Opinion: A Whole New World
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on January 30, 2014 | 5:09 P.M. EST
With the changes announced by NASCAR on Thursday, Homestead-Miami Speedway is now the site of a winner-take-all Sprint Cup Series finale in November. (Photo: Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ready or not, here comes a new NASCAR.
Forget anything you’ve known about NASCAR’s past because on Thursday, the sanctioning body set a new course for its future. Its fate lies squarely in the hands of the fans.
Not since the sanctioning body introduced the Chase in 2004 has an idea so polarized the NASCAR fan base. Thursday’s announcement that replaces the continuity of a season-long performance with a series of solo shots throughout the year is as far from rewarding consistency as it’s ever been.
Now, drivers simply need to be good only when it counts and not be burdened with stringing together a series of solid finishes over the course of multiple races. NASCAR’s hope is that the idea will resonate with an attention-challenged audience of potential new fans while providing current followers with a more interesting product.
Finding the balance between the two is a high-wire act worthy of Nick Wallenda.
The jury is still way out on whether this new idea will accomplish either goal. There are enough long-time fans still upset with the many changes the sport has gone through in recent years that needed one more reason to walk away.
Turning the casual fan into a total NASCAR fanatic is also no guarantee in the aftermath of the changes. There will probably be a curiosity factor for some. But as was clear during the last decade, when the sport’s popularity skyrocketed, getting them to stick around past a "flavor-of-the-day" trend is a challenge.
Balancing the national debt might be an easier task than trying to create the perfect formula to attract both groups. NASCAR, like all sports, does need to evolve. But how much is too much?
This new format does put more of an emphasis on winning, to be sure a noble effort. Eliminating four drivers at pre-determined spots inside the Chase is nothing more than formalizing what has happened naturally since the format was introduced.
But the one race to decide the championship is the fatal flaw in the proposal.
Try as it might, NASCAR cannot completely follow the lead of other sports. The fabric of the sport throughout the more than 60 years of existence has been to provide importance to the long and grueling season.
That's evaporated in 2014.
The quest for the elusive "Game 7 Moment" has to take place naturally and it has throughout the sport’s illustrious history. Hitting the reset button to ensure every season ends like the memorable Tony Stewart-Carl Edwards tiebreaking championship battle of 2011 is riddled with overtones of manipulation, not competition.
In trying to produce what the NFL has in the Super Bowl or the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament has with "March Madness," two of the many stick-and-ball sports analogies used to support the new system, NASCAR has potentially created a mess. Last year’s regular-season finale at Richmond demonstrated just how far teams would go to simply get into the Chase.
Imagine the shenanigans that can be cooked up when a championship is decided over the course of 400 miles. The number of instances the "100 percent rule" will need to be enforced may only be surpassed by how many cautions fly for drivers spinning each other out.
But there’s no turning back now. The dice have been thrown to determine NASCAR’s future.
It’s a major gamble.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.