Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NASCAR's constant fresh changes getting stale

I'm not much of a NASCAR fan. I know, those are not shocking words to read on my blog. It's no secret that NASCAR's national series aren't on my list of priorities to follow during the summer months (or spring or fall or winter). When I heard the "too Hollywood" sanctioning body was implementing some changes concerning its points and procedures for 2011, however, I thought I'd tune in tonight to see why SportsCenter decided to air a live press conference. Afterall, points and procedures are what interest the geek in me.

In the days and weeks leading up to tonight's press conference, there was a lot of talk about NASCAR making some changes to its points system. Check that, it's antiquated, painfully lopsided, senseless points system. Some of the changes I heard discussed led me to believe NASCAR was on the right track. After watching tonight, however, I believe they still fall short.

For the past 4,983 years, NASCAR has implemented a points system that made next to no sense. Awarding a driver 175 or 180 or 185 points for a win (whatever it was until this year) was fine, I guess. What I never understood was how the points dropped per position. Why the difference between finishing sixth to seventh was different than the drop from drivers finishing 17th to 18th or 23rd to 24th (or wherever the breaks happened) never made sense. Regardless who finished where, the guy in front of you finished one spot ahead of you and the guy behind you finished one spot behind you - why would the points reflect anything different?

NASCAR did get one thing right with their new points structure by awarding 43 points to the winner, then dropping by a single marker for each subsequent finishing position. One point per position throughout the entire finishing order... almost. That's where they still don't get it.

I realize that racers compete to win. I really do. But bonus points? Isn't the winner already the recipient of a bonus? Yes, he will already receive an extra point than the guy who finishes behind him. Why an extra three points for a win? Don't tell me the winner of the race gets 43 points for a win, when in actuality he gets 46 points for a win. And a point to lead a lap? Well, it seems to me that if you win a race, you must have led at least one lap. Don't tell me the winner gets 43 points for a win when he really gets 46, no, 47 points for a win. And a point to lead the most laps? Because a driver led the first 50 laps of a race, yet finishes 10th, and nobody else led more than 49 laps you're telling me he gets the same number of points as the guy who finished in front of him... because he wasn't able to hold the lead?

One point... per position... throughout the entire field... no exceptions. Get rid of the bonus points and reward drivers for their body of work, not because they waited an extra lap to get fresh tires to earn an extra "bonus" point. I can probably use new tires on my car... I wonder if my dealer will award me points for waiting to get new ones. Doubtful.

I do applaud NASCAR, however, on the implementation of a much easier to follow, more fluid point structure that allows fans to follow the points race in real time. It will be much easier for fans to know where their driver must finish in order to gain ground on the competition. I honestly feel this should be the norm at all local tracks, as well. For those who want passing points, etc., at their local tracks, I have a hard time believing you'd even understand, let alone like, how that applies in real time at a race track. The guy who finished fourth was rewarded better than me although I won? Perfect! I totally get that! I love it! That, however, is an entirely different conversation.

This whole Chase thing really has me shaking my head, too. How many years has the Chase been around? 10? Less than 10? How many adjustments have been made to it since its inception? At least three that I can remember, maybe more. As it stood last season, the top 12 in points qualified for the chase. It was cut and dry, no questions. Of course, that wasn't good enough so the BCS, oops, I mean NASCAR, decided to fiddle with it again.

In 2011, the top 10 in series points following the first 26 races will qualify for the Chase. In addition to those drivers, the two drivers not in the top 10 in points with the most race wins will be "wild card" Chase contenders provided they are in the top 20 after the 26th race. Yes, I realize Jamie McMurray won at Daytona and Indianapolis last year and didn't qualify for the Chase. While I do like McMurray, I don't think he should have made the Chase simply by virtue of those two wins. NASCAR should take each driver's body of work into consideration when determining those who qualify for the Chase. Two wins in 26 events just wasn't good enough. Gee, I wonder what NASCAR could do to distinguish one driver's body of work from his competitors' body of work when it comes to determining those drivers deserving of competing in the Chase? I think I have it! How about a points system that awards drivers points based on finishing position in each of the 26 races leading up to the "post season"?! What's that you say? Oh, yeah! That's right! They already have one!

Like I said, I understand that drivers compete to win, but in the end, I'll be brutally honest - not everyone can win. There are 43 drivers (43? Yeah, yet another conversation) who take the green flag on any given Sunday afternoon (or Saturday night or Sunday night to compete against your local dirt track... yes, another conversation topic), and it's likely, no, I'd say it's a certainty, that only one of those 43 drivers will win. There are, however, drivers who are strong, consistent competitors who string together impressive streaks of top-5, top-10, top-15 finishes yet are at risk of missing the Chase because some guy couldn't get it together for much of the "regular season" yet was able to put together a couple wins. NASCAR should be rewarding consistency, not victory alone.

