Friday, February 3, 2017

NASCAR 2020: Getting You Ready Three Years in Advance

NASCAR announced changes to race format and championship structure last week starting at Daytona at the end of the month. While we have yet to see the new format at work, we mind as well look three years into the future when NASCAR will make even more changes to "enhance" the racing on track and the season as a whole.

After three years of successfully watching average TV ratings shrink below 2.0, NASCAR will go into the year 2020 with more ways to add more moments and drama and moments to every race in the season and make even more laps matter than ever before. The series will add another segment to its races. Each race will be split into four quarters with more points and bonus points offered to the drivers in hopes of increasing moments. On top of the extra quarter, NASCAR will re-introduce points for leading laps with each lap being worth one-point with each 10% of a race led being worth a bonus point. Lead 100 laps in the Daytona 500, that would be 100 bonus points and since that is 50% of the race another five points would be added to a drivers total.

With the increased incentive to lead as many laps as possible, NASCAR will know the next thing the series has to improve on is rivalries. Despite all the incentives NASCAR will believe the one thing holding the series back is the lack of hate. Hate between drivers, hate between owners and hate between t-shirt cladded spectators in the stands. NASCAR will look to pit one driver against another, even teammate against teammate in the hopes of lighting a fire under the fan base to have factions to come together in support of their driver of choice.

NASCAR will believe an overall points table is too large. The series will see it as too confusing to have drivers listed from one to 40. In order to simplify the structure of the championship, the charter system will be extended to 40 teams and the 40 teams will be split into eight divisions of five cars. Points will still be awarded in a race with winning a race worth more than ever. Winning a race will now be worth 2,000 points with second-place worth 1,000 points and each position from second-place decreasing by 100 points until 11th position where points will decrease by five with 11th getting 100 points, 12th getting 95 points and so on until 34th where points will start decreasing by one from five for 34th, four for 35th and so on with 38th, 39th and 40th all getting one point.

Making the playoffs will now not come down to winning races or being in the top sixteen in the championships standings but rather the top two from each division in points will make the playoff. The playoffs will also expand to accommodate more fan bases when the playoffs roll around in September. Along with the top two from each division, eight wild card spots will be available for the top eight drivers in points not in the top two of a division regardless of division with a grand total of 24 drivers making the playoffs.

Added entries will lead to an altered playoff format. Points will be reset at the start of the playoff and playoff points will remain. On top of the playoff points accumulated during the first 26 races, each division winner will get 25 bonus points with the driver with the most points being awarded another 50 bonus points. Second in each division will be awarded 15 bonus points with the eight wild cards getting no additional bonus points.

On top of the bonus points for winning a division, the five division winners will be locked into the second round with the other 19 drivers left to fight in the first round for 11 spots with each race winner in round one automatically qualifying for the next round. However, the first round will be shortened to two races.

The second round will also be shortened to two races with the division winners and 11 drivers from the first round competing for 12 spots over two races. Like the first two rounds, round three will be two races with the top eight advancing to the three-race semifinal round before the top four drivers compete for the championship in the final race.

To prevent an unfair balance across the divisions, NASCAR will make sure no team has multiple representatives in a division with at least one representative from each manufacture in each division and no more than two representatives from each manufacture.

Inspired by its long, extensive history, NASCAR will name each division after a key figure in the series.

In the Big Bill France Division you will have the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, the #37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet of Chris Buescher, #10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Danica Patrick, the #22 Team Penske Ford of Ryan Blaney and the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Daniel Suárez.

The Bill France, Jr. Division is led by the #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Austin Dillon and the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Kevin Harvick. Ryan Newman will still be on the grid but in the #33 Circle Sport - The Motorsports Group Chevrolet. Roush Fenway Racing is back up to three cars with the #99 Ford for Ryan Reed while Erik Jones has stepped into the #20 Gibbs Toyota for the retired Matt Kenseth.

Named after NASCAR's first Cup champion, the Red Byron Division features the unrelated William Byron in the #5 Hendrick Chevrolet. Joey Logano is now in the #12 Penske Ford. Martin Truex, Jr. is still in the #78 Furniture Row Toyota and A.J. Allmendinger is still in the #47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet. Joe Nemechek has partnered with Premium Motorsports to get John Hunter Nemechek on the grid in the #87 Toyota.

Jimmie Johnson is still racing but 2020 will be his final season as he is already an eight-time Cup champion. He is still in the #48 Chevrolet and leads the Junior Johnson Division. Kyle Larson has hung on with Chip Ganassi in the #42 Chevrolet and Brad Keselowski is still in Penske's #2 Ford. Landon Cassill still occupies the #34 Front Row Racing Ford and Clint Bowyer's career has sunk to the #23 BK Racing Toyota.

The Petty Family Division naturally features the #43 Petty Ford but with Kasey Kahne driving the famed car. Kyle Busch is the top dog in the division, still in the #18 Gibbs Toyota. Josef Newgarden has outgrown IndyCar and Penske has moved him to NASCAR in the #67 Ford. Noah Gragson makes it to Cup in the #13 Germain Racing Chevrolet with Michael McDowell still on the grid and still in the #95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet.

Like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still racing but 2020 will be his final season and he highlights the Earnhardt Family Division in the #88 Hendrick Chevrolet. Cole Custer has used his bloodline to get him into the #14 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. still runs the #17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. David Ragan's career remains on life support in the #55 Toyota for Premium Motorsports. Todd Gilliland moves up to Cup in the #77 Furniture Row Toyota.

Mike Helton gets a division named after him as he announces he will retire as NASCAR President after the 2020 season. Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard are still in the #1 Ganassi Chevrolet and #27 RCR Chevrolet respectively. Aric Almirola fills the #6 Ford at Roush Fenway. Kurt Busch is still in the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Furniture Row Racing has expanded to three cars and Christopher Bell will drive the #79 Toyota.

The final division, named after David Pearson, features not only the #11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin but the #21 Wood Brothers Ford with Harrison Burton in the car. Ty Dillon now drives for his grandfather's team in the #31 Chevrolet. Daniel Hemic finds himself in Cup in the #38 Front Row Ford and his former Truck teammate Tyler Reddick drives the #83 BK Racing Toyota.

In each race, the top finisher from each division will get two playoff points. Each entry is locked into its respective division. If a driver changes team, the driver does not necessarily stay in the same division unless that driver is moving to another entry in that division.

NASCAR's goal is that each driver would have three or four constant rivals in each race and it would allow the broadcasters to highlight intra-divisional battles occurring on the race track even if the battle is for 25th. NASCAR hopes to segment the grandstand for each driver and seating each fan base across the aisle from other fan bases within the division with security guards lining the aisles separating fans from each other in case drivers from the same division clash and cause tempers to flare. Each broadcast will have three cameras devoted to fan interactions in the stands as drivers fight to win the division and the hope would be neutral fans would see the passion each fan base has and would be inspired to purchase tickets and join the fracas.

Some were caught off guard by NASCAR announcing championship and race format overhauls a month before the start of the season. It is unfortunate those changes had to come so late. The good news is the next enhancement in NASCAR is three years away and you already have a head start.