If you’re not a big fan of change, then maybe it’s time to get off the NASCAR rollercoaster. We had another media week kick off and it was full of even more changes and fan outrage than usual. It is almost as if this is becoming a yearly tradition of pushing traditional fans to the brink of no return.
When the news first started to break at 11 am this morning with NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France it resulted in an alarming firestorm of media and fans on Twitter. Bits and pieces of the ideas being implemented in 2016 were brought up, but no real meat and potatoes were offered to help explain and support the ideas.
Well, that’s Brian France for you. The man who has guided NASCAR for the last 13 years still does not seem like he has a grasp on public speaking or even sounding genuine. Ideas were delivered, but he added nothing to them. Granted, that’s what VP and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell was for, but I would have liked France to just give us something other than the run around. For a man who had just had knee surgery, France was bobbing and weaving on stage like Mohammed Ali in his prime.
He would throw an idea out, then move on to the next topic. In the short Q and A session with France, media members like Jim Utter, asked serious questions about the logic of some of the new ideas. France spoke in circles, then went to the next question. Basically it was France’s job to drop the bomb (or turd as I described on Twitter) and O’Donnell’s job was to polish it into something nice. I do not envy that messy job for O’Donnell.
Of the announcements, let’s get to the best one first, that no longer will the Sprint Cup Series Chase have dumb names for each round. There was the Challenger Round, Eliminator Round, Terminator Round, and Other Word Ending In “Er” Round (some of those might have been made up). Instead we will just have “Round of 16” or “Round of 12,” which is not only descriptive and simplistic, but easy to remember. “How many drivers are left? Well round of 12, I’m going to go with…12!”
It took me about eight hours, some pizza, and a Coke Zero, but I might have finally come to terms with the other major announcements. That and the fact (as always) this is NASCAR’s sandbox and anyone is welcome to leave at any point to find a better sandbox. Well, I’m going to stay, not happy, but I will stay…and complain. That said, the ideas did start to grow on me…some.
Let’s start with the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash, which had previously been four races during the Xfinity Series that Xfinity handed out money to the highest finishing Xfinity Series only driver. Xfinity. Now instead of that, the four races will be unique and feature Two Heats and a Main Event. The tracks involved will be Bristol (good choice), Richmond (another good choice), Dover (getting colder), and Indianapolis (why!?).
Now the rules straight from the horse’s (NASCAR) mouth:
Qualifying for each Dash 4 Cash event will set the 40-car field and the starting positions for the Two Heats with the fastest qualifier awarded the Coors Light Pole Award. Odd-numbered qualifiers (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.) will start in the first Heat in respective order, while even-numbered qualifiers (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) will start the second Heat in respective order.
The Two Heats will set the starting positions for the Main with the top two NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars in each Heat becoming eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. The highest finishing driver among the four Dash 4 Cash eligible drivers will be awarded a $100,000 bonus. If any driver wins two of the four Dash 4 Cash bonuses available, he/she is all but guaranteed a spot in the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase. In short, two Dash 4 Cash bonuses are equivalent to one race win in the new NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase format.
Now that brings up something I probably should have led with. The Xfinity Series (and Trucks, we’ll get to them in a bit) will have a Chase for the Spri…Xfinity Cup! Not only will there be a Chase, but it will be elimination style like the last two Cup Series Chases. The biggest difference from the Cup Series is only 12 drivers will be in the Chase (thankfully, I think there might be 10 teams with realistic hopes of the title…scratch that, maybe 8) and only two elimination rounds rather than three.
Like the Cup Series it’s a ‘win and you’re in’ deal (unless you declare for Cup points) or win two of the four Dash races (above) and you’re in. And if that’s still not enough and Cup drivers have dominated the year, you can get in by being in the top-12 in points. The Chase starts at Kentucky, the second round starts at Kansas, and that sets up the finale to actually mean something at Homestead. Each cut race eliminates four drivers.
I rejected this idea at first, but if it adds some excitement/meaning to the final race, sure let’s do it. As much as I get annoyed at the idea of a Chase where streaky or fluky things can happen, it is what it is. If it can yield better, closer racing, then I’m in. If Elliott Sadler somehow wins the title, then we must scrap the idea and burn the history books while vowing to never speak of this again.
Enter the Truck Series, who will also get their own Chase for the Camping World Cup…or something. Copy and paste most of what I said above with some minor tweaks for the lower series. Only eight drivers will enter the Chase and the first starts at New Hampshire, the second at Martinsville, and that sets up the finale at Homestead. Two drivers get eliminated after each round to bring it to four finalists.
For a series with only about six viable championship options, this is a bit silly. That was Jim Utter’s question of Brian France, to which France commented he enjoys underdog stories. Well that might just happen when you let outcomes be determined by one random race, but we’ll see how this plays out and if it adds excitement to the races. Also, if this fails miserably we can thank Erik Jones. He was named by France as the inspiration because last year, while running the final race for the title, Jones went with the “just finish” strategy instead of going for the win. While it worked, it apparently did not impress France.
As an added bonus for each of the new Chases (Xfinity and Trucks) for some odd reason any driver who made the 2015 Cup Series Chase is ineligible to drive in the finale at Homestead for either series. I get the idea of allowing the Xfinity and Truck drivers to fight it out amongst themselves, but shouldn’t you then ban all of the Cup drivers? I mean, I don’t think Jeff Gordon was coming out of retirement to run that race, which is good because he can’t. It seemed to be a subtle way of keeping Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano out of the mix to run away with the race and leave TV to watch the battle for fifth and the title.
The final announcement was also about the Truck Series and this one is a bit hard to take in. When a race is in continuous green flag conditions, after 20 minutes an automatic caution will be thrown. France’s rationale he tossed out there was so the inexperienced crews could work on the cars, thus making racing better. Others equate it to a timeout during football so fans can go get food and tinkle. Maybe it’ll help FOX go to less commercials, but again, we’ll have to wait and see. I think it is a dumb idea, especially since NASCAR has had no trouble finding non-existent debris to throw the caution for. I guess now they don’t have to spend money on binoculars to find this debris.
All in all, my initial reaction was one of absolute horror for what the sport I have loved for the past 25 year has become. As I got to thinking about things, maybe this is a good step in the right direction for the Xfinity and Truck Series. They often get forgotten and today have been at the forefront of the discussion. If nothing else, it’ll give them some press to kick off the 2016 season.