It Is What It Is

Miscellaneous mutterings, ponderings, ramblings and reflections having had 24 hours to try to digest yesterday’s “Chase For the Championship” press conference:

During the press conference NASCAR president Mike Helton was asked how many times the new system to decide the title would have altered which driver was crowned champion. “Two or three times” was his response. Ooh, I’m sorry Mr. Helton. You don’t get to go to the Lightning Round. The correct answer is fourteen times since 1975 when this points system was last changed. But Helton was not mistaken. He was merely “modernizing the truth”.

Brian France came up with an interesting analogy during his segment of the press conference concerning people’s initial negative response to change. He said when told his favorite restaurant was going to make changes, he was initially negative towards the idea.

I’ve told this story before, so if you’ve heard it before bear with me. Interestingly enough for many years my favorite restaurant/bar was called the Sawmill. It was your typical blue collar bar with cheap beer, pool tables, a good juke and some pretty women. The Sawmill was practically an institution in our neck of the woods. I took three of my four brothers-in-law to celebrate the night they got engaged to my sisters.

Then the father who had started the business turned over the reins to his kid. The kid decided he wanted to make some changes to the Sawmill to bring it into modern times, more of a club than a hangout. The place was closed a week or two, then reopened under the name Obsessions. Well, I gave it a chance. I walked in there and the place was lit up like a damn police lineup. The dark wood booths were gone. There was dance music on the juke, not classic rock. The pool tables were gone. Beers were five bucks and not all that cold. And what was worse, I was told if I was going to eat I’d have to do it quickly because after seven they forbid blue jeans and required a collar. Making that rule all the more strange was the fact I was wearing a “Sawmill” T-shirt I won in a karoke contest on a best forgotten night I was drunker than I’ve ever been before or since in my life.

Well, that was it for me and my crew and the Sawmill. We ended up shopping around for a new hangout. By the amount of cars in the parking lot it appeared Obsessions did OK the first couple months with a hipper, more affluent crowd. But then a new club opened in Media and after that Obsessions was old news, a virtual ghost town most nights. It went out of business within eighteen months. There’s got to be a lesson there somewhere. I’d urge the owners of my new favorite bar, the Thirsty Camel in West Chester, not to modernize traditions anytime soon.

I didn’t go to the Harvard Business School, though once while I was in Boston for a Dead Show someone pointed it out to me. But my guess is if somewhere between seventy and eighty percent of your best customers hate a proposed change, one ought to let the idea die on the vine.

Mike Helton addressed one of the most frequent concerns voiced to me about the new title rules. Fans want to know what happens if a driver who is not in the Chase for the Championship blocks, rubs, or wrecks a driver who is in title contention, especially if that offending driver does so to help out a teammate who is also eligible for the championship. Helton said NASCAR would deal with a driver who did such a dastardly thing in the same way they do currently. You mean they’ll call him to the Big Ugly Truck, yell at him and warn him not to do it again or they’ll make him stand in line to a get his credentials? Yeah, that’ll work. For all the comparisons being made stock car racing is not NFL football. You can’t stop the race, issue a fifteen yard penalty, and allow another driver to be substituted while the one that just had his bell rung takes a breather. So what can NASCAR do? Will they deduct points from a driver for the actions of his teammate? I’ll be in a bomb shelter when the fan fallout from that decision hits.

I really wish while trying to make their case NASCAR officials wouldn’t cite the Brickyard 400 at Indy. Yes, the idea was originally very unpopular with open wheel racing fans who compared it to having a wrasslin’ match at the Vatican. By and large most stock car racing fans thought it was a pretty neat idea. The analogy is terminally flawed and disingenuous.

Since it wasn’t addressed in the meeting, I’ll have to ask here. As most of you know the end of the season involves 18 straight weekends of racing. The final ten races are the “Playoffs” or whatever they want them called now. Let’s say a race prior to the playoffs, but after the last off weekend, is rained out on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and needs to be rescheduled until the week after Homestead. Does that event become one of the playoff races? Does the selection of those eligible for the Chase For the Champion still conclude after Richmond and run for the next ten races with the rescheduled race at the end of the year run as a non-event after a champion is selected?

Another point that wasn’t addressed at the press conference is what happens when there is a tie in the points at the end of the season, an eventuality that becomes more likely in a ten race sprint than a 36 race marathon. Under current rules in the event of a tie (which almost happened in 1992) the first tiebreaker is the number of wins, followed by the number of second place finishes, etc. But if we are to use the same criteria in 2004, will it be the total number of wins a driver had all season or just wins in those final ten events?

Thesaurus Watch- My guess is at the end of the season the stock car media is going to be scrambling for a Thesaurus to come up with ways to describe what’s going on. As such I’d like to lay early claim to the terms, “debacle”, “ill-considered”, “regrettable” and “dumber than a sack of hammers.” If approved I vow I’ll find a way to use all of the above terms in a single sentence.

It’s interesting when trying to promote the Chase for the Championship deal, Brian France keeps noting that Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart will be competing for the title every year. Does he realize all three of those drivers run Chevys? And while all three have a lot of fans, all three are extremely polarizing and have a lot of passionate detractors as well. Wouldn’t it be a little smarter to suggest every year Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch would be contending for the title? Well, scratch Kurt Busch. What this sport needs is a likeable driver than can win races in a Ford.

Despite a tendency to fall back on tired cliches NASCAR officials are very big on choosing the right word to rally around the flag. This is not a playoff. It is a “Chase for the Championship.” Thus, I feel Brian France needs to rethink his concept that once they understand it, fans will “love” the new way of determining the champion. In place of “love” I’d suggest, “accept”, “tolerate” or “become resigned to.”

I also think that “The Chase For the Championship” is a little too long a phrase to enter the public lexicon. Compare it to “the Super Bowl”, “The World Series” or “The Stanley Cup.” We need something shorter. “C4C”?

Many pundits have paid the new title scenario a backhanded compliment saying that over the years NASCAR has made a lot of good decisions. And I won’t deny that. But let’s look at some of the ideas that NASCAR has had that didn’t turn out too well.

The Japanese Exhibition race
Restrictor Plates
The 5 and 5 Rules Package
Odd and Even Numbered Pit Sequences
Banning Tim Richmond from racing in the 1988 Bud Shootout.
Letting Richard Petty keep his win at Charlotte despite his being caught with an oversized engine.
NASCAR Racers cartoon program
Fan Fest
Getting involved with the Britney Spears movie
Article 4
NASCAR’s Night in Hollywood
The Infamous Circle R Internet Crackdown.
Financially backing Jesse Jackson
NASCAR 2000 and Beyond
The 1973 Points system

And you know what? A frightening amount of the above had Brian France’s fingerprints all over them.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2004

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