Wednesday, January 20, 2016

NASCAR Goes 0-For-3 With a Fielder's Choice

NASCAR is constantly in the phallic stage: They are always touching themselves.

Just when you think NASCAR is done with the rule changes and we can go one year without Brian France getting on a stage and issuing a decree that NASCAR is improving the sport because every decision the series makes is made of gold.

Yesterday, four changes were announced. The Chase will expand to NASCAR's second division and the Truck series. Four NASCAR second division races will feature Heat Races. NASCAR will introduce the "caution clock" in the Truck series.

What is the "caution clock" you ask? Well, it's just as bad as it sounds. NASCAR will start a twenty-minute clock when the green flag flies and when that clock hits all zeros a caution will come out. If a caution comes out prior to the clock hitting quadruple zeros, then the clock resets and will start on the next restart. The clock will disabled within the field twenty laps, except at Pocono and Mosport, where it will be disabled with 10 laps to go.

It's the dumbest thing I have ever heard. NASCAR basically wants drivers to ride around. They have created a safety net for drivers. If a driver/team botches a setup change and that driver is dropping to the back of the field, don't worry, just hold on, a caution will be out in twenty minutes and you will get a chance to fix the problem.

NASCAR has no appreciation for green flag racing. A race should not be constant start-and-stop. Races need to flow. The next caution should not be predetermined. If a driver is opening up a gap and the rest of field can't catch said driver, then so be it. If you have three or four drivers pull away from the rest of the field and those four have a second and a half covering them and they battle for sixty laps, then so be it.

Cautions cause people to change the channel. People don't want to watch another ten minutes of cars circling around and then another round of pit stops and then ten minutes of racing followed by ten minutes of caution. People want that constant action. If you keep the cars going at full speed, you make it hard for people to turn away because you get to see the cars change over the course of a run. One driver appears to be running away only to fall back to the field because of tire wear. What if someone needs to make an emergency pit stop and losses a lap or two? Green flag action is great. It's heart pounding.

I think the "caution clock" will end with the same fate as when NASCAR limited how many crew members could go over the pit wall on a pit stop in the Truck series in 2009 and forced drivers to stop for fuel on one lap and then come back in to put on tire or vice versa. I think there will be enough backlash that NASCAR will scrap this but unfortunately we will have to live with it for 2016.

The next two swing and misses NASCAR made Tuesday was introducing the Chase in the other two national touring series and I am not sure why. Last year, the Grand National series had four drivers mathematically eligible for the championship in the final race and that was after 32 races prior. The Truck series had three drivers mathematically eligible for the championship in the final race after 22 races.

I am not sure what NASCAR, and more specifically Brian France, wants from his series. The championships came down to the final race and the final lap for that matter. The championship didn't come down to one pass for position but it still wasn't a certainty who the champion would be until the checkered flag. I honestly believe Brian France has some type of sex addiction and his incapability to achieve a desirable orgasm has been transferred to him running the racing series his father and grandfather created.

The Chase, especially in the Truck series, now opens a new Pandora's Box. John Hunter Nemechek was not eligible to run the full season until June last year. Once he turned 18 years old, Nemechek ran all 16 races and won at Chicagoland. The Chase would have started the week after Chicagoland at New Hampshire and Nemechek had won a race and was 13th in points, well inside the top 30. However, Nemechek missed five of the first seven races because he wasn't eligible to run ovals greater than 1.25 miles in length. Would he get a waiver?

Also, realize how easy it is to be in the top 30 in the Truck series. Last year, 30th in points was Caleb Holman with 130 points from six starts. That's it. It takes a half a dozen races to get in the top 30. What if a driver doesn't turn 18 years old until the end of August but is 26th in points with two victories after that Chicago race? Will that driver get a waiver? NASCAR is becoming a elementary school with all the waivers they require. The easiest way to avoid this would be not to adopt a Chase format.

Even better, for the Grand National, 30th in points was Boris Said, who had started five races and had 157 points. Not that difficult what so ever.

However, NASCAR did get on base yesterday but this could have been better.

The four Dash for Cash races will feature heat races to set the starting order for a feature race. The spring Bristol race, spring Richmond race, spring Dover race and Indianapolis will be the four races. I am a proponent for heat races because they make the laps more meaningful. Instead of 400 laps and people only caring about the final 100 laps, split the race up to make all 400 laps mean more.

But NASCAR missed it. These heat races are only setting the grid. The finishing order of heat race one will set the odd-numbered position and the second heat will set the even-numbered position. Basically, NASCAR extended qualifying. If NASCAR is going to do heat races, eliminate drivers, include an LCQ, have the feature be about 20 cars with 20-25 cars not advancing but at least getting extended track time for their sponsors to get exposure.

I think the heat races and the "caution clock" are cousins except one is a genius and the other is a sociopath. Heat races (when they are more than just setting the grid) are short and to the point but could leave a top driver in trouble of not making it to the feature. All of a sudden, the LCQ becomes important, especially if a hand full of top drivers end up have a bad day and multiple race winners won't have a shot at maximum points. The "caution clock" is just a way to prevent an hour or green flag racing and break up the action. I was thinking of how many laps could be completed in 20 minutes. Let's say at a mile and a half oval, the average lap time was 30 seconds. You would complete 40 laps in that time frame. Think about the Showdown for the All-Star Race. That is 40 laps in length. That is the perfect length for a heat race. Instead of doing the "caution clock," just do heat races majority of the time. Have a handful of races be a traditional race format but do heat races at races that most people don't care about. Who cares about the format at Dover? Nobody.

Ultimately, heat races solve NASCAR's problem that 95% of there races have: They are too long. In the Cup series, outside of the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400, every race should be 350 miles or less.

NASCAR (and most of American motorsports for that matter) gives out professional participation trophies. No one should get points just for starting a race. Points should be earned. Adopt the Formula One system and only pay the top ten. That will make the championship more interesting. Forget the Chase. Make points harder to come by and the Chase would no longer be necessary but the championship will benefit as drivers will have more incentive to fight week in and week out.

NASCAR needs to be a motorsport series but they are blind. NASCAR thinks they are big time but they are still a regional series 50 weeks of the year.