Kenseth/Earnhardt not in favor of change

The 2003 Winston Cup champion, Matt Kenseth, is not amused over NASCAR's announcement that they will change the system which crowns its champion for the first time since 1975. "Honestly, it's worse than I thought," said Kenseth. "Because I at ...

The 2003 Winston Cup champion, Matt Kenseth, is not amused over NASCAR's announcement that they will change the system which crowns its champion for the first time since 1975.

"Honestly, it's worse than I thought," said Kenseth. "Because I at least felt if you had a 300-point lead going into the final 10 races that they might knock that down to 100 going in, but five points isn't really that big of a deal, so I'm really not in favor of the change. There was a lot of talk about putting more of an emphasis on winning races, but I don't think this really does that. They didn't do anything to take away consistency. In fact, it's probably more about consistency now because you can just concentrate on having solid finishes and making sure you're in that top 10 for the final 10 races of the year.

"I feel this is entertainment driven and it definitely is nothing like what it was when racing started for most of us. I understand the need to keep people interested and understand there has to be entertainment value, but from my vantage point as a competitor I'm disappointed."

He is not alone.

NASCAR's favorite son Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also expressed disillusionment with the new program, which sets up a 10-race shootout at the close of the season between the top-ten drivers, or anyone within 400 points of the leader.

Earnhardt's main beef was that the new plan, which resets the leader to 5050 points after the 26th race of the year, and resets all eligible drivers in 5-point increments (2nd - 5045, 3rd = 5040, etc), was that it somehow cheapens being Nextel Cup champion.

"The thing that is important to me," said Earnhardt. "Is that, at the end of the day, if and when I win a championship, how is that going to be compared to the championships my father won? Is it the same? Is it better? Is it not as good? And, too, at the same time, it's going to be difficult for a lot of (the media) to point out who would have won if the system had stayed the other way. So, basically in the fan's minds, you're going to have two different champions."

It's ironic that Earnhardt is not completely behind the transformation of the point system. Because in my estimation the success of the whole program rides on where he finishes. He's not exactly thrilled about the possibility of having his points taken away from him either.

"Call me a pessimist," said Earnhardt. "But if I have a 400-point lead after 26 races, I'd be pretty upset if I can't hang on to that. We've been so used to doing it the way we've been doing it for so long that it affects your frame of mind. You go out there putting one race together at a time to build up the biggest amount of points you can build up. This is going to force you to change the way you approach winning the championship."

It's also going to force fans to think differently about the championship.

Earnhardt is the most popular driver among fans. Even if you are wearing a Jeff Gordon t-shirt and cheer for him week in and week out - those fans still love Junior. Perhaps it is a symptom of losing his beloved father in a last lap crash at Daytona, perhaps not. But, whatever the reason, he is the main draw, he sells the most merchandise, he garners the majority of non-motorsport media interest.

He's the reason the MTV generation has discovered NASCAR. What Jeff Gordon did for the NASCAR ten-years ago, Earnhardt does for the sport today. He makes it mainstream. Earnhardt is one of the only drivers in the garage that has a true cross-section of fans, young, old, male, female, newbies, and the old loyalists. He bridges the generation gap in NASCAR.

So, what happens if the new point program ends up screwing Earnhardt?

What looks good on paper might not be so rosy when the checkered flag is thrown at the end of the 26th race of 2004. Say Earnhardt is 401-points out from the leader, and ineligible to compete in the 'chase for the championship'?

There is going to be a riot.

In turn, if he sits first in points at the end of the 26th race, has his points reset, and then finishes 10th.

Again. Melee.

The only way this can come out looking like a genius brainchild to a throng of dedicated fans, is if Earnhardt sits 8th after race 26, and catapults himself into his first Cup series championship.

There has been conjecture that NASCAR made the change, in an effort to help younger racers (such as Earnhardt) earn a championship. Under the new guidelines, Jimmie Johnson would have won the 2003 trophy, and Kenseth would have finished sixth.

A reporter asked yesterday if there was any provision written into the new point system, if the likes of Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart did not make it into the championship hunt. The answer was no.

But, we all know how NASCAR likes to "modify" the rules.

NASCAR unveils 'Chase for the Championship'

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson