Column: Digesting the big NASCAR changes

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 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.

NASCAR execs, drivers, TV commentators, team officials all gathered to unveil the big changes together. (Courtesy Getty Images for NASCAR)

57 Replies to “Column: Digesting the big NASCAR changes”

    1. Lets look at what has really happened. One of the reason NASCAR exploded in the 80s was because of the cars and the rivalries. You could go buy a Monte Carlo SS or Tbird that looked just like the one Elliot or Earnhardt drove…..and enthusiasts still hopped up those 2 door sedans………ONLY a select FEW IDIOTS are really enthused about a Ford Fushion or Toyota Camry. But you know what, Ford sells every HIGH DOLLAR mustang they make, ditto for the Camaro and the Dodge Challenger……….geeze nascar its not hard to figure out……you names STOCK CAR…….so of course for safety reasons they cannot actually race Stock Cars but they could certainly go back to running STOCK template sheet metal…….plus that will make the speeds drop by 10mph…….wouldnt it be great to see a bunch of Camaros vs Mustangs and you could actually tell which one they were.

    2. This is the most stupid idea. Want to know why Nascar exploded in the 80’s & 90’s? The racing and the drivers were great. The driver with the most points at the end of the year wins the championship. All Nascar had to do was tweak the point system. Give an extra 25 points to the winner of the race. That way a Bill Elliott in 1985 or Jeff Gordon in 1996 wouldn’t be deprived of winning a championship after winning 11 and 10 races in a season to drivers that won 3 and 2 races respectively. All these gimmicks don’t make for exciting racing.

  1. Hey Jeff,

    I’m really happy about the playoff points. It really sucked the last few years seeing Harvick dominate lots of races, only to get put on equal grounding at the start of the Chase each year. I can’t wait to see the points system in action.

  2. I have seen tons of negative comments on Facebook, but that’s what NASCAR fans do…complain. I really liked these changes as soon as I saw them.
    BTW. Will someone continue doing tweet ups at the races ? Good luck on your move.

  3. I personally think the format is great. I don’t think it’s too difficult and it will make for great racing, especially on plate tracks where some ride in the back for the first half of the race.

    It probably won’t help Phoenix or Pocono tracks, where it’s follow the leader, but most others, it can be crazy.

    It’s going to end up fun. What a time to be a fan.

  4. Great summary best of luck we are with you. I want to send you a few ideas and let you kick them around in your head. Proud of you for having the guys to do this.

  5. Congrats on the new endevour! I’ve watched since 98 and I’ve been skeptical of most changes. Generally speaking, if I’m around, I’ll watch the race for any of the Top 3 series. I’m more into the changes than I thought I would be. I still want to see it in action but think it will be fun.

  6. Hardcore fans don’t want this at all. We want the old system back. This system still allows for a driver to win the first 35 races and not win the Championship. Don’t feed me the crap that this is going back to the way it was before. You can change the name from “The Chase” to “The Playoffs” but it is still the same pile of crap as it was before.

    NFL doesn’t reward the team leading at halftime. Your standings doesn’t improve in the NBA just because you were leading after the 3rd period. NASCAR ratings and attendance decline started right around the time they first changed the points system. That is not a coincidence.

    I can’t wait until next year when the ratings and attendance is worse and they scrap this crap and try yet something else totally different. Maybe one day the will see the error of their ways and revert back to the format that made them in the first place.

    1. The NFL also doesn’t reward teams for winning all their games and losing in the Super Bowl right ?

  7. Jeff, As this is your site please change the way the sport is covered. Stop writing about what everyone else is writing about and look for a story without Jr or Danica in it . While you all think that is what people want it is not. This is what is chasing the viewers and fans more than the gimmicks. The tv coverage could stand to do the same, and quit with the 10 lap single car shot and the stupid in car camera at big tracks. If that was a desired view, we all would put a go pro in our car and drive an interstate. Ok, I’m done, you can have your box back.

