Opinion: Changes for the Better?

NASCAR XFINITY Series

NASCAR has announced sweeping changes to the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series that will cause great debate among fans. (Photo: Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – NASCAR has announced sweeping changes to the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series that will cause great debate among fans.

As has been speculated throughout the off-season, Chase systems will be used to determine the champion in both divisions this year - similar to the Sprint Cup format but with minor tweaks.

There will be fewer races (seven in each series) and smaller fields (12 in XFINITY, 8 in Truck), but the idea will be the same: an elimination plan that will whittle things down to four drivers eligible to win the title at the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale. Ford Championship Weekend will now crown all three NASCAR national-series champions.

The idea to bring championship uniformity to the top tier has merit, as does the plan to bring the drama the Cup Chase has created in its first two years of the elimination-style format. While not all fans seem to be sold on the system that's created the last two Cup champions, there's no argument that intensity and drama have been ramped up.

A driver can no longer afford to go into a season finale satisfied to protect their spot in the point standings as Truck Series champion Erik Jones did last year at Homestead. Like their Sprint Cup big brothers and sisters, XFINITY and Truck Series drivers must now outrun three others in order to take home the crown.

However, it remains to be seen whether the size of the Chase field is too big in relation to the level of competitive teams in each series.

Another new wrinkle is a revamp of the XFINITY Series "Dash 4 Cash" program, a race within a race made up of four events. Drivers who "win" two of these designated events (Bristol, Richmond, Dover and Indianapolis) by finishing higher than other eligible competitors in the program automatically earn a berth in the Chase.

But two more radical concepts have grabbed the most attention.

The four Dash 4 Cash events will utilize heat races to set the lineup for the weekend’s main event. After qualifying, cars will be divided into odd and even groups, and drivers will compete in a heat race with their finishing spot determining where they’ll take the green flag in the feature. It’s a great opportunity to break up an XFINITY Series race into shorter bursts that could generate tighter racing while keeping fans’ attention.

If it’s a hit, look for the idea to expand throughout the XFINITY and Truck Series, and perhaps to the Cup level.

The most controversial change will come in the Camping World Truck Series with the introduction of a caution clock, which will trigger a yellow flag after 20 minutes of green-flag racing. That number will be adjusted as the race draws closer to its finish, but the idea alters the natural flow of the race.

Strategy, tire management, fuel mileage and other natural elements of competition will be erased and replaced with - depending on the size of track - short segments that alter its organic evolution. Perhaps the better idea would have been to return the series to its earlier "halftime break," which allowed everyone to plan for a stop in the race rather than a series of random cautions.

Change is inevitable in all sports and NASCAR continues to demonstrate an ability to think outside the box. But like every experiment, it remains to be seen if the best-laid plans return the hoped-for success. The only certainty is that Tuesday’s announcements will have fans talking for the remainder of the off-season.

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

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