Let’s start with a fact: NASCAR had to do something. Whether or not you agree with what NASCAR did on Monday is a different story. But before we go any further, you have to acknowledge a change — likely a big one — was necessary.
That’s not really in question if you’ve looked at the declining TV ratings and attendance over the last decade, followed by a painful sponsor search last year. Something had to be done, because the status quo wasn’t working.
Even drivers whispered privately in recent months they know the sport is on shaky ground, and executives must know it, too — otherwise they wouldn’t have called representatives from all over the industry (drivers, teams, sponsors, TV, tracks) to help them collaborate on this move.
So are the changes NASCAR announced on Monday enough to reverse the trend? No, they’re not. It’s going to take a lot more than this, and over a much longer period of time.
However, these are very, very good changes — maybe even excellent. If your first reaction is to go BLEHHHHOHMYGODMORECHANGESWHYNASCARWHY, I understand that. That’s my first reaction a lot of times when NASCAR comes up with some new gimmick.
But I honestly feel positive about these changes — sorry, ENHANCEMENTS — announced Monday. Here are my three top reasons why:
1. The most recent Chase format was freaking ridiculous in a lot of ways, and this makes it much more fair. No more points resets where everyone is back to zero, no more chance of some fluke driver making it to Homestead on top-15s alone. Drivers can get points (one for each “stage” win or five for a race win) that carry over into the playoffs — all the way through Race No. 35. That greatly reduces the chances of a multi-win driver getting knocked out in an early round with a blown engine or something like that.
There’s still a final four race at Homestead, but at least now we’ll have much more of a sense the drivers really earned their way there instead of just survived some minefield to make it.
Also, it’s not called the Chase anymore, which makes me really happy because none of my non-racing friends knew what that meant anyway. We can now bury the Chase in the graveyard of dumb NASCAR names. RIP, sucker.
2. The TV commercials won’t be as bad. This format was specifically designed with TV in mind. FOX and NBC were in the meetings when this whole thing was being proposed. The networks get four extra guaranteed breaks to show commercials (two in between each segment), and that HOPEFULLY means fewer interruptions during the actual racing. They’ll still show the same amount of ads, of course, but the timing is what counts. I honestly can’t wait to see the Cawsnjaws.com commercial numbers (which keeps track of the percentage of racing shown) after the first few races.
Don’t discount how important this is, because excessive commercial interruptions were a huge factor in making the races feel unwatchable at times. If the TV networks still show too many ads during racing, we should all yell at them because they have way less of an excuse now.
3. The regular season has more meaning again. Let’s say Jimmie Johnson won a couple races early in the season under the old format. OK, well guess what? He’s going to disappear for the rest of the summer while Chad Knaus does some witchcraft R&D, then emerge in the playoffs and kick everyone’s ass again.
But now he can’t do that (or shouldn’t). Knaus is going to want Johnson to get every conceivable point for the Chase — sorry, PLAYOFFS — and that means trying to run up front at the end of each stage and also winning as many races as possible.
So now the Daytona 500 winner is going to actually care about winning Pocono and Michigan and those sometimes-blah summer races. They really do mean something — it’s not just talk. Those segment points really will add up.
I know I said only three things, but one more thought. At first, this seemed too complicated. And yeah, it’s definitely more complicated than before. But Dale Earnhardt Jr. was emphatic about its simplicity, and he has a great point. Earnhardt said it’s basically just adding two extra cautions and you know when they’re coming, plus the extra points associated with that.
Personally, I’m going to pretty much ignore the in-season points (the ones that go to the top 10) because who really cares? In most weeks, the top 10 drivers at any point in the race are all going to be drivers who win their way into the playoffs anyway, so it won’t matter that much.
But what WILL matter is those points you get for winning the stages. It’s going to make a huge impact on the playoffs, and that’s not that hard to follow at all. Only one driver gets a point for winning a stage. That’s simple.
And I think, truly, the people who read this (hardcore NASCAR fans) will pick it up quickly. Because if you can figure out what the hell encumbered finishes are and what they mean, I’m SURE this format will be easy for you to master in no time.