Craig Murto: Will fans accept NASCAR changes?

Craig Murto

Hopefully you and your family dug out of the blizzard of 2016 OK; race fans are still trying to dig out from under all of the changes announced by NASCAR this year.

NASCAR recently announced major changes for the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

Both series will have a “Chase” format, including eliminations. Obviously NASCAR is pleased with the excitement The Chase has brought to the Cup Series and hopes to duplicate that in its second- and third-tier divisions.

Is it the right thing to do? Would it be better if each division had a different championship format?

I’m sure it’ll create excitement, but I’m not convinced the fans will accept it. Perhaps one of the series – Xfinity, perhaps – could have had a Chase format like the Cup Series used to have, without eliminations. Then allow the Trucks to have a traditional championship season.

The Xfinity Series will run heat races at the spring Bristol, Richmond and Dover events, as well as Indianapolis.

This will be exciting, but the one thing I see as a problem is that unlike your Saturday night short tracks, if a team has an issue in the heat race, they’re done. No rolling out a backup car for the feature.

This will probably add excitement for the fans, but will increase cost for the teams, as well as increase the risk for the teams going for points. Blow an engine in the heat race? You’re done.

All of these changes are meant to better the product that’s on the track. But the most controversial change is the “caution clock” instituted for the Camping World Truck Series.

From the moment the green flag drops, the clock starts ticking. If it reaches the 20-minute mark and the caution has not come out, the flag man throws a caution. When the race restarts the caution clock begins ticking again, always set for 20 minutes. NASCAR will not award “lucky dog” passes during these caution periods.

Teams will probably start using the clock as part of their strategy, especially at places like Daytona where you can pit under green without losing a lap.

Ryan Ellis, the NASCAR driver originally from Ashburn, told “http://inthepitsmedia.com” target=”_blank”>inthepitsmedia.com that he felt he preferred the caution clock to the questionable “debris” cautions. He thought it was an advantage, especially to smaller teams, to know when a caution was going to come out.

NASCAR has been under a lot of fire for throwing debris cautions that were not necessary, seemingly so they could bunch the pack up. Fans didn’t like the manipulation of the race, and especially didn’t like the notion that NASCAR officials were pulling the wool over their eyes. It would have helped if TV always showed to so-called debris, but that didn’t happen.

Now NASCAR will not only manipulate the race, but they have a schedule for doing so.

Fans who have been around this sport a long time have a hard time getting their arms around this. This is one of NASCAR’s top series, and it’s throwing competition yellows. It’s true that restarts are often the best part of the race, but do we want NASCAR to artificially create them?

And what about expense? Brian Donati, a personality at inthepitsmedia.com, believes that the pressure will be on for even more Camping World Truck teams to hire Cup pit crews, due to the pressure to get off pit road quickly during a yellow-flag stop.

But others have done calculations and claim that if NASCAR used the caution clock in 2015, it would have only added three caution periods all year. There are a few drivers in the series that you can almost count on to create cautions; apparently they do it with some regularity.

It feels like the changes for 2016 in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series have really piled up, and it’ll take a while to get used to them. But don’t think your shoveling is finished; changes are coming to the Cup Series as well, and as soon as they pile on we’ll plow through them.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.