NASCAR is considering changes to the Sprint Cup Chase format that will make the sport unrecognizable and turn the championship into a single-day crapshoot.
According to a recent story in the Charlotte Observer and other publications, NASCAR proposed starting the Chase with 16 drivers. At the end of three races, four drivers will be eliminated. After nine races four more drivers will be eliminated and the points reset, leaving the championship to four drivers and one race.
As observed by the Sporting News, NASCAR already has a single-day event on the calendar with great importance; it's called the Daytona 500. Why would it cheapen its year-long point chase and put the emphasis on a single race at the end of the season?
This smacks of a gimmick instituted by a sport that's panicking in the wake of decreasing popularity; it's an effort to artificially create excitement. It doesn't matter that 2013 statistically was more competitive than the few years prior; NASCAR wants to see results, and it wants to see those results now. Unfortunately the more they panic and institute rules that take the sport farther and farther away from its traditions, the more it alienates the very fans it counts on as its base.
It's a bad idea for any form of auto racing, but if NASCAR wants to experiment with a Chase format that resets the points before a final event, why not do it with the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Trucks? Why propose radically changing its top division so much as to make the championship run unrecognizable?
And if they do change the Chase, will the final all-deciding event still be at Homestead? If NASCAR wants to turn the Cup championship into a lucky roll of the dice in a single event, why not have that race at Bristol, Daytona or Talladega, where anything can happen and a competitor's fate isn't necessarily in his/her own hands.
But even Bristol couldn't save this change from being an abomination. It boggles the mind that somebody at NASCAR even thought of this horrible idea. Is this professional wrestling? Maybe this information was leaked to the media so that fan reaction could keep it from happening. As we learned from the Car of Tomorrow, once NASCAR decides to muck things up it is usually very slow to change. The fact that we still have the Chase at all proves that in some cases it doesn't change.
One race to decide the championship? I suspect if they make this change, a lot of people will find other things to do on weekends.
Unfortunately if you have Comcast cable in this region, one of the things you can't do on the weekend is watch all the great motorsport events broadcast by MAVTV. It's a shame too, as they showed Bryan Clauson win the 28th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl, live from Tulsa, Okla. The annual Midget race drew nearly 300 cars, 24 of which started the feature.
MAVTV hired Dave Despain. It is the closest thing we have to replacing SPEED Channel, yet our local cable doesn't carry the network. I'd rather have the best up-and-coming motorsports cable network available than half the other garbage they offer. If you have Comcast, call them and demand MAVTV. Otherwise, keep in mind that DirecTV does carry the MAVTV network; I'll be changing mine over soon if Comcast doesn't get with the program.
Another alternative for race fans is the Internet. Races are often broadcast on Internet channels such as XSAN, whose sole purpose is to broadcast grassroots motorsports events. Justin.tv aired MAVTV's broadcast of the Chili Bowl this year. A number of racing series, such as the PASS Super Late Model series, offer their races to fans on a pay-per-view basis. Racing overseas such as endurance sports car racing and the V8 Supercars often can be found on the Internet.
The final race of the Chase is usually on a local channel, and if NASCAR makes the proposed change that'll be the only race that matters. If NASCAR finally succeeds in driving all their fans away and Comcast continues to ignore MAVTV, race fans may need nothing more than a digital antenna for local programming and the Internet to get all the racing they need.
Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.