Monday, February 20, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Clash a-ha Savior of the Universe

KV Racing died. Formula E returned and will now be taking a six-week break after having the previous three months off. Supercross visited a new venue. NASCAR suffered its first rain delay on its first weekend of the season. Joey Logano won the Clash after Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski got together. Chase Elliott won the pole position for the Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualifying second. Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler have also qualified for the Daytona 500. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Clash a-ha Savior of the Universe
What is the point of the Clash? Or the Shootout... or the Unlimited? Or whatever you want to call the exhibition race that rings in the NASCAR season. The whole origins of the race don't make any sense. A race for the pole winners from the season before and to prove what? Who the best pole winner is? It is a knockoff All-Star Race.

Perhaps thirty years ago the race made sense, as it was an extra race to put on television and give fans a taste of something after a long, quiet winter before the 500-mile meal to fatten the fans to get through the final couple weeks of winter.

The Thursday night Daytona 500 qualifying races became redundant after the top 35 were locked into race and made even further redundant once charters were introduced. To solve that issue NASCAR decided to pay 10 points to each winner to justify the existence of the races. However, the Clash is another story. What is the point? Do the fans need to whet their appetites just three months after the nearly 40-week gorging ended? Maybe there was a time when people would stop and watch this exhibition but the world is more diluted than ever with options to take up our time and another race isn't going to take attention away from those interested in NBA All-Star Saturday Night full of a skills challenge, three-point contest and slam dunk contest. Fortunately or unfortunately the rain delay erased that conflict but it still doesn't solve the problem.

When thinking about the Clash and the NBA All-Star Game and all all-star games for that matter, the Clash is just another race but all-star games are special events each year. All-star games and all-star weekends might be equally as meaningless as the Clash but they do provide everlasting memories. From Magic Johnson's return in 1992 to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant reuniting in 2009 and sharing the MVP award to Larry Bird calling the three-point contest with the final shot still in the air to dunk contests that featured Spud Webb, Michael Jordan taking off from the free throw line and Vince Carter declaring its over in Oakland, NBA All-Star weekend provides something.

Name a Clash/Shootout/Unlimited that stands out or a moment from those races. What? Ricky Rudd's barrel roll that forced him to duct tape his eyes open? That's it. A 75-lap race to fill a Saturday night on Fox Sports 1 (or late Sunday morning because of rain) needs to do something more than just be another race. One thing all-star games do is it brings players together that don't play together on a regular basis and maybe that is something NASCAR should take from other sports instead of segmenting races.

Keep the Clash at 75 laps with a draw for the starting order, a 25-lap first segment and a 50-lap final segment. However, after the first segment, pay the winner $100,000 dollars, have all the cars come to the pit lane and have the drivers get of the car. Have each driver that finished the segment lineup inverse from the segment one results and have the drivers draw a number out of a hat but instead of setting up the starting order, that is the car the driver is going to start the final segment in.

For example, Joey Logano won segment one ahead of Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. was the last car running in segment one after Kurt Busch's accident. Truex, Jr. would draw first and let's say he draws the number four. Truex, Jr. would get into Patrick's car for the second segment. This would continue until each car has a new driver. Of course, have a rule that would prevent a driver from drawing his or her own car.

Imagine having Chase Elliott in Kyle Larson's car and Larson in Matt Kenseth's car and Kenseth in Joey Logano's car and Logano in Kevin Harvick's car and Harvick back at Richard Childress Racing in place of Austin Dillon. Besides being in a different car, the driver would be in a whole new position for the restart. Truex, Jr. could go from 16th after the first segment to restarting in the #22 Ford in place of Joey Logano if he drew position one and vice versa.

Would it be confusing? At first for sure but who cares? It is a race that means nothing at the start of the season. It would at least be different and test the drivers, as they would have to get out of their comfort zones and get into a car with an unknown setup. It would be interesting to hear drivers compare how their initial car felt compared to the setup to the car for segment two. Teams may be conservative and play their cards to their chest not to reveal any secrets to a competitor and purposely sabotage the car's setup but it could end up biting them if they actually accidentally set the car up to the liking of the new driver without them even knowing it.

Pay $250,000 for the segment two winner with the team and driver splitting it 50-50. As for crew chiefs, I would allow crew chiefs to crossover that way we don't have to worry about changing helmets or radio frequency. It will be tough enough for a driver getting into an unknown car, no need to give them an unfamiliar voice as well.

A downside would be making sure the seats fit each driver. We have seen driver changes before but teams don't entirely change the seat for the substituting driver. I am sure as the draw is going on teams could install the proper seats into each car but I don't know how long and tedious it is to take a seat out and put it in and any longer than a 20-minute break could spell trouble for the broadcast.

Not only could getting each seat fitted and draw be an issue but inevitably we could be facing conflicts with drivers and their sponsors. Kyle Larson might throw a tantrum if he draws Jimmie Johnson's car because Larson is sponsored by Target and Johnson by Lowe's and there is probably some conflict there. Or what if Jimmy John's-sponsored Kevin Harvick draws Jamie McMurray's McDonald's car or vice versa? And let's not forget that Harvick has been a Ford driver his entire life since November 21, 2016. In my eyes, ignoring sponsor commitments for one night and just having the drivers be drivers and race regardless of the engine under the hood or whatever company is pissing away millions of dollars on the hood of the car is worth it. In the end, if the car wins the sponsor will quickly forget who is behind the wheel.

If seat swaps and the draw could be done in a timely manner and drivers won't be brain-dead brand loyalists, the Clash could evolve from being an otherwise meaningless race into a meaningless but intriguing race. Of all the things NASCAR has taken from other sports, this could be one that fans actually support.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Logano and Elliott but did you know...

S├ębastien Buemi won the Buenos Aires ePrix, his third consecutive victory.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Minneapolis, his third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Daytona 500.
World Superbikes and World Supersport begin their respective seasons at Phillip Island.
Supercross makes its final appearance at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.