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NASCAR: Tradition vs Progress

John Doublin@CoachJayDeeSenior Writer IFebruary 11, 2010

A history in the UN-making

When RJ Reynolds stepped aside as title sponsor of NASCAR in 2003, changes to the sport began to happen at an astonishing rate.  The new sponsors began to exert their control over the sport and move in an entirely new direction.

Some of the changes, such as those that dealt with safety, were for the better.  However, in my opinion, some other changes hurt the sport more than they helped it.  They seem to be pushing for the undoing of tradition.

The first step they took in this direction was to change the points system from the way it was done for 50 years to the new "Chase" format.  In the past, winning a championship meant being the most consistent driver and team over the entire season.  The "Chase" eliminated that.  Now, you can be mediocre for 26 races and consistent for 10 and still win the championship. 

With this in mind, it seems that drivers aren't always racing to win, but only to stay in the top 12 in points.  They are taking fewer risks to win, being less aggressive and just "hanging out" until the last 10 races of the season.  NASCAR fans aren't paying to see that, they're paying to see old fashioned, door to door racing.

The perfect example of this happened last year.  Tony Stewart led the points for most of the season and had earned a nice lead.  That lead was taken away from him, not on the track by another driver, but by the new Chase rules. 

While it's true that the drivers that leaped ahead of him had more wins, they were less consistent overall than Stewart throughout the season.  They should have been forced to earn that lead like Tony did over the first 26 races, not have it handed to them with ten races to go.

I say that if a driver builds up a 200 or 300 point lead by the 26th race...that means that he drove his way to that lead, that he deserves that lead and should be allowed to keep that lead...period!

The Chase not only removed some of the driver's incentive to be consistent, it removed some of the most historic tracks from being part of the championship.  Tracks like Louden, Kansas and Homestead now have more impact on the championship than Daytona, Bristol, or Darlington.  The sport cut its teeth on these tracks and now they are almost irrelevant, not to mention the complete removal of racing at historic Rockingham NC.

This is not what Mr. France had in mind when he started NASCAR in 1948.  It was about competition and WINNING...on the track!  Not "points racing" or keeping the "big picture" in mind. 

The championship should be won on the track, not in the board room or by the marketing department.  He understood that NASCAR needed to not only build a tradition, but stay true to it.  All his work on that is being eroded and will be gone before we know it.

The second, and I think the most detrimental change made is the "Car of Tomorrow."  Never mind the argument that the Bodine brothers designed and built the new car around the Impala, giving Chevy a two or three year head start in research and engineering and a distinct advantage.

The car doesn't even look like a "Stock Car" anymore.  They remind me more of an SCCA or touring car now.  It was intended to eliminate aero-dependence and increase safety.  Although the new cars are much safer and more durable, it seems like they are more aero-dependent than ever before.  Passing the leader is even harder now than it was in the old car.  Again...not what Mr. France envisioned.

In closing, the Chase has made the first 26 races and some of the most historic tracks seem less relevant and the new car has not improved the racing much, if at all.  The good teams are still dominant and the back-markers are still trailing the field...so what was the point?

While I do believe that the sport needs to move forward, it shouldn't do so at the cost of shedding its history.  I understand the need to reach a newer, younger audience.  What I don't understand is why it's necessary to alienate the older purists and thumb our noses at tradition to get it done.

Am I wrong?

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