Opinion: Why Must NASCAR Change A Good Thing?

Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards

Tony Stewart defeated Carl Edwards by a tiebreaker for the 2011 championship but that system could radically change soon. (Photo: Getty Images)


There’s a good chance by the time I hit send on this column NASCAR officials may come up with yet another idea to change its championship.

Sure that’s a sarcastic stretch but you get the point.

Perhaps more than any other professional sport, NASCAR’s system for determining its champion has changed the most over the last decade. Since the Chase format was introduced in 2004, the sanctioning body has increased the size of the field, added Wild Cards and adjusted bonus points for victories and how those would apply to seeding drivers in the playoffs.

The latest proposal reported last week by The Charlotte Observer is more than a just another tweak. If introduced, the Chase will radically change yet again into a elimination-type system boiling down to a winner-take-all season finale among the last four drivers standing.

My question remains why?

Why does a format where the championship is decided at the final race of the season need to change? Why does a system that created a tie between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards in 2011 have to be completely overhauled?

Proponents of the new plan say it will put more of an emphasis on winning with up to 16 drivers punching their ticket to the Chase by taking a checkered flag in the opening 26 races of the schedule.

Since the odds of 16 drivers scoring a win before the end of the September Richmond race is remote at best, the balance of the Chase field will be filled with the next best in points. So all that will be created is a bloated playoff field taking the green flag at the Chicagoland Speedway opener, thereby diluting the special nature of what it takes in any sport to qualify for the right to compete for a title.

The overriding criteria seems to be a perceived need to copy other sports in hopes of appealing to a broader fan base. There is no doubt NASCAR like any other other sport has to continually grow and attract new customers.

But will imitating the NCAA Final Four or NFL playoffs achieve that goal?

Trying to turn auto racing into a stick-and-ball sport is the ultimate round peg in a square hole. Rather than trying to force fit the two, NASCAR would be much better to champion its uniqueness and embrace what makes stock-car racing different from other sports.

I understand times have changed and a purist view just doesn’t cut it in today’s modern world. Short attention spans, the economy and the lack of disposable income and time are understandable challenges.

However, complicating a championship formula with forced elements of drama in hopes of attracting more attention falls flat.

Fans become interested in sports for close and exciting competition - not because of some perceived thrill over who will win a championship.

The best plan for NASCAR to build on its success for the future is simple – good, tight racing. The sport has a 60-plus year history to its credit and a unique tradition of creating its own memories and moments. Continually following what other sports do is the best way to get lost.

There’s a reason why the Super Bowl isn’t called the Daytona 500 of the NFL.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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