship battles more exciting.”

I realize that the idea was to put even more emphasis on these marquee events that were being held up, above all others, as special, although in the case of the 500, I think it was already there. But perhaps it gives a little extra shot to Pocono and Auto Club, just that certain little extra pizzazz.

I also realize there were already double points weekends in play with the double headers, but those, in my opinion, were different. Yes, it was a double points weekend, but you had to run two races to get those points. So if you wrecked on lap one in the first race, you still had race two to redeem yourself and salvage something. Not so with double points for one race.

My biggest concern, perhaps centered around the Indy 500. Granted the days of 50 cars showing up are over. Once it may have been a concern that a one-off team and driver combo would keep a regular competitor out of the show, but truth be told, it’s been a job just to get to a full grid of 33. None of the full-time drivers have been in any danger of not getting into the race.

There are still, however, extra drivers on the track. Some with dubious amounts of experience, or some who haven’t been driving on a regular basis in years, and honestly some in just plain slow cars. Making the race a double point event makes those drivers an even bigger potential factor. What if one of them makes a mistake and takes out a regular on lap 2? That’s a huge hit in a double points race.

This is an element that, admittedly, doesn’t come in to play at the other two races. No one extra is showing up to race at Pocono or Auto Club. No one made a grave error that took out a contender in Indy either. For this year, at least, that fear appears to be unfounded.

After living with it for most of the season, and through two events, it still feels a little manufactured. But I also have to admit, it’s making for a championship picture that is nowhere near clear, even with only three races remaining. And it’s not as manufactured as, say, a points reset a la the Chase.

2014 IndyCar Indy 500 Hunter-Reay pagoda
The season will end a little differently this season. Whether or not this is for the better remains to be seen.

The double points season finale at Auto Club Speedway looming on the horizon means that to be really safe, leaders need to have a double cushion. A look at the points shows that with only two events between now and then, they don’t. It also means far more contenders might still be part of this game than you would normally expect.

So it would appear that this enhancement is playing out exactly as Derrick Walker envisioned it when it was devised. It’s still hard to understand sometimes what is so terrible about a plain old organic points battle playing out over a full season of races, as it will. The Verizon IndyCar Series hasn’t had much trouble with championship blowouts in the past doing it this way, so it’s a little hard to understand why there is a need to enhance it, even if it is a smaller manipulation than some other series. Another effort to cater to the ADD generation I suppose.

What will be interesting to see is if this change, ultimately, changes the outcome of the championship, as has been the case a few times in NASCAR. For the moment, though, it would appear that it may work to keep fans interested to the very end. The jury is still out on whether this is a gimmick though.

About the author

A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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