To take it a step further, I did a little reasearch and only had to go back a handful of years to find consistent proof that NASCAR is, for lack of a better word, screwing drivers for their consistent finishes. First, consider the 2007 season when the top 12 drivers in points after the first 26 races were awarded Chase positions. By the rules implemented starting this season, Clint Bowyer, who finished 12th, would not be guaranteed a Chase spot despite his 12 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races of that season. Casey Mears, however, who sat 16th in the standings after race #26, would make it into the Chase by virtue of one, yes one, Cup win, despite earning only six top-10 finishes during that same 26-race stretch. Who's more deserving, the more consistent Bowyer or Mears, simply because he won a single race?

In 2008, Matt Kenseth sat in 12th place in series points following the final "regular season" race at Richmond. He made the Chase that season, but would not have made it under the new rules. Despite his six top-5s and 15 top-10s, Kasey Kahne would have made it in since he won two races and Kenseth won none. Kahne, however, was less consistent and earned only half as many top-5 finishes and just 12 top-10s in the first 26 races.

In 2009, Juan Pablo Montoya ran 11th with two top-5s and 12 top-10s while Greg Biffle had eight top-5s and 12 top-10s. Instead, Kyle Busch, the winner of four series races and only nine top-10s, and Matt Kenseth, the winner of two races and nine top-10s, would have made the Chase.

Finally, just last season, once again the 11th and 12th place drivers in points (Kenseth in 11th and Bowyer in 12th) following the 26th race would not have made the Chase under the new rule. While neither of those drivers won races during the "regular season," Kenseth earned 10 top-10s and Bowyer had 14. Ryan Newman, who was sitting 13th, had one series win and just eight top-10s, while 14th place Jamie McMurray had two wins to go along with only nine top-10s. Newman and McMurray would have been that year's Chasers.

I know, I know. who am I to set the bar at top-10s versus wins? What if it was top-5s or top-15s? It really makes no difference where you draw the line - it doesn't make sense. Why give points for the entire field for any given race if wins is all it takes to make it to the post-season? The fact that a points system already in place determines where the drivers stand at the end of the designated regular season should be enough of an indicator to determine who is deserving of a chance to compete in the post-season. Isn't that what a regular season is supposed to do, anyway?

To take it a step further, how many drivers get on hot streaks during various points in a season? By looking at numbers from the last four seasons, every driver who wins at least two races was a lock for the Chase based on the new points system. That virtually means any driver who wins a couple races early in the year (we'll give him a third win, just for insurance) is nearly guaranteed a spot in the post-season regardless when he won them or how miserable his other 23 races may be, provided he holds onto a top 20 position after Richmond. I guess if someone comes out of the gate and has a perfect February, they're set for the Chase regardless how March through August go. I thought the NFL was the professional sport that rewarded mediocrity? Yes, Seattle Seahawks fans, that's for you.

One other change of note concerns race qualifying. Should inclement weather prevent qualifying, race lineups will be based on practice speeds. Huh? What happened to lining cars up by points? You know, those little things you keep track of throughout the course of the year to determine your most deserving drivers?

Right or wrong, I frequently compare NASCAR to area racing since NASCAR's origin came from the grassroots form of the sport. Yes, kids, much like the music industry of the '80s and '90s, NASCAR has become racing's "boy band." It isn't based on traditional stories of success, hard work and reward, it's become a corporate, mechanical, meticulous assembly of cogs, wheels and pulleys. It's hard to believe today that NASCAR got its start in our own backyards. Yes, yet another separate topic of conversation.

I imagined how the changes listed above would affect the programs at local tracks who race on the weekends. For the regular readers of my blog, you may remember promoters Bob and Larry from Getaclue Raceway. If not, to jog your memory, last May I posted how the weather affects a track's decision to race or pull the plug on its weekly show. Well, Bob and Larry are back and they've made a couple more tough decisions on your weekly race program for 2011. Here's what would happen if NASCAR brainwashed our dynamic race directors and promoted your weekly track...

Larry: Well, folks, since here'n NASCAR up 'n decided to change how they done things, we's been takin' a look at our own pur-cedures 'n such 'n decided we was 'bout due to make some changes us selves. Here's what's cookin' fer twenty E-leven. Bob, take 'er away.

Bob: Thanks, Lar. And thank you guys fer takin' time from yer busy off-season 'n spendin' 'n afternoon with us. Fer twenty E-leven, we're gunna change how we give you guys yer points 'n such. I reckon it'll take some gettin' used to 'n all, but we was wantin' to make things easier fer understandin' 'n make it more fun fer the fans 'n such. This year, y'all 'r still gunna git points fer how y'alls finish, but it'll be a bit diff'ernt I reckon. Each feature winner'll get the same number o' points ev'r week pur-vided you lead a lap on the nights you win. That means we's gunna gurn-tee ya fifty points 'n if you lead a lap when y'all win, y'all's gunna git an extry point. What that means fer y'all is that yer gunna git fifty-one points to win, but you can get 52 if you lead the most laps o' yer race. Now we's been thinkin' that NASCAR 'n such counts caution laps 'n we's been thinkin' a doin' that too. I reckon that'll speed up the show so 'n y'all can git on the road at a decent hour 'n such 'n so y'all kin git home to yer wives 'n girlfriends er both er one er the other 'n what not. What all else ya got, Larry?

