Fighting the same challenge as all sports with declining attendance and dwindling TV viewership, NASCAR needed to spice up a recipe that was simply too bland for younger appetites.
But NASCAR hopes that enhancing the race format and playoff scoring system should cater to a variety of motorsport tastes, including those within the existing fan base.
On Monday, NASCAR unveiled a major overhaul to race procedures to emphasize running up front throughout an event as well as winning. Each race will be divided into three stages with the top 10 drivers earning playoff points in the first two segment.
For those with a short attention span, TV timeouts between segments will offer fans the opportunity to recharge, grab a drink and receive an update on their driver’s progress before the final run for the win.
The third segment — which will comprise approximately of half the distance of the race — will determine the winner (unless weather precludes the start of the final segment and then the winner of Segment 2 receives the trophy). In addition to the 40 points awarded to the winner, he or she will receive a five-point bonus for each race won throughout the course of the regular season.
Points will no longer be awarded for leading laps or the most laps. However, the top 10 drivers in each of the Daytona Duel qualifying races will receive playoff points starting with 10 for the winner, nine point for second-place and so on.
The driver that amasses the most points in the first 26 races, also receives an additional 15 points, as will the next nine point-gatherers on a descending scale. Drivers will carry playoff points into the post season until the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway when the slate is wiped clean.
Since NASCAR changed the post-season format in 2011 to offer winning drivers instant access to the Chase--nomenclature now retired in favor of the term "playoff"--fans have questioned the tenacity of competitors throughout the regular season once they are locked into the Round of 16.
Eliminating driver complacency
Worry no longer. The accumulation of points throughout the first 26 races eliminates driver complacency.
“When I'm broadcasting the races, I'm a fan,” said NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. “When a race fan buys a ticket, that race fan deserves to see a race that matters. That race fan deserves to see a race that impacts the championship. The ‘win and you’re in’ is awesome, but it also took the drivers and teams off the hook a little bit.
“Now, the drivers and teams, after they get that win, they still have a reason to go race. They still have a reason to go earn points that will ultimately get them to Homestead. Every one of these guys wants to win a Cup championship. That’s what they’re doing and they race their guts out. But if you incentivize these guys, to go earn something during the race, it makes it so they want to go race that much harder. And race fans deserve to see races that matter. This is an enhancement that will help make that happen. And when races matter, the fans win.”
Although the new format was a collaboration among the sport’s shareholders, clearly, NASCAR considered the fans’ sentiments when incorporating some of the hot button topics into the new format. Gone is the “Chase”. Gone is the Caution Clock. Gone are the competition cautions used to artificially box up the field.
And for fans that appreciate the influence of pit crew performance, having the field set for segments two and three by pit stops will place more emphasis on the men going over the wall.
“I really feel sorry for the pit crew members because a bad pit stop on Lap 75 is going to have a lot to play on (post-race audio),” Brad Keselowski said. “I can tell you, those moments are going to be hard to recover from when there’s a mistake. It’s going to mean more when there are mistakes. You’re going to have to be more perfect to win a race and to sweep a race.
“That’s going to be a big deal to sweep a race. It will be a big opportunity that’s never existed before. I believe I’ve had some of those races where I’ve led 300-some laps and lose out on the last five laps. Those really sting. But the opportunity to win both stages — and the race — and score a perfect race is really big. It means more than ever before.”
Adapting with the times
While it might take time for fans in the stands and at home to keep a running total of points, there’s still only one race winner at the end of the day. The King, Richard Petty, who has watched the sport evolve over the last six decades, believes NASCAR is trying to keep up with the times.
"Since NASCAR started, there has always been change,” Petty said. “The world changes and you have to change with it. This new format just adapts to the current and next generation of fans. It's something to help create more excitement during the races. You have to put on a good race, a good show where people want to watch at home and enjoy coming to the track. Having two additional winning moments is a good step in that direction to keep the drivers competitive and fans excited throughout the race and season.
"As an owner, I'm fine with it. I have the same rules as everyone else. That's fair. We just have to figure out how to be the best under this format."
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