  8. I agree. It’s not that hard to follow if you just pay attention and not get all worked up.

  9. Good analysis. Helps clarify rationale and how it works. Something had tobedoneaboht commercials as NBCSN was a huge pain with that.

  10. I have always been skeptical of changes since the first Chase was introduced. I think I’m still in a state of shock how much I love this format. I’ve hated how the first 26 races get wiped out or how points reset in the elimination rounds with no bonus for what happened earlier. This is as close as we will get to the pre-Chase era points and I can’t wait to see this in action.

  11. Chris B does not win a race under this change. It favors the big teams, in the 80’s I watched NASCAR penalize all the Ford teams to stop Elliott at his chance of the million. Then I watched them get Tim Richmonds license on very questanable means. I have had tickets at the brickyard since its first race, not many of us left. Less people in the stands, less watching it on TV. Drivers being awarded a championship and missing half the season? NASCAR truly needs to change and that must start with its leadership, no different than a winning coach and one that has lost a lot of games. Brian France needs to step down, his leadership qualities over the last few years has truly hurt NASCAR. Now hard to speak out against a sport basically owned by one family. But changing points, the chase, mandated cautions, giving people charters that no longer have a team. What the hell is going on. Maybe it’s just the older fan they want to loose, my die cast collection is over 1600 cars, and I can tell you I’m done, I will write to FORD and every other sponsor I have purchased because of NASCAR and tell them there money being spent is going to a dead horse. Yes NASCAR needs change but until it changes leadership this fall from grace will continue. I have watched or attended the Daytona 500 for the last 30 plus years but no more.

  12. Hi Jeff.

    Just some food for thought-

    I am liking the new changes, but if the reward for each stage is to finish in the top 10 to receive points…wouldn’t it then make sense to only have 10 drivers qualify for the playoffs? Would kind of seem more in line with the new format in my opinion.

    As it stands right now, 16 drivers make the playoffs. There is little urgency or threat that a big name driver might not make the cut, and to me that somewhat diminishes the excitement.

    With the exception of a major injury, we already know when the season starts that Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski etc are going to make the playoffs. There’s no question about it…but by reducing the number to 10, somebody big is going to get left out.

    Just my thoughts.

  13. Fantastic 1st edition. Nothing like jumping in feet first. Keep up the good work. You are a winner.

  14. I agree with all three points. The world is ending to the common NASCAR fan, and it’s quite unnecessary. These changes will be positive to each race, and while the segments may take time to get used to, the consequences of them are fantastic.

  15. Sadly fans of today want instant gratification. Cars 4 widow on every lap and fighting after the race. Now look in the stands, “fans” have their heads down looking at their phones, tablets, etc. not even talking to other people. While social media is great people have forgotten how to live in the moment. I think the sport is fine, it is the fans that need fixing.

  16. I’m glad you’re buying into this. So far I’m not and after 54 years of following NASCAR they may have finally pushed me out. The shortening of races without reducing tickets or purses almost did it, charters almost did it, hiding purse payouts almost did it, but this may finally be the end for me. I won’t be missed since I”m not the fan who can’t sit through a 500 mile race without getting bored. I hope NASCAR can survive when us old fans are gone since I don’t believe the new fans will stick around for fifty years.

  17. Only thing I don’t like is you win your in or advance. I think it should just rely on points.

  18. Solid article Jeff you made some great points! I just wish people would stop complaining and just give the thing a chance. I think people will actually like it!

  19. Okay gonna say the points part is okay, still not sold on the segments. My husband wants to know if the segments will now have sponsors?

  20. I believe it’s not the format, but the race tracks they race on. Doesn’t the France family own about half the tracks they race on? Why would they want to take money out of their pocket for another track. Too many 1.5, we need more short tracks and at least another road course. The racing is exciting and actually gives a team with less money a chance.

