Posted on: January 18, 2011 12:18 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2011 12:26 pm

New Points System on Horizon

Here we go again.

Those fans who have tired of the seemingly endless string of changes that have come into the NASCAR world in recent years won't like the potential news of yet another massive modification to big league stock car racing.

Forget about rumored tweaks to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship system. By all accounts it appears NASCAR is ready to overhaul its entire points system and scrap a format that has been in place since 1975.

Speculation is NASCAR will replace the current system and implement championship points for every race with a 43-1 formula, meaning the race winner will receive the maximum 43 while last place gets one point. How bonuses for laps led and most laps led in a race will work out have yet to be determined but the new plan will at the very least simplify numbers and how they are distributed.

At first glance maybe that's not such a bad thing. Shrinking the points pool will allow fans to pretty easily figure out how many the guy who takes the checkered flag earned and by simple math what the tenth place finisher is awarded as well.

It appears that in reality the system will still be based on consistency and that really just a smaller set of numbers will be instituted and in turn provide a relatively easy way for fans to follow along.

How the Chase works, who qualifies for the playoffs, what criteria allows drivers to make the title run and how the field is set for the ten race championship schedule are also not known at this time. All will no doubt be explained during NASCAR CEO Brian France's "State of the Sport" presentation during next week's annual pre-season media tour in Charlotte.

While the radical change in the points system might indeed make sense once it's all sorted out, my bigger question is how will it impact NASCAR's overall fan base which has grown increasingly tired of the many moves the sport has made since 2004?

Does this latest idea run the risk of running off even more fans rather than attract the new ones the sport so desperately seeks? Since the controversial Chase format was introduced in 2004, it has undergone at least three modifications with more apparently on the way. There comes a time when a sport needs to let things settle when changes are put into place but despite France stating two years ago the sanctioning body was going to do just that, NASCAR has kept the announcements coming at a fast and furious pace. Just last week the policy of allowing drivers to run for only one championship per season was uncovered in a move that dramatically altered the Nationwide Series title picture.

The 2010 season was by far the most competitive in the sport's recent history and statistics say of all time. With that on-track product on such a high, I question whether it's wise to shift the focus away from the track and shake up a points system that helped create some memorable championship scenarios over the years including last season's Chase which went down to the wire in Homestead.

We'll find out just how much change is too much in the coming weeks.
Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: January 11, 2011 12:07 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2011 12:28 pm

Drivers Can Only Run for Title in One Series

Any hope of NASCAR keeping its new policy regarding Sprint Cup drivers and their eligibility to compete for a Nationwide title under wraps are over.

Even though the sanctioning body remains tight-lipped about the plan to enforce drivers to declare for one and only one championship in 2011, wording on this year's competitor license application has confirmed what has been rumored for weeks.

Veteran driver Kenny Wallace told about the new declaration policy after he received his application to apply for a 2011 license which read:

"A driver will only be permitted to earn driver championship points in one (1) of the following three series: NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Please select the series in which you would like to accumulate driver championship points. Choose one."

NASCAR is still planning to hold a formal competition and rules presentation next week during "Preseason Thunder" testing at Daytona with president Mike Helton and vice president of competition Robin Pemberton at which time the official confirmation will come from the sanctioning body.

But Wallace's revelation confirms what other drivers, team owners and crew chiefs have apparently known for weeks.

The execution of the plan will see NASCAR simply not award points to any driver who hasn't declared an intention to run for a particular series championship. The idea would seem to be in response to the domination Sprint Cup regulars have enjoyed in the Nationwide Series, which hasn't seen one of the division's full-time drivers take the crown since Martin Truex Jr. won in 2005.

Had the system been in place last season and assuming Cup regulars Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards declared intention to run only for the Sprint Cup title, fourth place points finisher Justin Allgaier would have won the Nationwide title.

Despite being considered by some as "best in class," most Nationwide regulars are happy with the change and an opportunity to potentially win a championship in NASCAR's number two division.

"I had planned on going out there and beating everyone this year including the Sprint Cup guys if they were able to run for the championship," said Trevor Bayne, who will try to bring Roush Fenway Racing this year's Nationwide trophy. "But I'm not going to consider what I could accomplish any lesser of an accomplishment if I happen to finish behind those guys in the standings, but because of the system am considered the champion. The rules are the same for all of us and hopefully this will give some of the Nationwide-only drivers and teams a chance to shine."

