It has been a week since I headed for Charlotte and the 2014 edition of the Sprint Media Tour Presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. I’ve waited until now to digest all of it and come away with an opinion of the events. In other words, as the closing song of Craig Ferguson’s Late Show says, what did we learn on last week’s show? You may be surprised.
This year’s tour was divided up into manufacturers. There was a Ford day, a Toyota day, and two Chevrolet days. At each stop, something new was announced. For example, at the Richard Childress stop, we learned of a new oil sponsor—Lucas Oil and the hiring of some new engineers. At the Front Row Motorsports gala, it was that Eric McClure will have a ride for the Daytona 500 in their No. 35 car. Shockingly, neither Jack Roush nor Martin Truex, Jr., attended their sessions. Both were on vacation, but Truex showed up via Skype on the big screen. The Wood Brothers reported that they had four brand new cars for 2014, but without some sponsorship other than Quick Lane, they would only attempt 12 races this year. Brian Vickers was at the Michael Waltrip Racing show, looking fit and ready for the new season, having finally gotten his blood clot problem under control. None of that is earth shattering, but the big news happened on the last day and has been debated everywhere. My take on the big announcement may surprise you, but maybe it won’t.
There is no need to rehash the new Chase format. It has been cussed and discussed on NASCAR Radio, in nearly everyone’s column, and on the street. Some like it and others do not. I don’t like it. I couldn’t figure out why until I sat down and suffered through the Super bowl tonight, and then it hit me.
Regardless of how good the final teams are, you cannot guarantee the best will win. That’s not saying that the Denver Broncos are the better team, but everyone expected a tight finish, or as Brian France says, “a seventh game finish.” The Super Bowl didn’t and instead we saw a blowout. It took me back to the 2011 baseball playoffs. In that series, the St. Louis Cardinals go into the playoffs on a wild card. They had finished six games behind the division winners, but used the playoffs to gain the crown. A full brilliant season by the Texas Rangers didn’t get them a World Series Championship. Just three months later, my team (New York Giants) gained a championship the same way. The Giants were a mediocre 9-7 in the regular season, but the playoffs got Big Blue another championship. Such is the way stick and ball sports roll. I don’t think stock car racing should follow the lead of stick and ball sports. Being unique was what fascinated me about NASCAR back some forty years ago. The championship was based on a whole season and not just someone or some team who got hot toward the end. Unfortunately, that ended in 2004.
Since the big announcement, I’ve talked to several fans, both old and new, and though a few support the winner take all four car rule, I find twice as many hate it. The main argument is that the “final four” would likely be the same teams who always win—Hendrick and Gibbs (who won 55% of the races in 2013 and 60% of the Chase races), and most likely the two teams would populate the final four. Many expressed a concern that Chevrolet and Toyota seem to be the only brands competitive week-in and week-out. In other words, this new gimmick will not bring old fans back or new fans heading for the turnstiles. NASCAR claims they have a fan group that tells them that more excitement was needed, and the new winning rule might actually bring back some excitement, but not if the same seven cars win most of the races and one of them is so superior that they dominate each race.
Many times, in these pages, I have expressed the way it used to be. All that was important was who won on Sunday. The championship was an afterthought. I still remember when David Pearson won the 1969 championship, but I only was reminded of it after a Ford advertisement in a car magazine. Today, the sanctioning body, aided by the media, has built up the championship to make it the level of the World Series Championship and the Super Bowl win. There’s no turning back. It’s going to be that way for a long while.
Hopefully, the new rules will do some good. Since winning is going to be important, maybe someone will push a little harder during the race. There will be no more “good points days.” Maybe the new rules will put a fire under some teams who, let’s face it, weren’t in the same league as Hendrick and Gibbs. There is hope here, but I do not see the fans swarming back to NASCAR anytime soon. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s the way I see it now.