Martinsville Rear View Mirror

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin won his series leading seventh race of 2010. (Photo: Getty Images)

I’m not sure where NASCAR stands on potential changes to next year’s Chase format but I’m hoping those discussions have been tabled.

I’ve stated before I don’t see any reason to tinker with the format of the championship plan and am really not interested in adding more drivers to the current Chase field of 12 or implementing some kind of elimination process.

Too many changes have already alienated many fans and another one that would impact the Chase significantly isn’t needed. And should Jimmie Johnson indeed go one to win his record fifth consecutive championship, any major modification of the system will only look like a reaction in many people’s eyes of “De-Jimmie-ing” the title format.

However, if there is one thing that might make the 10-race Chase portion of the season better is a better mix of tracks and Sunday’s race at Martinsville is the perfect example of why more short tracks would create more excitement once the middle of September rolls around.

Short track racing is by far the best brand of NASCAR racing there is and whether the series visits Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond the action is significantly more intense than what’s seen at some of the other larger speedways.

Even the one-mile layouts at New Hampshire and Phoenix have proven in recent seasons to be high on the entertainment and action levels.

Leaving Richmond as the final regular season stop before the Chase begins is a must. Despite this year’s September race being a bust, more often than not Richmond’s intensity is off the chart as the battle to make the playoffs is decided.

But sliding the annual late summer date at Bristol to the first race of the Chase would be a home run. And do it on a Thursday night to pump up the television ratings, which starting NASCAR’s championship run under the lights at “Thunder Valley” would most certainly accomplish.

Many fans have complained Bristol has lost some of its luster and drivers now play more defense than offense at the high-banked half-mile track simply protecting their position in the standings to ensure a Chase berth.

That would definitely not be the case by opening the Chase at Bristol . With nothing to hold back, those drivers in the title hunt as well as the others in the starting field would have no reason than to go out and put on the kind of old fashioned short track battle the Tennessee track has been known for since NASCAR first came to town.

We know the 2011 schedule is already in place but perhaps NASCAR and more importantly its television partners will feel the urgency to shake things up the following season.

The points format doesn’t need anything done to improve it. However the slate of races to decide the title is in need of a makeover. Another dash of short track racing might be the missing ingredient.

  • Jimmie Johnson’s lead over Denny Hamlin is a mere six points with four races remaining, the closest its been after six races of the Chase since 2004. Need another reason why tinkering with the format is a bad idea?
  • Also not to be overlooked is the fact that Hamlin was the sixth different driver to pick up a win in the first six races of the Chase. Again those who say they don’t want to tune into a race telecast because they know Johnson is going to win haven’t really been paying attention.
  • After a string of snappy races in the three hour range, Sunday’s 500-lap Martinsville grind was more in the four hour range. The plethora of caution flags were the main culprit but even though there were a few segments that plodded on overall I thought it was a pretty enjoyable short track race.
  • Johnson supposedly doesn’t have enemies like some other driver but tell that to Kyle Busch. The two go together more than a few times Sunday and Johnson proudly displayed the one fingered salute to Busch after a particularly frustrating battle. Let’s just file this one away under the “Keep Our Eyes On” folder.
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