Points change not a fan favorite

Initially when I heard of the proposed point change for the Nextel Cup series, I thought it was a horrible idea. The whole point of the original system, which has been in place since 1975, was that NASCAR was a season long play-off in which the...

Initially when I heard of the proposed point change for the Nextel Cup series, I thought it was a horrible idea. The whole point of the original system, which has been in place since 1975, was that NASCAR was a season long play-off in which the most consistent driver was awarded the trophy.

While although it remains to be seen how the proposed changes will affect the sport, I am cautiously warming up to the idea of the playoff ideology. In summary, the initial 26 races of the year will be the "regular season", and the last ten events will be the "playoff period", determining the championship.

Details on exactly how this will be carried out are not yet available, but most experts assume that the top ten drivers will not be reset to zero, as previously discussed. Some type of "seeding" will be worked out between positions one and ten. NASCAR also does not want to discard any racer within a certain number of points of the leader even if they are in a position outside the top ten (ie. If No. 11 in points is 400-600 points shy of the leader, he will be eligible for the playoff round).

It is not a popular proposition. Internet chat rooms, fan pit boards, website polls and 95% of the Nextel Cup garage do not favor the change.

"I'm not trying to boast or anything," commented Dale Earnhardt, Jr. "But odds are I'd be in the top-10 if we had an average year, and I still don't like it. I think the change is a little aggressive.

"There are a lot of things I would love to change about the sport. The point system is not at the top of my list."

There seems to be a widespread barrel of griping among Cup drivers over the format revision, Busch and Truck teams will not be affected. One of the biggest concerns is how sponsors will react if their race team fails to qualify for the post-season battle.

Sure, they will be allowed to race, but obviously TV and media attention will be heavily focused on the drivers competing for the championship - leaving those teams who are not in a media black-hole.

"I think we're taking a big chance with sponsors," said Dale Jarrett. "You can sit here and try to convince me all that you want about the networks are gonna make sure that everybody else is shown too. Unless you're leading that race, and I'm not even sure then if you're not one of those 10 that you're gonna be talked about that much.

"Let's use this as an example, but just say we've had a pretty decent 25 races and I'm seventh in the points going into Richmond, but from fifth to 12th is really close - within 100 points of each other. On the first lap I get taken out at Richmond and my car is torn up beyond repair and I go all the way back to 11th or 12th. You're gonna tell UPS, who spends millions of dollars, that the best their car can finish this season is 11th? I'm not sure how long they'll be around. I'm not putting words in their mouth, I just know of conversations I've had with them."

Opinions also are being made about the schedule in general. If we are to have a ten-race playoff, then shouldn't the last ten events be at the premiere tracks on the circuit? Currently the last ten races of the season are New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega, Kansas, Charlotte, Martinsville, Atlanta, Phoenix, Darlington and Homestead.

Driver Kevin Harvick agrees, "I think our marquee tracks need to be out last ten races. It needs to be Bristol, Daytona, and Richmond. I'm 50-50 on it right now."

Every race fan knows that NASCAR opens their season with its premium product, the Daytona 500 - NASCAR's ""Super Bowl". If we are going to have a playoff style point system, shouldn't the season end with its biggest event?

It is clear to see what is driving the alteration. Television. NASCAR needs to be able to compete with the NFL and the NBA if they are going to succeed in bringing the sport to a more mainstream demographic. The playoff style season is one way to keep fans glued to their sets on chilly Fall Sunday afternoons, instead of clicking over to football.

The sanctioning body has made no secret that in addition to their title sponsor change this year, is a mammoth marketing plan designed to recruit new NASCAR fans. The danger for NASCAR is not the radical change in the point system, but the undermining of its loyalists.

There is no truer fan in sports than a NASCAR fan. They give up beach side resort vacations to pack the whole family in an RV and head down to Talladega for the weekend, they pay the electrical bill late to buy Earnhardt's latest Oreo diecast, they sit in the blazing sun smack in the middle of July in Chicago to watch their favorite driver whip around the asphalt.

NASCAR should be very concerned that according to several Internet polls, that 85% of their fan base is infuriated by the makeover of the championship point system. They cannot afford to lose fans, no matter how fast they make new ones.

It will either be the best decision NASCAR has ever made, or the worst. I am divided. Sure, those last ten races are going to be amazing, usually at that point in the season everyone is so exhausted those events lack the luster of the first few months for those of us traveling in the NASCAR road show. For us, it will be a welcome burst of excitement.

I don't know how the fans, most of which enjoy NASCAR from the comfort of their air-conditioned living room, will react. I don't know if the buzz will translate on TV, although I am sure NBC is already in production gearing up their new "we know drama" commercials.

One thing is for sure, if they get the kind of television ratings they are hoping to rake in from this kind of sweeping change, it will be the best idea since sliced bread. No matter who thinks it's a bad idea.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , Kevin Harvick