Changes: For Better or Worse – Part 2

As the Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2014 season at Daytona, there are a number of changes teams are dealing with.  [Russ Lake Photo]

In Part-1 of our look at “Changes” in motorsports for 2014, we talked about alterations in IndyCar and the TUDOR SportsCar Series. In Part-2 we’ll discuss NASCAR and the adjustments that teams face going into the new season.

NASCAR:  Messing with procedures in America’s most popular form of motorsports doesn’t always fly smoothly with the stock car faithful. With the three traveling NASCAR series basking in the Daytona sun, several of the changes instituted by the sanctioning body won’t be implemented until race two at Phoenix. Daytona, being a stone’s throw from NASCAR’s White House, has always played  by different qualifying rules for the 500-all the better to put butts in the seats for the week before the “Great American Race”.

1) So, beginning at the Phoenix mile, two rounds of time trials will shrink the field from 43 or more to 12 in a 30-minute session, followed by a 10-minute run to position the fastest 12; the quickest earning the Coors Light Pole Award. This format will be used for tracks of 1.25 miles or less. Three sessions will set the field on larger tracks and road courses. The vision of 43+ Sprint Cup cars all trying to go fast and stay out of each-other’s way (or maybe not trying that hard) for a half-hour at Martinsville or Bristol boggles the mind. Thoughts of the old “Roller Derby” TV shows dance in my head.

2) The Chase gets yet another make-over, this time with 40 cars-oops 16 cars making the run for the Sprint Cup based on wins, and points if that is needed. Win a race and you’re almost guaranteed a spot in the final group. Tie with one win for the final transfer spot with three other drivers and the one with the most points moves on.  Then the paring-down from 16 to12 to 8 to the final four begins during those last 10 events. And when they reach the finale’ at  Homestead in November, the whole 10-month marathon season boils down to whoever finishes ahead of their three rivals wins the crown. Thirty-fifth place could be good enough on that Championship-winning day.

3) Penalties, now called a “deterrent system,” will become more transparent with a six-tier system enforced depending on the infraction. Repeat offenders (Smokey Yunick must be looking down and laughing) will have their penalties multiplied by 50% for the next offense.

Will these changes enhance the show? Will more fans fill the seats for qualifying? Will the Chase draw more interest from the national media than it has in recent years? Time will tell, but at least NASCAR keeps trying to improve its show, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Now about that traffic-jam at Martinsville.

Changes Needed Sooner Rather Than Later: Teams don’t seem to be happy with their inability to make changes in the car’s set-up during the qualifying sessions. They are allowed limited changes between sessions, but are not allowed to jack the car or raise the hood. Going back to the garage will end any further attempts. Look for possible changes in these areas.

At one time, leading the point-standings at the end of the season resulted in the driver winning the championship. No more. Running the first 26 races only makes you eligible to run for Cup. NASCAR needs to crown a regular-season champion before the Chase begins. Major League Baseball and the NFL name division and conference winners before the play-offs begin. Sponsors and teams would love to brag about their season championship even if they don’t go on to capture the Chase.

Finally, the 10 Chase races need to be rotated among a variety of tracks. A road course (likely Sonoma due to weather considerations in the fall) should be in the rotation as should Bristol, Michigan, Richmond and the Brickyard. If those venues are good enough for the regular season, their fans should be rewarded by being part of the Sprint Cup championship. Homestead may be a fine facility, but the NASCAR schedule ignores the south Florida track until the Chase begins. There are other tracks that deserve the final race.

In March, Part-3 will look at changes in Formula 1 as it opens its 19-race season in Australia.


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