As a fan of all motorsports, my passion initially began in the mid-'90s as a 10 year old with NASCAR.
Over the years, however, I developed more of an affinity for Formula One. The main reason is that I prefer the technical advancement of the series and the technical freedom the teams have, which results in cars that are very different in their characteristics and real competition among not only drivers, but teams.
The other reason is that I, over time, became disenfranchised with the management of NASCAR. In my view, they have taken a once great racing series and made it into a spectacle that is, for traditional auto racing fans, often painful to watch. The Chase is one of many examples of such a direction taken in recent years.
So in the commencement week of the innovation that has ruined NASCAR perhaps more than anything else, I now present five proposals for improving the series the series.
1. Eliminate the Chase
The Chase is a simply farcical way to determine a series champion. It is an insult to the great tradition of championship auto-racing.
NASCAR introduced it because of a ***perceived*** problem with dominant points leaders virtually wrapping up Winston Cups with races to spare in the season. They believed that it made late-season races less meaningful and kept the series from experiencing optimal interest and growth.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While championships may have been over early in the past, late-season races still saw plenty of intense competition for victories. Jeff Gordon may have sewn up the championship early in 1998 and 2001, but that certainly didn't stop him from giving it the beans for race wins in either season.
Late-season races mattered very little when the sport experienced its greatest rates of growth in the '80s and '90s, when dominant drivers Gordon and Dale Earnhardt made a mockery of their competition. Fans old and new largely didn't care about the championship as much as they cared about the great action on the track.
There was indeed a problem with how the championship was determined before the 2004 season, when the Chase was introduced. But it was a fundamental flaw in the points system that was the problem.
Which leads me to...
2. Overhaul the points system
For far too long, NASCAR has had a terrible points system.
One argument is that it has rewarded consistency too much relative to race wins. This criticism is partially correct, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
The main problem with the points system has been that it lets drivers off the hook for mediocre and poor performances. In the F1 points system, for instance, only the top eight finishers in a field of 20 earn points. As a proportion of the field, this would equal only the top-15 finishers in a Cup race earning points.
Why shouldn't this be the case? Why shouldn't only the top-40 percent of the field earn points? Why should someone who finishes 20th or even worse earn points for his performance if he and his team are so poor on that particular day?
Furthermore, the fact points are awarded just for leading a single lap is ludicrous. Why should a driver and team who isn't all that competitive during a race earn bonus points just for staying out extra laps under green flag pit stops if their level of competitiveness isn't really worthy of reward?
And why shouldn't pole sitters earn bonus points? Racing is about going faster than anyone else, and single-lap quickness should still be rewarded to an extent. Staying on point, why shouldn't the driver who sets the fastest lap in the race receive some bonus points, as well?
Noting the above, I propose the following points system for NASCAR:
- 200 points
- 180 points
- 160 points
- 140 points
- 120 points
- 100 points
- 90 points
- 80 points
- 70 points
- 60 points
- 50 points
- 40 points
- 30 points
- 20 points
- 10 points
Bonus points would be awarded as follows:
- 5 points for winning the pole
- 5 points for leading the most laps
- 5 points for setting the fastest lap
By rewarding speed, installing a more severe points drop from position to position, and punishing mediocrity, this points system would reward a champion based on a perfect balance of winning races and consistently delivering not just solid performances, but excellent performances.
It will truly push drivers and teams to give everything they have every week, which will improve the show for fans.
Furthermore, it will also do a better job of preventing drivers and teams from going into "protect" mode when they amass strong points leads. Matt Kenseth would never have wrapped up the 2003 championship so early by top-15-ing his way to it. (In fact, if you run the numbers, you would find that Ryan Newman would have overtaken him late in the season to win the championship under this format.)
3. Get rid of the COT and run muscle car models to the specifications of the road product
When someone thinks of NASCAR, they think of the epitome of American automobile performance:
Big 800-ish bhp engines pushing tail-happy cars, being driven by pilots brave enough to handle them at the limit.
Does this describe the Impala, Fusion, or Camry? Or that disgusting insult to American history, the new four-door "Charger" sedan?
Four-door sedans are for middle-aged married men who have given up on life. They are not appropriate for the race track.
The "big three" have re-introduced their old muscle car standards: the Chevy Camero, the Dodge Challenger, and the PROPER Ford Mustang, at the perfect time.
NASCAR should feature these three cars particularly to the dimensions of their road counterparts. The manufacturers would be able to develop special edition "NASCAR" versions of these muscle cars for consumers, but the manufacturers must sell the car they put on the track to the consumer.
Such an arrangement would differentiate the cars on the track, and we would have true manufacturer competition in NASCAR again.
4. Restrict teams to THREE cars, fix the NASCAR field to 45 cars, and ban customer cars
Thankfully, NASCAR has restricted the number of cars that teams could field to prevent money from ruling the sport..to an extent.
But they haven't gone far enough.
NASCAR is very expensive, obviously. Running four cars in a team is even more expensive. The madness has cost the sport historic teams like Robert Yates Racing and Petty Enterprises to mergers and the great Wood Brothers team that simply couldn't keep up.
It's very rare for more than three cars in a team to be competitive at one time. The only time in NASCAR history in which such a situation has occurred is when Roush entered all five of its cars in the Chase in 2005; since then, it's never run more than three competitive cars at a time.
