End Of The World

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Does anyone in the world like change? It's human nature to be against deviating from the norm, whether it's a different brand of peanut butter the wife brought home, a new day and time for a favorite television program or changing the furniture around in your living room.

Change in professional sports is a necessary part of today's incredibly competitive battle for the fans' entertainment dollar. Over the years, we've watched other sports leagues introduce such groundbreaking innovations as interleague play, wild card playoffs, three point baskets and the designated hitter. And every time a new wrinkle was introduced thousands of doomsayers cried that it would be the end of the sport's popularity and the beginning of its inevitable demise. And every time those people were wrong.

The same will hold true of NASCAR's new playoff point championship structure, which had long been rumored (and again broken here at RacingOne first by our intrepid columnist Matt McLaughlin) and was finally let out of the bag this week. "I think we've pretty well decided we're going to make a change," NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, ending weeks of speculation and rumors. An official announcement is expected in about ten days when the press gathers in Charlotte for the annual pre-season media tour.

While all the details were not revealed, the first 26 races of the year will serve as the "regular season," with drivers earning a spot into the playoff season, which will comprise the final ten races of the year. The top ten in points after 26 races won't automatically be locked into the playoff run, rather NASCAR is tinkering with a system that will qualify drivers within a pre-determined number of points from the leader - somewhere between 300 and 600.

Faced with the longest season in pro sports and dwindling fan interest during the final two months of the year - when it must face the NFL juggernaut head-to-head - NASCAR's intent is to find a new way to excite and interest both new and old fans alike.

"We feel very strongly that this will add some excitement and focus some additional attention on our series in the last third of the season," Hunter said.

How could it not?

Contrary to what many long-time race fans may believe, the idea wasn't cooked up and implemented overnight. There was talk of doing something drastic to the point system as early as the beginning of last season. And for those who think that new series sponsor NEXTEL was the catalyst for the change, think again. While the new title sponsor certainly wants to put its stamp on NASCAR racing, it was the sanctioning body who presented the idea.

I remember the outrage, the talk of boycotts and the predictions of impending doom when NASCAR decided to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It didn't take long for the Brickyard 400 to become one of the most popular and premier events on the schedule. There were similar Chicken Littles who claimed the NASCAR world would end as we know it when FOX and NBC were awarded television contracts, replacing ESPN and CBS as the major network partners. Since that change NASCAR racing has recorded record television numbers.

I don't remember much about what was said when the current point system was put into place back in 1975, replacing the old format of awarding points based on purse money won. I bet there were those who said the idea was terrible and that this new-fangled system would destroy the sport. We all know how that turned out.

The prediction here is that like anything new, the playoff format will take some getting used to and time to work out the bugs but that in the long-run it's a step for the better.



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