Larry: Thanks, Bob. If yer leadin' under caution 'n c'n hang on while we're pickin' up the DUH-bree on the track, you're likely countin' on gettin' more points cuz yer bound to lead the most times 'round. Now, if we don't go yella in yer race 'n ya start up front, then I reckon yer almost gurn-teed to get some type o' bonus cuz by the time those other uns git on up there, they ain't gunna have a snowball's chance at leadin' more laps 'n the guy who done started up yonder. Now, Bob, you wanna go into how that all's gunna trickle on back down the order?

Bob: It's possible and downright likely I reckon that the guy startin' in the front row's almost gurn-teed a bonus point so if yer startin' toward back yonder yer gonna be at a dis'vantage from the git go. I reckon it'll prolly mean you may git the same number points as a guy who starts up yonder even though you started back yonder unless'n you can put a car between y'all. Yep, even though y'all busted yer tails and beat the bugger, it'll be the same in the points. Hell, I reckon we may even make it the same at the pay winder.

Larry: Now there's also some scuttle 'bout changes in PROcedure. Y'all 'member last year when it was wet as all git out 'n we called a few 'n got some other nights in by the skin o' our teeth. Well, we got us a back-up plan fer y'all this year. On nights we kin git hot laps in, but it's lookin' like rain, we's gonna change PROcedures. Instead of runnin' them heats, we's gunna go straight ta feature racin' and we's gunna line y'all up based on how y'all look in hot laps. Some y'all don't run hot laps so I reckon it's best if y'all try 'n make it out there if it looks like rain's a comin'.

Bob: That all purdy much sums up all we had fer y'all unless y'alls got questions. Let me remind y'all, we reckon this is what the fans want cuz I'm s'posin' we don't reckon they all's bright enough to just come out fer some good racin'. They had some questions 'bout why their fav'rites didn't do so well last year 'n they want us to change things up ag'in this year. I'm sure we'll all be fer decidin' to change things ag'in next year just cuz these new rules this year ain't gunna be fair in the eyes of y'all's fans 'n such. I reckon we'll cross that bridge over yonder when we's puttin' together rules fer twenty-twelve. Thanks fer yer time, guys. Anything else from you, Larry?

Larry: Yep, one more thing, Bob. I reckon we best let y'all know if ya kin win a feature this year, we's gunna gurn-tee ya a top 12 finish in the points. Don't matter none if ya can't git outta yer own way the rest of the season. We's just gunna reward ya at the banquet cuz those 50-some points you git to win I reckon won't be 'nuff fer the satisfyin'.

In conclusion, I have a few predictions for 2011 into 2012:

* Underdogs David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr. will battle to the wire in a thrilling NASCAR Sprint Cup season, however neither will win a series championship because BCS officials will step in and change the formula to allow drivers Jimmy Johnson and Kevin Harvick to battle for the championship.
* Boise State will find a way to go undefeated yet again during the regular season, but NASCAR will somehow find a way to keep them out of the Chase for a championship.
* The Seattle Seahwaks will win the NFC West with a 12-4 record, but will be forced to play a road playoff game at Charlotte Motor Speedway against the 7-9 NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers.

Oh yeah, one more prediction... Packers 27, Steelers 21.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Karsyn's Krusaders and Wacky Bowling for Kids' Cancer on January 22

With the arrival of the new year, I've heard a lot of area drivers talking more frequently about getting their racing programs in full swing for the 2011 season. While the action on the track doesn't start in northeast Iowa for another three months, Karsyn's Krusaders is preparing for some off-season fun later this month. As I mentioned in December, Andy and Jessica Miller have organized a bowling night to help raise money to Kick Cancer's Butt and also bring together area race fans and drivers to keep our minds off the winter blahs.

Saturday, January 22, the Karsyn's gang will be at Cadillac Lanes in Waterloo for Wacky Bowling for Kids' Cancer. Details for the event can be found by visiting the Karsyn's web page or by clicking here. Along with unique bowling styles, there will be prizes, trivia and team and individual competitions. Details how to form your team, along with a registration form, are also available on the site.

Throughout the 2010 season, a number of people asked why I supported Karsyn's Krusaders since it was affiliated with a number of area drivers. While I do still possess a number of racing T-shirts I've accumulated over the years, I haven't worn them since I started working as a track official over 10 years ago. I've always felt track officials and employees should show no favoritism toward any driver or racing team. In my eyes, however, Karsyn's Krusaders is different. Yes, Darin Duffy and J.D. Auringer are visible Karsyn's supporters on the shirts, however they are merely supporters of the fight against cancer as much as you, me and anyone else who supports the cause. None of the money raised goes into the pockets of Darin, J.D. or other drivers who proudly support Karsyn's Krusaders. Karsyn's raised over $20,000 in 2010 in the fight against cancer thanks to the generosity of race fans throughout the region and all of that money went directly to support those individuals and families affected by cancer.

When I wear my Karsyn's shirt, it isn't to support any specific driver, it's to help support a cause - something that is very likely to affect all of us at some point in our lives. The busy holiday season is behind us, leaving you time to form your team for January 22. Get some friends together and come out to spend a night to show your support for a cause with meaning to all of us. See you January 22.