Still A Bad Idea

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It truly amazes me how many sports writers that originally threw stones at this year's convoluted new points system are now saluting it with hallelujahs and touting it was the greatest thing since pop-top beer. I figured the TV media types would have to say they love it since it was after all the dark overlords who sign their checks who co-conspired with Brian France to foist this nonsense off on a reluctant and enraged fan base. But even the print and internet types are changing their tune. My guess is it's a sign of intellectual laziness. They've probably realized that they'll be able to get a few slam dunk columns out of this whole sorry mess that'll practically write themselves. Sports writers, myself included, tend not to be the most industrious or self-motivated of people. Otherwise we'd have gone out and gotten a real job.

For the record I still hate the idea. I'm always going to hate this idea. It is somewhat likely my tombstone will read "He died hating the C4C". Why? Glad you asked. Pull up a chair. This is going to take awhile. If you're allergic to common sense you might want to take some Benadryl.

The most frequent feeble-minded argument I am hearing tossed around to defend the NASCAR playoffs is other sports have this same sort of system. Just because a football team has the best record in the regular season doesn't mean they'll be crowned champion after the Super Bowl. I know it works that way in baseball too. Presumably it does in hockey and basketball as well though I've never been able to garner enough interest in either sport to find out. And college football doesn't even decide an overall champion, or at least not to anyone's satisfaction most years.

Where to start, where to start. Understand something about football. In each football game only two teams play. One of them wins. One of them loses. It doesn't matter if you lose by 45 points or 1. You lost. In NASCAR racing however all 43 (well, OK, about 35) teams are on the field of play in every event. There is still one winner. There are 42 losers. But the guy who came closest to beating the winner gets more points than a fellow who finished ten laps down.

In football the two teams that meet to decide the championship often have not even played each other during the regular season. Because two teams from the same division can not play in the Super Bowl no pair of Super Bowl teams can play each other twice during the season. Until the advent of inter-league play, a relatively recent addition in MLB, the two teams that met in the World Series had never competed against one another. Thus a Super Bowl or a World Series is a legitimate test of which team is best and deserves to be champion.

In NASCAR there are no weak divisions. Driver A has competed against Driver B (and Drivers C, D, E, F, G etc.) on a weekly basis. If he has finished ahead of him more than he has finished behind him Driver A will have more points than Driver B. Hurrah, this makes sense. They earned the points. Let them keep them. About the only possible justification for the Chase For the Championship (C4C) setup would be in the unholy event NASCAR did indeed split Cup racing into two divisions, an east and west, and the drivers from each series had not competed against each other all year. Then we could tweak on the current idea and come up with some sort of useful playoff.

Some will say that drivers are racing harder for wins because of the C4C. Huh? Second still pays a maximum of 15 points less than a win. The second and third place driver can still be awarded an equal number of points. What is the incentive to win in the first 26 races when under the current system you don't need the maximum possible amount of points, just enough to get in the top 10 in points or within 400 points of the leader. In fact the new system may just produce the first NASCAR champion not to have won a race in his title season. As this is written (prior to the abomination at Fontana) two drivers are currently in the top 10 who have not won a race this year. Four other non-winners could still make it into the Big Show. We'll probably see two, possibly three and at the outside realm of possibility four winless drivers make the championship. Tell me in what other major sport can a participant be crowned champion without ever winning an event?

But look at all the excitement we have right now waiting to see which driver will clinch the tenth and final transfer spot. Well the TV folks are hyping the Hell out of it, but I'm not particularly excited. Cut through the hype and you're still looking at a battle for tenth. By this point in the season I figure the guy who is tenth in the points doesn't have the chops to be champion this year. I've discounted the drivers back there in the pack. I'm concentrating on the contenders not the pretenders.

But you just wait, you'll tell me. This C4C stuff is really going to be exciting in those last ten races. But we don't need any contrived excitement this year. We've got an epic points battle between three of the sports most popular drivers brewing under the old points system. Jeff Gordon, loved by the newer fans and hated by many long-term fans, is second in the points. His talented protégé Jimmie Johnson, so slickly packaged if he didn't exist Madison Avenue would have to invent him, is leading. And the heir of seven time champion Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jr. the North Carolinian favorite of blue collar rednecks (though Earnhardt is neither blue collar or a redneck) is in third. Waiting in the wings and still in contention are the sport's bad boy, Tony Stewart, and the quiet champion Matt Kenseth. Under the old system this would have been a great title drive. We don't need to play silly number games to add excitement and taint the legitimacy of the championship for whichever driver does win.

But, I am told, the Chase for the Championship will bring new fans into the fold. Millions of them. TV ratings are going to soar. It seems to me NASCAR needs to get in touch with the fans it already has. In their breathless press releases NASCAR claims to have 75 million fans. The odd part about that is based on TV ratings, approximately one in twenty NASCAR fans actually watches your average race. So I sit here scratching my head with my jaw dropped into full fly-catching position and wonder to myself, how is somebody a NASCAR fan if he or she doesn't watch the races? Is there one Alpha fan who tapes the race and passes it onto his 68.5 million friends behind the scenes?

