Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is NASCAR on to Something... or is MotoGP?

Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR Cup championship. Audi ended its run with a 1-2 finish and led by Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval. Mark Webber finished his career on the podium. Audi wasn't the only manufacture to exit in style. There were two other first time champions crowned in Florida. You can win a race despite causing a red flag. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is NASCAR on to Something... or is MotoGP?
The Chase might be a terrible way to decide a champion but you have to ask if NASCAR is on to something? It guarantees the title will go down to the final race and the format makes it likely that it won't be decided until the final lap. In the current environment with a million different streams people can tune in to, the Chase gives people a reason to tune in for the final race.

Should that be the norm in all forms of motorsports? Maybe the best finisher of four shouldn't be the way to decide it but should series make it so two, three or four drivers are in contention until the end? Four allows for margin of error. With two, one could have an engine failure after 15 laps and people will have a reason to tune out. Three is better but four is enough that there is no way one driver pulls away with it early and causes people to turn it off because the result seems to be a foregone conclusion.

The best-of-the-final-four format doesn't work for all series. Formula One will crown a champion next Sunday and if you took the top four after Brazil and put them on a level playing final, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who have combined to win one race this season could leave as championship despite Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg each having nine victories. One terrible weekend for Mercedes and Vettel could be champion despite not winning a race and finishing on the podium in less than half the races.

In IndyCar, the top four after Watkins Glen were Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves. Pagenaud's lead was so great and he had such a successful season after the penultimate round that even if he didn't show up and Dixon or Castroneves scored the maximum of 104 points they couldn't win the title because Pagenaud would win on tiebreaker based on his five race victories. Of course based on what happened Pagenaud still would have been champion under the Chase format but if Dixon and Castroneves had known they had a realistic shot at the title entering Sonoma, they probably would have prepared and raced differently and who knows if they would have been able to take the fight to the Frenchman.

While NASCAR has made this change to guarantee the champion will be decided as late as possible, ratings continue to drop. If the lack of drama wasn't the reason why people watched, then what could be done to bring people back? IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One all had the championship decided in the season finale but arguably MotoGP had the best season in terms of on-track action and its championship was decided with three races to go. The general belief is people don't like when the championship is decided early and while that might be true, it isn't the be-all end-all.

I appreciate Leigh Diffey's engagement on Twitter and when asking the rhetorical question of whether fans like it when the championship is decided with four races remaining in the season, I thought to myself if people love the series, they will watch regardless of when the title is decided. MotoGP had nine different winners in 18 races, three of which were first time winners. Five different teams from four different manufactures were victorious.

Marc Márquez might have clinched the title at Japan with Australia, Malaysia and Valencia still to run but MotoGP isn't hurrying to change the format. You never knew what would happen next and that is why people should tune in. Márquez threw away Australia and opened the door for Cal Crutchlow to take his second victory of the season. Andrea Dovizioso always seemed in control in a wet Malaysia but the race feature splendid runs by Héctor Barberá and Loriz Baz. Jorge Lorenzo dominated in Valencia but Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales had a spirited battle for the final two podium spots.

For the last 12 years, NASCAR has been focused on making sure the championship fight is exciting and what people tune in for that NASCAR has negated making sure the racing is exciting everywhere the series goes, giving people a reason to watch regardless if the championship is a runaway or a tight battle. Since the inception of the Chase, we have been trying to make sure the bigger picture is exciting but have failed to realize success is creating something that makes people tune into every race and in turn makes the bigger picture exciting by the sum of its parts.

A great championship battle helps attract viewers but the goal should be to grow the fan base that can be counted on to watch every race. NASCAR hasn't done that. NASCAR has lost more working class white people in the last eight years than the Democratic Party. If there is a series to model after, it is MotoGP because it always gives you a reason to watch even if the hardware has already been accounted for.

Champions From the Weekend
The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with a sixth-place finish at Bahrain.

The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenson won the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers with their victory at Bahrain.

By finishing third in GTE-Am, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas won the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers.

Daniel Suárez won the NASCAR Grand National Series championship with his victory at Homestead.

Johnny Sauter won the NASCAR Truck Series championship by finishing third at Homestead.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about some of what happened from Bahrain and Homestead but did you know...

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Will Brundle and René Rast won in LMP2 at Bahrain and the team ended the season with three consecutive victories. The #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche of Patrick Long, David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi won in GTE-Am.

Andreas Mikkelsen won Rally Australia in the final rally for Volkswagen.

Laurens Vanthoor won the FIA GT World Cup at Macau despite causing a red flag for a flip.

António Félix da Costa won the Macau Grand Prix.

Coming Up This Weekend
The World Drivers' Champion will be decided at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
GP2 and GP3 titles will also be decided at Abu Dhabi.
The WTCC season concludes in Qatar.