Additional details such as whether bonus points for leading a lap or the most laps will be awarded to those drivers not eligible for the season championship or how the series owners' points will be accumulated are yet to be answered. 

Also to be answered is how the majority of fans will take this latest bit of tweaking to a sport that has undergone more than its share of changes in recent years.

Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: January 8, 2011 10:00 am
Edited on: January 8, 2011 10:01 am

Shoot the Shootout

NASCAR could take a big step in tightening up the season and in turn whetting fans' appetites for racing by finding ways to shorten the schedule.

One easy fix is to consider the elimination of the Budweiser Shootout.

Simply put the Shootout has outgrown its welcome and is really an unnecessary part of the season. What started as the "Busch Clash" back in 1979 has evolved into an unsightly mess that really has no rhyme or reason.

The Shootout originally was an "all-star" event open to pole winners from the previous Sprint Cup season. Winning a pole at one of the regular season events punched a driver's ticket to the "Shootout" and was for a time a prestigious way to award each week's fastest qualifier.

But when long-time sponsor Anheuser-Busch pulled its backing of the weekly Bud Pole Award, the Shootout was thrown for a loop and since then NASCAR officials and Daytona International Speedway have been scrambling to find a suitable replacement format.

Drivers representing each of the four manufacturers was one avenue that was followed until Dodge dropped to only three cars and that became an unfair concept.

Now the criteria is even screwier with the 2011 edition set to include the twelve drivers who made last season's Chase, past series champions, past Shootout winners, past Daytona race winners and my favorite, "leading rookies from the 2001-2010 seasons." That wrinkle puts Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Regan Smith in the field as well as last year's Rookie of the Year Kevin Conway.

The rules will allow for a field as large as 30 drivers for the February 12th race and it appears everyone but me and the pace car driver are eligible.

The exhibition race will again be broken into two segments of 25 and 75 laps and yes there's a pretty good chunk of money on the line.

But is it necessary?

There were long and hard cries from many drivers, team owners and even fans last year that the season is just too darn long. Stretching from February through the middle of November, the NASCAR campaign overlaps every other professional and collegiate sport. It has become increasingly apparent that finding folks to put in such a time commitment is difficult.

Why not leave them wanting more? While I don't see any points races being lopped off the schedule anytime soon, not with the huge amounts of income and revenue every one of them generates for a variety of entities not in the least of which is NASCAR and the hosting tracks, finding ways to compress the schedule is a priority.

The idea of a couple of weeknight prime-time races, including the Chase opener, would help accomplish that goal. And if not eliminating how about perhaps sliding the two non-points events like the Shootout and the Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte to a Wednesday or Thursday evening ahead of each track's main racing weekend? 

There needs to be some out of the box thinking in the next couple of years regarding how the overall schedule is laid out. Shaking up the ten tracks that make up the Chase in my mind should be the highest priority in this category. But a more streamlined slate is also necessary and a good start would be to take a look at "all-star" races like the Shootout.

Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: December 16, 2010 5:56 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2010 6:01 pm

Wrong Choice for Driver of the Year

A panel of twenty esteemed media members bestowed the 2010 "Driver of the Year Award" to Jimmie Johnson.

Simply put my colleagues made the wrong choice.

No driver had a better performance in the past year than Kyle Busch, who won an amazing 24 races across all three of NASCAR's national divisions with victories in the Sprint Cup Series (3), Nationwide Series (13) and the Camping World Truck Series (8).

Busch set the single season Nationwide Series victory mark with his 13 triumphs, shattering Sam Ard's previous record. He won half of the 16 truck series starts he made for a .500 average. In its first year, Kyle Busch Motorsports also won the truck series owner's points title on the strength of the boss' performance.

In August Busch became the only driver in NASCAR history to sweep a NASCAR tripleheader weekend when he was victorious in Bristol's Sprint Cup, Nationwide and truck series races. And unlike about 30 other competitors, Busch qualified for the Sprint Cup Series playoffs on the strength of three wins eventually finishing eighth in the final standings.

Yet somehow he received only one vote for DOTY with Johnson winning in a landslide followed by NHRA star John Force who won his 15th career Finny Car title this year.

