Jan 30, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
Change is a constant force in our lives that we cannot escape. But while change can be positive, it can also be negative – especially if they come one after the other.
Many citizens of NASCAR Nation argue that such has been the case regarding the sanctioning body’s willingness to continually tinker with its decade-old Chase format, which emerged in 2004 to redefine the way a champion is crowned in the top-tier Sprint Cup series.
The Chase has taken various forms since its original incarnation, which had the Top 10 drivers in the championship (and anyone else within 400 points of the leader) going into the 10-race post-season. But then came the tweaks – an expansion to 12 drivers in 2007 (with the 400-point bit dropped), followed by an overhauled points system and the addition of two “wild cards” in 2011.
Now, yet another change has arrived. As first reported by the Charlotte Observer earlier this month, the Chase has now officially expanded once more to a 16-driver field and will feature eliminations after every three races in the playoff to set up a four-driver, winner-take-all battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway for stock car racing’s biggest prize.
Depending on your viewpoint, NASCAR CEO Brian France is either to be commended on his persistence in creating a “Game 7”-style playoff environment like those of other sports, or vilified for craving it so much that he’s forgotten that NASCAR simply isn’t like any of the other sports.
We see France’s thought process and I would think that we all understand it.
The last thing he wants is to produce a boring product, especially with NBC Sports coming in to join Fox as the sport’s broadcasters in 2015. Then there’s the fact that the core NASCAR fan is getting up there in age – the sport itself may be at the start of a youth revolution (hello, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon; goodbye, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte), but that’s not showing up in the grandstands or in the TV demos.
Naturally, France wants to change that with a show that cannot be ignored.
The sport’s purists can complain until they are blue in the face, but society demands to be entertained (and considering that we’ve fueled the rise of the likes of Jersey Shore, the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, we don’t care how). If France believes this new format can entertain more people and help NASCAR enjoy another mainstream run like the one it had in the early to mid-2000s, then more power to him.
But at the same time, he and his colleagues need to put the hammers away in the toolbox and let the changes stick. This format needs to be in place for more than just a few years, because while change can be good, there are advantages when it comes to long-lasting continuity.
Too many changes can make the sport look desperate, as if it’s looking for the magic bullet that instantly brings back the days when NASCAR was part of the “Big Four” of American sports and drivers like Jeff Gordon were hosting Saturday Night Live.
You’d hope NASCAR would know there is no such thing as a magic bullet after seeing the much-hyped Danica Patrick struggle in her rookie Cup season last year or seeing the IndyCar Series continue to suffer with a miniscule national presence after American open-wheel racing united again in 2008.
Furthermore, too many changes agitate the loyal fans that have stuck around for decades and have remained loyal as their sport has evolved into a national phenomenon. There’s the balancing act of this change: Gaining as many new fans as possible without finally driving that longtime base away for good.
NASCAR shouldn’t be attacked for wanting to be more relevant. But it needs to understand that this new format has to be given time to make an impact and that it must resist the impulse to tweak it again in the near-future.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Sports car racing meets “It’s a Wonderful Life.” With dinosaurs.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:18 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey and Wally Dallenbach discuss the team’s quiet start to the 2014 Sprint Cup season.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT
Cooling units are now allowed on pit road and cool-down laps on track are banned.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind going into Thunder Valley.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
Be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified for access to the Live Extra stream.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
The saga continues as Smoke and Darrell Waltrip head for Texarkana.
Mar 11, 2014, 3:24 PM EDT
Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer will take part in pre-race duties for the Food City 500.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
RBR’s team principal also tags Merc’s Lewis Hamilton as the favorite for the world title.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:26 PM EDT
All TV times for this year’s F1 on NBC Sports schedule.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Eddie Irvine became a Grand Prix winner 15 years ago this month, at Melbourne.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Paul Wolfe notes that Bristol’s tight confines could lead to more issues in qualifying this weekend.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Twice in eight years, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth have been contact magnets at Bristol.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Two strong Tudor teams make driver announcements going into Sebring.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Two of IndyCar’s rising stars welcome the 1995 series and Indianapolis 500 champion back to open wheels.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
How cars handle series-issued BoP changes and Sebring’s punishing layout will likely determine who wins Saturday.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
The team had recently signed Collection Auto Group and Castrol as sponsors late last month.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
IndyCar star looks to go one better after four straight class runner-ups at Sebring.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Outside of IndyCar’s power teams, Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing remain one of the top underdogs.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Year 2 for Graham at RLL should, on paper, be substantially better than Year 1.
Mar 10, 2014, 7:16 PM EDT
The F1 supremo is bracing for an unpredictable year in the series.
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