But I'm off the trail and in the briars again. We're discussing new fans here, the unconverted and unwashed masses who have never sampled our fine sport, or if they have didn't like it, spit it out into a napkin, berated the chef and waiter and stormed out without paying their bills. To attract these new fans to Sergeant Brian's Magical Mystery C4C tour I am told NASCAR is going to have a dandy 20 page insert slipped into various newspapers next week to play up the big goings on. That's all well and good. Every March I get a dandy well printed and carefully prepared insert in my paper touting the college basketball tournament. And I promptly toss it unopened into the circular file because I loathe college basketball. If I had a dog I would not let him relieve himself on that insert, that's how much I dislike that whole March Madness nonsense. So why are non-race fans going to open Brian's slick new insert?

And any new fan who does stumble across a race broadcast is likely to be terribly confused given the abundance of rules and arbitrary way they are enforced. Heck, The TV announcers can't seem to keep things straight. But that's only fair because NASCAR officials can't either. And with all the one race paint schemes it's hard for a newer fan whose brain hasn't grown the required separate lobe to store driver-car number files to keep track of who is where. And don't even get me started on the way points are awarded. Imagine a typical new fan watching his first race with an old time fan.

New Fan (Having just watched the NHIS race.) Well that wasn't very good. I feel kind of like I just wasted three hours of my life. I should have gone out back and raked the ducks or shot leaves.
Old Fan: Get used to it. Most races aren't very good anymore. But you have to watch just on the off chance it might be. And today's race had tremendous implications in the Chase for the Championship.
New Fan: Yep I kept hearing that one announcer prattle on about that. It was a good day for that Earnhardt kid, right? The one in the red car?
Old Fan: No, Mark Martin was in the red car this week. Junior's was black. But it's usually red. And no he had a poor day. He suffered burns to his hands and his arms in an unfortunate barbecue accident during the week.
New Fan: So who had a good day?
Old Fan: Tony Stewart. He finished ninth.
New Fan: Well that doesn't sound too good.
Old Fan: But the other drivers in the Chase finished worse than that. So he had good day. He gets 138 points.
New Fan: 138 points? How do they figure ninth is 138 points?
Old Fan: Because it's four less than eighth place and four more than ninth. And of course it's fourteen more than thirteenth. But in this case it's only nine more than the thirteenth place driver because he led a lap.
New Fan: (Consulting finishing order.) Spencer led a lap? When? He was running out back most of the day. I never saw him pass the leader.
Old Fan: Well actually he didn't. But he stayed out on the track an extra lap when the rest of the lead lap cars pitted.
New Fan: And he gets five points for that? What in God's white-hot wrath directed at Daytona is that all about?
Old Fan: It's just how it works.
New Fan: Isn't five points the difference between second and third. Didn't you say that?
Old Fan: Yep.
New Fan: So if the third place driver leads a lap and the second place driver doesn't they get the same amount of points?
Old Fan: Indubitably.
New Fan: My brain hurts. Who devised this points system? It's bizarre.
Old Fan: A real nice fellow by the name of Bob Latford who recently went to his Reward. Story goes he scribbled it down on a cocktail napkin inside a bar in Daytona one evening.
New Fan: Seems to be the case to me.
Old Fan: Don't diss, Latford. His points system was designed in a very different era. It was designed to encourage teams to run every race on the schedule to earn year-end payouts from Winston.
New Fan: They couldn't get enough cars for every race? I thought this was the second biggest sport in America.
Old Fan: They say it is. But it used to be very small. It was a whole lot more fun when it was small.
New Fan: Well then why don't they devise a new points system to reflect current reality?
Old Fan: That's what they were trying to do with this championship thingie.
New Fan: Huh? Then why didn't they just change the points, not the whole system?
Old Fan: Because they cling to that points system as tightly as a barnacle does to the bottom of a sunken ship.
New Fan: But why?
Old Fan: Because they're dumber than barnacles. Get used to it. So you going to be over next week to watch the next race?
New Fan: I'd rather go blind, deaf and dumb.
Old Fan: Well you already got the dumb part down cold.

Yes, my friends, after Richmond NASCAR drops into Alice's Rabbit Hole. There's nothing you or I can do to stop it. This train is rolling. I don't have a hand on the throttle and I don't have a hand on the brakes. I ain't shoveling coal and I don't punch tickets to decide who rides. I ain't even drinking rotgut in the caboose. I just sit here alongside the tracks waving this red lantern and watching NASCAR engine 382 roar through the inky black darkness illuminated only by fireflies in the honeysuckle bushes on a one way trip to Vaughan. If you're going to dive into that rabbit hole and follow the sport down prepare to be occasionally annoyed, often confused and constantly screamed at by NBC folks who seem to think something a whole lot more exciting is going on than what you're seeing. Seriously, all I can do is wave this red lantern.

As it stands written in the Book of Bobby:

Commissars and pinstriped bosses roll the dice
Anyway they fall guess who gets to pay the price?
Money green or proletarian gray, selling tickets instead of fun today.
So the fans they dance, they shake their bones
While Brian France is throwing stones
Singing ashes to ashes all fall down.
Heartless powers try to tell us what to think
If the spirit's sleeping, then the flesh is ink.
History's page, it is thusly carved in stone
The future's here, we are it, we are on our own.
If the game is lost then we're all the same
No one left to place or take the blame.
Singing ashes to ashes, all fall down.

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