  21. Great article! Just like you always do! Looking forward to the new So happy you are basically doing this for your wife! Always…happy wife, happy life!
    Also, I was at the first tweetip at Texas Motor Speedway, when there were what? Three of us? Something like that! Hope to see you at TMS in April!!
    Pam Stephens

  22. Great article Jeff! I still don’t like the “win & your in” idea & the “chase” was in the process of destroying the so called championship. The True NASCAR Champion should be the best performing team for the Season. In trying to save the sport they were advertising wrecks & fights (check the promos). I do agree, this is at least something. It will keep some interest just to “keep score” LOL. Keep up the good work of checking out & notifying us of the views & happenings of the “in crowd”. THKS

  23. Great article Jeff. I enjoyed reading this, and got a few laughs along the way! 🙂

  24. Good column Jeff. Welcome to the world of independence.

    As far as the announcement, this all means nothing if they don’t bring back the Narwhals Sprint commercials.

  25. Novel idea. Worked for 52+ seasons with amazing ratings and viewership up until it was changed. The driver that scores the most points over the whole season, is your champion.

    Simply put, playoffs do not work in motorsport. We are not stick and ball, no matter who tries to spin or sell it to us that way. To me, the changes have now pushed the traditional fan out. And, I am only 30. I am truly shocked Brad K. was behind/for any of this.

    Jeff, this is not the sport I grew up with and will be watching a lot more indycar and F1 this year + supporting my local tracks. Nascar is on its way out, it is just a matter of time and tv/sponsor contracts running their courses.

    Best of luck here an I will be supporting your cause.

  26. Good column Jeff, and good luck going forward. I think that this change is a good first step and I’m willing to give it a chance. I still think that the schedule needs some work. So, my suggestion. Each track gets one race each year guaranteed. Exceptions are Daytona and Charlotte, which are guaranteed two for historical reasons. Final seven races each year rotate among all the tracks except Daytona and Charlotte as a second date – for those tracks that choose to participate. If all tracks take the second date when it is their turn, there would be a three-year rotation established (21 tracks, excluding Daytona and Charlotte). This would shorten the season and add some variety to the playoffs. Establishing the rotation in advance would give the tracks enough notice to allow them the necessary time to prepare. Thoughts?

  27. Thanks for explaining the changes and the implications of the changes.

    I’m excited about your new outlet for NASCAR writing. Your honest and revealing writing is something I look forward to each week. Will this affect access to NASCAR races? NASCAR keeps a tight hold on who is given press access and writing is monitored for positive writing. Your model for writing gives you freedom to express your viewpoint and I’m looking forward to following you.

  28. Being open minded to this. But, for all this talk about keeping the race interesting as it goes, really just highlights a major issue that’s still present. The races are too long.

    Let Daytona be 500 miles, but restrict all other races to 300. More laps don’t add entertainment.

    And while I’m playing make-believe NASCAR God, 30 races a year, 8 road course races, only a handful of tracks get two races, winner receives 20 points, second 10, third 8, on down to 1 point for finishing 10th. Probably axe the post-season. Don’t mind it but it’s too complicated. Other sports don’t require a spreadsheet to keep track of all the points during a season. It’s win one or 4 out of 7 to advance. Anyone can follow that.

  29. Hopefully, this change will eliminate the sandbagging at Daytona and Talladega. I think JGR may have some responsibility for this change. Maybe some insight into Carl Edwards retirement.

    All progress requires change. All change is not progress.

    We shall see…..

  30. Jeff, does this mean that there isn’t eliminations every three races in the chase and it’s just a 9 race stretch to Homestead? Or are there eliminations every three races with bonus points carrying through till the final race at Homestead?

  31. These season ending races should be entitled The Runoffs. Not a chase, not a playoff, but The Runoffs. With a presenting sponsor.

  32. At the end of the 1st segment of the Daytona 500 do you think that drivers will try to get into the top 10 and maybe cause a big wreck . I can’t see where the end of the first 2 segments will be any more exciting .

