Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m in charge of NASCAR.
I think about what changes I would implement. How I would shape and mold the sport differently. How I would right the perceived flaws.
Now, of course, since my last name isn’t “France” and I’m just some random British bloke living in San Francisco, the chances would seem remote that I would ever ascend to the stock car racing seat of power. But while hope always – always – springs eternal, that doesn’t mean I can’t write about it here.
Now if there’s one thing, I’ve learned in my 16 years covering NASCAR, it’s that the fanbase is as fiercely loyal as it is vociferous and opinionated. Just take a scroll through Twitter (or whatever it happens to be called this week, your guess is as good as mine) and you’ll see a plethora of opinions from the sublime to the quite frankly ridiculous.
It can be overwhelming at times and a special shout out to the social media team at NASCAR who will monitor and read a lot of it. But for the purposes of this column, I’ll try to ground my changes in some sort of reality.
Yes, I wish every race could be like Ricky Craven besting Kurt Busch at Darlington Raceway, but the truth is it’s never going to be. So, without further ado, if I was the head honcho, here’s what I would change in 2024.
Nix the Game Seven Moment
The first and immediate change I would make would be to nix the winner takes all final race format we have right now. And while I won’t deny I’ve really enjoyed it at times, I don’t think it’s either fair or representative. The NASCAR season is a marathon. To decide it all on one 312-mile tilt feels off kilter to me. Instead, I’d have the final four drivers battle it out over the final three races, giving both variety and sample size.
For the most part, the final four drivers represent the class of the field in any season (with one or two exceptions) so let’s see them race it out across a trio of races, not just one. We would still have that game seven moment, too, just in a different way than it is now.
Cut the Playoffs to 12
The second change I would make would be to reduce the number of drivers who make the playoffs to 12. Quite honestly, 16 has always felt unwieldy to me. Let’s make it harder to make the sports postseason. It should be a reward and not just a prize (in some years) for running consistently in 10th to 15th place and pointing your way in. Making the playoffs should be special – it should be meaningful. Big names should miss out year on year. Cutting the field to 12 would go some way to making that even more the case.
Win and You’re Not In
Hand in hand with the above point, I’d also get rid of the win and you’re in rule. Now it’s fair to say this rule hasn’t been tested with, say, 17 winners pre the postseason cutoff, but I really don’t see why a win should be the sole marker for making the playoffs.
Let’s be fair, with five superspeedway races in the first 26 races, not to mention some of the road courses or weather-shortened races, the chances to make it in via a lucky win aren’t that low. Yes, winning is all important and as that wise old NASCAR sage Ricky Bobby once opined “if you’re not first, you’re last,” but one win, in my opinion, shouldn’t be enough. It’s a long season. Add consistency to that win and you have a winning (no pun intended) recipe.
Double the Win Playoff Points
But to counteract the above, I would double the playoff points awarded to a win from five to 10. Let’s value those wins once you’ve earned your spot. Winning in NASCAR is incredibly difficult. I would honor that in the post season by rewarding those drivers who’ve won multiple times with a significant points bump. A stage win is worth 20% of the playoff points of an actual win. That math seems wrong. And in the interests of full disclosure me and math aren’t best buddies, but you get what I mean.
Keep Stages, But Get Rid of the Mandatory Cautions
Another change I would make is to take this procedure we’ve seen on the road courses this year and adopt it across the board. Keep the playoff point for stage wins and the 10 to one championship points format for the first 10 to cross the line but let’s not throw a mandatory yellow. Let them race it out. I get why stages were introduced, but the yellows feel extraneous. I’m sorry, they just do. And honestly, with the way the format plays out with a longer third stage I still think you would get the natural cautions that would bunch up the field.
Let the Boys Have at It Again
One thing is clear this year, the boys have at it and have a good time era is officially over but to me it’s a shame. Drivers can take retaliatory action still, but a) they’re not allowed to talk about it or admit to it b) will almost certainly lose points and c) could sit out a race. Now I’m not saying the egregious moves shouldn’t be punished.
Chase Elliott rightly sat a race for hooking Denny Hamlin into the wall on the straightaway at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but we need to give these competitors some rope. The box they’re in from a mechanical and aero perspective is already rigid enough. Passing has possibly never been harder, so let’s loosen the reigns a tad and once more let the boys have at it because simply put controversy drivers eyeballs and in this crowded chaotic world with a million other choices, said eyeballs are crucial.
An International Race
And finally, I would add in an international race. Maybe in the first year, that’s somewhere like Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada or
Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City but equally, it could be even further afield – somewhere like Australia or Japan. The NFL has been playing games in London for years and we’ve seen regular season MLB games there as well. It’s anything but a new idea and could bring a whole new audience to the sport.
About the author
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.
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