While Johnson's accomplishment of a fifth consecutive Cup title is unprecedented I still believe Busch's calendar year performance was more impressive.

The parameters of the DOTY are a bit ambiguous and most likely a purposeful effort. After all awards such as this one are a subjective process. The only criteria given is that candidates must have competed in an American four-wheel racing discipline leaving the likes of Formula One drivers and motorcycle riders to vie for other accolades.

In my mind the award should then be determined by what a driver accomplishes in a calendar year of competition. Using that as a benchmark Busch should be a hands down winner.

What Johnson did in winning a fifth straight crown takes into consideration his performance in the previous four years, which is all well and fine if the award were called the "Driver of the Last Five Years." His come from behind effort to take this year's Cup crown in the final race of the season at Homestead was definitely impressive, but he fell 16 victories short of what Busch was able to accomplish over the course of the racing season.

It reminds me of when the Academy Award is presented to a long-time actor or actress who may or may not have turned in their best performance in the film they were nominated for, but are presented an Oscar based on their entire body of work.

I can't help but wonder if some of Busch's behavioral antics tainted a few members of the panel who were less than enamored with his sometimes volatile and controversial shenanigans. While Johnson has always been a model citizen, Busch has built a career on being a lightning rod for sometimes outrageous acts and comments on and off the track.

Perhaps that did sway the opinion of voters and Busch felt the backlash for some of those actions. Or maybe there is a view that only what is accomplished at the top level of NASCAR racing in the Sprint Cup Series should be considered in the DOTY process and the second and third tire Nationwide and truck circuits don't count.

I don't have a vote but if I did, none of that would matter and only what I saw Busch do in a race car or a truck would play into my decision to name him the 2010 "Driver of the Year." <!--StartFragment-->


Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: November 29, 2010 5:26 pm

Petty Stays in the Game

The Petty name has been a part of NASCAR since the sport's beginnings more than sixty years ago.

Thanks to some financial wheeling and dealing it will remain a part of big league stock car racing for the immediate future.

Richard Petty Motorsports was saved when a group of investors led by Medallion Financial Group and DGB Investments came to agreement to relieve the embattled race team from the mountain of debt compiled by former owners George and Foster Gillett and allow the organization to move forward with plans to continue competing in the Sprint Cup Series.

The financial collapse of Gillett put the Petty operation on the very brink of extinction and the very real possibility of the team closing its doors for good after the Homestead season finale seemed imminent. Many wondered if Petty would go the way of other legendary NASCAR figures who tried their hand at ownership only to walk away from the sport.

But "The King" himself actively went out to pursue investors to save RPM and the newest alignment will find Richard positioned as Chairman and involved in more of the day-to-day operation of the business than with the previous incarnation of the team.

The turn of events was an early holiday gift for the organization which somehow managed to continue fielding four teams at the final races of 2010 while battling a huge financial burden that literally put the operation on the razor's edge of survival.

The plan to shrink from a four to two car stable in 2011 remains in place with A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose tabbed to pilot a pair of Fords out of the Petty stable, which will continue to purchase chassis and engine resources from Roush Fenway Racing.

The alignment between RPM and RFR, although strained in recent weeks due to the financial problems at the Petty organization, began to bear fruit as the turnaround for Ford continued from mid-season. Allmendinger in particular was extremely impressive during the latter part of the schedule and along with Aric Almirola, who piloted the RPM No. 9 entry, was able to notch a top five finish in the Homestead finale.

The performance alone, although promising, wasn't going to be enough to carry RPM through the off season as the preparation for 2011 began. As recently as ten days ago there were reports the organization would indeed go out of business.

The influx of new investors and the reorganization of the company is the white knight Petty fans had been hoping for since the news of the potential demise surfaced around mid-summer.

Gillett can add his name to the long list of business outsiders who came into NASCAR not fully understanding the sport and failed. That team photo includes the likes of Bobby Ginn, J.D. Stacy and Alex Meshkin and now includes Gillett, who was ousted in similar fashion to when Ray Evernham got the boot after RPM acquired the assets of Evernham Motorsports in 2007.

While the new partners don't have a history of working in the sport, they do have the benefit of working with someone who has for more than sixty years. Richard Petty is synonymous with NASCAR and is one of the last remaining links the sport has to its glorious past.

