Monday, February 5, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Let's Treat It Like the Super Bowl

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. In racing news, Race of Champions Nations' Cup is quite simple. Twenty-two drivers tool around a racetrack for close to three hours and in the end the Germans win. Timo Bernhard and René Rast picked up right where Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher left over. In other news from Saudi Arabia, David Coulthard is once again the best race car driver in the world. Let that sink in for a minute. A red flag ended the Bathurst 12 Hours early and saved a handful of teams from what would have been a certain final pit stop and kept a victory out of reach. Supercross had two great races in Oakland. Nick Heidfeld has made 223 single-seater starts since his most recent single-seater victory. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Let's Treat It Like the Super Bowl
Another Super Bowl is behind and for the first time in 26 years the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota hosted the most-watched sporting event in the United States. Next year, the event returns to Atlanta for the first time in 19 years. Super Bowl LV will be in Miami, the first time the city has hosted the Super Bowl in ten years. The game returns to Tampa in 2021 for the first time since 2009 and Los Angeles hosts the game in 2022, the first time the city of angels has hosted the Super Bowl in 29 years.

Unlike the Super Bowl, motorsports season finales have been in rather consistent locations. Formula One has ended its season at Abu Dhabi since 2014 and six of nine Abu Dhabi Grands Prix have been the season finale. Prior to that Brazil hosted four of the previous five finales. Japan hosted six of eight finales from 1996-2003 and prior to that Adelaide, Australia hosted the finale from 1985-1995. Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas has hosted all but one Supercross season finale since 1993. Valencia has been the home of MotoGP's season finale since 2002 and Homestead-Miami Speedway has also hosted the NASCAR Cup Series finale since 2002.

Since NASCAR has been trying its best to imitate football for the last decade, Kevin Harvick threw out the idea that the NASCAR season finale should be like the Super Bowl and rotate between venues. Joey Logano seconded the idea on Twitter. I don't think it as simple as those two think it is but if that is what Harvick and Logano want, how can we make it possible?

There are a couple of issues with having the venue rotate. First off, Homestead would still need to have a race. A track wouldn't be picking up an additional race. It would rather slot into the place of the finale in late-November. It would be one thing if Phoenix wanted to host the finale and those two races could swap dates or if Texas wanted to host the finale and Phoenix and Homestead could each move up a weekend. However, what if Fontana wanted to hosted the finale and Fontana's only race is in March. Would Homestead have to jump from November to March or would the entire schedule shift up a week? Shifting the schedule up a week could be a headache since there are a few events tied to certain dates. The Coca-Cola 600 wouldn't move up a week, same as the 400-mile race at Daytona and the Southern 500.

The other thing to consider is how many venues could host the NASCAR finale? It is quite chilly in November and the same way the NFL likes to keep the Super Bowl in warmer climates unless it is a dome or that one time in New Jersey I bet NASCAR would want to do the same. Loudon hosted the finale in 2001 but that was because of extraordinary circumstances. As much as some would love to see Bristol closing out the season, it likely would not happen and I bet Bristol wants to keep the August date. The same goes with Martinsville and you could argue late-October is too late already for that race.

There are seven current tracks as I see suitable climate-wise for hosting the NASCAR finale: Homestead, Daytona, Phoenix, Texas, Fontana, Las Vegas and Sonoma. I can't see the season ending at a restrictor plate race, even if it is Daytona and I don't think Daytona would sacrifice its tradition of hosting a race July 4th weekend either. That narrows the list down to six. The good news is three of those are already at the backend of the schedule. Las Vegas has a second date and it is closer to the end of the schedule with it in the middle of September. We already went over Fontana but then there is Sonoma. Riverside hosted the NASCAR finale previously so ending at a road course would not be revolutionary. Sonoma's current date is June, quite a distance from November.

Here is an idea though:

What if NASCAR moved Sonoma to the backend of the schedule and put it in a group with Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Those four races would then rotate every year as the finale. When a race isn't in the finale, it is in the semifinal round. No race would have to move that great a distance in the schedule. At worst, a race would go from late-October to mid-November. It would also provide balance with two International Speedway Corporation tracks in Phoenix and Homestead getting a shot at the finale while Speedway Motorsports, Inc. would also have two representatives in Texas and Sonoma.