  33. Great takedown, Jeff. Look forward to more journalism with common language from this site.

  34. Funny, I half way expect fifteen years from now NASCAR will announce another “new” points system. Under that new system teams will earn points based upon their finishing position in a race with each position earning one less point than the position ahead of it. Also, a team will earn one bonus point for leading a lap and/or for winning the race. The points system will continue throughout the entire season and the team with the most points at the end of the season will be crowned champion. Yes, seriously.

  35. I still question whether or not a driver with a couple of wins won’t do a little bit of R&D. But that gets to a lack of real comprehension about how the playoff points carry on and how the Chase (sorry) is different. Jeff Burton used to say that drivers don’t need any more incentive to win. Maybe not, but the on track product has fallen off dramatically. I put less blame on R&D than I do aero issues where cars can’t pass. Until that is fixed, no points gimmick will make racing better. If you can’t pass, you can’t pass.

    I am also not a fan of 2 fixed cautions. NASCAR has the ability to award the winner points as the race runs. The ONLY reason, IMO, is to manufacture 2 additional restarts that add side by side racing for a lap or two. Total gimmickry. Just fix the cars racing and the rest will take care of itself.

  36. I’m not sure the playoff points will matter much because of the win and in rule. Look at the 48 team last year. They got their win then for a 15 race stretch they averaged a 20th finish. Didn’t matter because of win and in.

    In 1st round the top drivers just need to be better than the lower teams like 14 or 34 to get to next round. Then 48y got one win in round 2 and 3 each so points didn’t matter to the 48 getting into the final race.

    Also last year 3 of the 4 finalists got a win in round 3 so points didn’t matter to 3 of the 4 in the final.

  37. All the stupid changes that NASCAR as a sport has done since 2000 is what has led to the MUCH declining attendance/TV ratings which is why we supposedly need “MORE CHANGE”…….

    C’mon. What worked for all those years that we knew as the Season Long “WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP” is what this sport needs a return to. I feel like all of Johnsons championships deserve an asterix by them.

    NASCAR is beyond a “decline”….. Its on life support. But this is NOT what the sport needed. It needs a return to WHAT WORKED WITH US FANS from 1970 til 2000. Numbers don’t lie. And the numbers, both in attendance and ratings, were light years ahead then than now.

    The seasons were shorter, much better racing. LOTS more diversity in the number of teams. More popular drivers. AND A LOT MORE FANS!!

    ….whats so hard to understand NASCAR ?!?

  38. This will not bring back the fans. The playoff format is ridiculous and has no place in motorsports. Ratings will continue to tank.

  39. ….another thought:

    Todays drivers are just not carrying the fan bases that Earnhardt Sr., Rusty Wallace, Petty(‘s), Gordon, Jarrett, Davey Allison, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart used to.

    Those drivers were considered as relatable “working man” type of people (except perhaps Gordon). Today’s drivers appear more as “silver spoon” kids. Case in point Jimmie Johnson. The fact that there are really only 3 teams that can win in any given race (Hendrix, JGR, Stewart Haas) only exacerbates the situation……

    NASCAR has only one star with any kind of “mass appeal” and thats Dale Jr. Only he seems to carry the same aforementioned “every man” feel. Once he goes, so goes ANY kind of audience for the sport. (NASCAR needs another Tim Richmond BADLY!!)

    NASCAR is truly stepping into its 5th generation of drivers, but this generation has no real stars in it nor any kind of attachment to its past. Therefore the longtime, hardcore fan is not at all engaged as they used to be.

    This is a dynamic that is unique to this sport. You can always be a “Cardinals” fan, as a “team fan”. But NASCAR fans root for the DRIVERS…..and this crop of drivers is just not as appealing. Instead of owners looking for the most “marketable” drivers, maybe its high time they find the BEST DRIVERS and let the chips fall where they may (are you hearing me Danica ??)

    ….just ANOTHER reason this sport is in serious trouble!

    1. DeLaun Fifield, correct. The corporate drivers have no mass appeal. I cringed every TV interview when all they did was name sponsors. That’s one reason I won’t corporate Carl. Dale Jr doesn’t name sponsors.

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