Why spend so much money on a four-car team when you're only going to have, at most, three competitive cars?
Three cars is plenty for any NASCAR team to have in Cup. Furthermore, the entry list for each weekend should be restricted to 45 cars, allowing for 15 teams with three cars a piece and clearing slow backmarkers from filling the field.
On top of restricting teams to three cars, customer cars should be banned. This situation allows for the likes of Hendrick and Roush to have more resources than it already has, as it may gain information from its association with Stewart-Haas racing in developing its cars.
Customer engines are fine, but teams like Stewart-Haas should be building their own chassis.
5. Shake up the Nationwide Series
Lower NASCAR divisions have traditionally been the breeding grounds for future NASCAR talent. With "Buschwhackers" running full Nationwide schedules in recent years and/or plenty of races in other lower divisions, this is no longer the case.
The rate of talent emergence into NASCAR has slowed dramatically since the "Buschwhacker" trend became so dominant. To maintain the unprecedented flow of quality talent into NASCAR, Cup drivers should be banned from competing in lower series.
There should also be a "transfer" system for Nationwide Series drivers to Cup, and vise-versa. The English soccer system is a great model to follow for inspiring interest in lower divisions of a sport.
The bottom-three finishers in the Premier League are relegated to the Championship, which is the second best league, while the top-two finishers and winner of the Championship playoffs are promoted to the Premier League.
Bottom-five drivers in the Cup championship should be relegated to the Nationwide series, while the top-five drivers in the Nationwide championship should be eligible to drive in the Cup series.
Drivers in each series thus would have added incentive to give their all in order to advance to and stay in Cup. Such a system, along with a limit of three cars per team, would also prevent top Cup teams from milking top drivers from lower divisions, allowing for the minnow teams to hopefully gain in competitiveness. l
6. Allow all the contact the drivers desire
Has anyone ever watched a race of the British Touring Car Championship? People who attribute the phrase "rubbing is racing" to NASCAR would whimper while witnessing the cutthroat action that goes on in BTCC races.
Not only do hits occur regularly, but it is an accepted, understood, and even appreciated practice among the drivers. Here's a great video from Top Gear on the glory of BTCC.
Who wouldn't want to see this kind of action in NASCAR?
The racing in Cup has become too sanitized over time. It's time for a return to the days of knocking the other guy's teeth out with dive bombs and body slams.
7. Decrease race distances
Endurance is certainly an important aspect of a car's performance. Traditional races like the Daytona 500, the World/Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500 are in fact very special not just because of the historic circuits on which they're run, but also because of the length of the races, which challenges the durability of drivers and cars on such tough and demanding tracks.
But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. There are too many 400-mile and 500-mile races in the championship, and they make the series more long-winded than it should be.
The Daytona 500, Coke 600, Southern 500, Firecracker 400, and Brickyard 400 should remain at each respective mileage because of the history of the races and the fact that making such distances over the respective tracks is in fact a terrific accomplishment. But is it really such a great achievement to go 400 miles at silky-smooth circuits like Vegas, Chicago, and Kansas?
Every race except the five listed above should be limited to 300 miles in length. That's plenty of time to allow for great racing to occur, and in fact it would provide drivers and teams with more urgency to get the most speed out of their cars and race more aggressively in the short time they have.
8. Limit all circuits but Daytona to one race a year, and increase the number and variety of tracks the Cup circuit visits
Daytona is a unique circuit in that it is the host to not one, but two of the historic races in the Cup series. It should keep both races.
But aside from Daytona, what other circuit has more than one historic race? There's no really strong tradition associated with the fall Charlotte race, or the spring Bristol race.
There's no need for a circuit other than Daytona to have more than two races a year. Imposing such a limit would allow NASCAR to visit more tracks (in addition to more types of tracks) and reach more markets. For instance, is there any reason why, if NASCAR runs races in Canada and Mexico, they shouldn't be Cup races?
It may even allow NASCAR to cut back the length of the schedule some. By doing so, drivers and crews would have more time to rest and be able to put their best effort forward on a regular basis. Fans would have more time to build interest and anticipation between races over the course of the season.
9. Establish a "constructor's" championship
There has been a manufacturer's championship in NASCAR for a long time.
Why shouldn't there be a constructor's championship among participating teams? The engineers and mechanics at Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, and other teams are really not acknowledged for the work they do in preparing cars for each race circuit.
This should change.
10. Race in the rain
The Nationwide Series has run wet races two years in a row in Montreal.
Is there any reason why the Cup series shouldn't run wet races?
These guys are supposed to be the best stock car drivers in the world. Surely, they have the car control skills to handle a wet track.
And NASCAR shouldn't just run wet races on road courses. They should run them on ovals.
Goodyear tested rain tires at Martinsville years ago and concluded they couldn't hold up on ovals.
It seems rather ridiculous that technology really is impossible. Most like, Goodyear just didn't want to invest the time and money in developing it.
Time for them to get to work. No more postponements of races to Monday, or calling them after halfway while undeserving winners like David Reutimann or Joey Logano are leading.
If it rains, the show—the whole show—should go on in all of its wet glory. Then we'll really get to see what the drivers are made of.
The argument that the racing would spoil in quality is specious. Who wouldn't want to see guys like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon recall their tail-happy sprint car days in slinging the cars around Charlotte Motor Speedway on a wet track?