If anything, it is more similar to what college football does for the College Football Playoffs. Six bowl games rotate as semifinals but the difference is the College Football Playoff National Championship Game goes to the highest bidder.

NASCAR has had a problem with letting things play out. It has been too damn handsy and hasn't given anything a chance to live or die on its own. The Chase has been around since 2004 but the original Chase format that took the top ten or any drivers within 400 points after the 26th race lasted three years. Then it became the top twelve for four seasons followed by three seasons of the top ten automatically making it with two "wild cards" for two drivers with the most victories that finished 11th to 20th. The current four-round elimination format enters its fifth season in 2018 but how long before that gets tweaked? How long before something changes again whether the field gets larger or top five in points are locked in and the rest are "wild card" spots? When it comes to NASCAR we have come to expect change.

If NASCAR were to do this four-track rotation for the finale it would have to give it time. As stubborn, dimwitted and corrupt as college football has been the one nod it should get is it sticks with something. This College Football Playoff format started in 2014-15 and is set through 2025-26 with each pair of bowl games getting to be semifinals four times. NASCAR would have to commit to this four track rotation for 12 years or 16 years so each track gets three shots at hosting the finale or four shots and the tracks would have to remain the same with no swap outs in the middle. We can't go through two cycles of each track hosting the finale twice and then have Texas dropped for Las Vegas or Richmond replacing Homestead. NASCAR would have to stick to its guns and let it play out as hard as that may be for Brian France to do.

I don't think NASCAR could have an open rotation of tracks for the season finale but there could be a consolidated group of tracks that could host the finale as well as the races leading up to the final race. It could especially work if the collection of racetracks were different and gave fans something new to look forward to the following year. Sonoma, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead would be a road course, a short track and two 1.5-mile ovals and while mule-headed fans scoff anytime 1.5-mile oval is said and would throw a temper-tantrum if two were included in that group it should be noted that Texas and Homestead race entirely different. Anyone who saw last year's Homestead race can clearly see that.

It might not be what is done for the Super Bowl but it would allow the championship to be crowned in different markets, in front of different segments of the fan base, on different track disciplines and be something different for fans to look forward to at the end of each season.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about the Philadelphia Eagles but did you know...

The #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota Oreca-Nissan of Thomas Laurent, Harrison Newey and Stéphane Richelmi clinched the Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with a victory in the 4 Hours of Sepang.

The #6 Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota Ligier-Nissan of Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne clinched the Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 championship victory at Sepang with third driver Gabriel Aubry.

The #91 FIST-Team AAI BMW of Jesse Krohn and Jun-San Chen clinched the Asian Le Mans Series GT championship with a victory at Sepang with third driver Markus Palttala.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg won the 2017-2018 Andros Trophy championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Race of Champions and what happened at Sepang but did you know...

The #37 Audi Sport Team WRT of Robin Frijns, Stuart Leonard and Dries Vanthoor won the Bathurst 12 Hour. The #540 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-AMG of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Tim Pappas, Luca Stolz and Marc Lieb won in Class A PRO-AM. The #69 Superbarn Supermarkets Audi of James Koundouris, Theo Koundouris, Duvashen Padayachee and Ashley Walsh won in Class A AM.

Other Bathurst 12 Hour winners:
Class B: The #4 Grove Motorsport Porsche of Stephen Grove, Brenton Grove, Daniel Gaunt and Ben Barker.

Class I: The #91 MARC Cars Australia MARC II V8 of Keith Kassulke, Rod Salmon and Will Brown.

Class C: The #30 Boat Works Racing BMW of Tony Longhurst, Aaron Seton and Matthew Brabham.

Juan Manuel Correa, Brendon Leitch and Robert Shwartzman split the Toyota Racing Series races from Taupo.

Jean-Éric Vergne won the Santiago ePrix and led the first ever 1-2 finish in Formula E history with Techeetah teammate André Lotterer finishing second and Sébastien Buemi rounding out the podium. With his victory Vergne took the championship lead.

Benjamin Rivière won the Andros Trophy race from Super Besse.

Jason Anderson won the Supercross race from Oakland.

Coming Up This Weekend
Besides the Winter Olympics beginning...
The Toyota Racing Series concludes the 2018 season from Manfeild: Circuit Chris Amon
San Diego hosts the sixth round of the Supercross season.
NASCAR will set the front row for the Daytona 500 and will run an exhibition race known as the Clash.