He'll now have the challenge of trying to run a team while competing with powerhouse organizations like Hendrick, Gibbs, RCR and RPM partner Roush Fenway. "The King" will have to be more than simply a goodwill ambassador, a role he admittedly played more than team owner with the previous regime.

There's a decent foundation to build on after ending 2010 on an upswing. Hopefully having the shadow of impending doom gone from the equation will allow this latest version of RPM to flourish.

It's good to know the sight of the "The King" in his cowboy hat and sunglasses will be with us for a while longer.

Posted on: November 24, 2010 11:36 am
Edited on: November 24, 2010 11:37 am

Hendrick Shuffles the Deck

Only two days removed from a fifth straight Sprint Cup Series championship and tenth overall, Rick Hendrick basically blew up his organization.

Hendrick has decided to shuffle every one of his crew chief-driver combinations with the exception of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in an effort to make the entire operation stronger.

The search for chemistry is one of the most daring science experiments in the history of NASCAR.

When the 2011 Cup season rolls around it will be veteran Mark Martin paired with former Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Lance McGrew, Jeff Gordon working with Alan Gustaffson and Earnhardt Jr. tied with Steve Letarte. The famous "2-4-8" shop, which has housed the Johnson/Gordon combo for years, will now see Junior's No. 88 squad bunk with Johnson's title winning team while the Gordon and Martin entries work together in another building on the massive Hendrick campus.

Despite Johnson winning six times and an unprecedented fifth consecutive crown, Hendrick was not pleased with the overall direction of the team and the dramatic change of personnel was made.

"This will improve us as an organization across the board," Hendrick said. "We had a championship season but we weren't where we wanted and needed to be with all four teams. We've made the right adjustments and I'm excited to go racing with this lineup."

At first glance it would appear the decision to juggle the Hendrick line-up was also made to somehow jump start the performance of Earnhardt, who has been nothing short of a major disappointment since joining the organization three years ago. Earnhardt's quest to win races on a more consistent basis and contend for championships which played into "The Decision" to join Hendrick after he contentious departure from DEI has fallen far short of expectations.

Earnhardt will now have the third full-time crew chief of his Hendrick tenure in Letarte, who follows Tony Eury Jr. and McGrew as the latest hope to find a way to make the No. 88 Chevrolet a contender.

If Letarte thought he was in the crosshairs when he worked with Gordon, he was just fitted for a jacket with a giant bulls eye on the back in his newest gig.

There may not be a more pressure-packed crew chief job at the Sprint Cup level than calling the shots for Earnhardt, and that includes what Knaus, Denny Hamlin's chief Mike Ford and Kevin Harvick's pit boss Gil Martin just went through running for the title in Sunday's Homestead finale. Despite not winning in more than two years and rarely contending for victory lane, Earnhardt remains the sport's most popular figure and in many ways is still the face of the sport. 

Should Letarte can somehow get Earnhardt's Cup career back on track he'll be hailed as a savior to "Junior Nation." But should the same mediocre performance be the order of the day in 2011, he'll more than likely take the blame from the fervent fan base that supports Junior through thick and thin.

My belief is that 2011 is the make or break year for Earnhardt and unless the performance is upgraded, and nothing short of multiple wins as well as a Chase berth should be accepted, he'll have a new home by the following season. At that point, Hendrick will have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at trying to get his marketing machine driver to be competitive and if this latest swing doesn't hit it out of the park it will be the third strike.

However Hendrick points out that these changes weren't done solely for the benefit of Earnhardt.

"This is not a Dale Earnhardt, not a move that we made this major of a move because of Dale or his situation," Hendrick said.

Hendrick simply believes his team needed to be "re-energized" and that he had to create a new set of working conditions that would raise the entire organization to the championship-caliber standard he expects.

There aren't many team owners who would have the intestinal fortitude to pull off the changes that sent seismic shocks through the NASCAR world on Tuesday like Hendrick did.

But there also aren't any other owners with ten Sprint Cup trophies sitting on their mantle.

Posted on: November 21, 2010 5:42 pm

Charting the Chase - Homestead

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - The curtain came down on the 2010 Sprint Cup Series season Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway and with it the championship dreams of everyone except Jimmie Johnson were officially to put to rest:

(1st) - Carl Edwards
Goes into the off-season with back-to-back victories to savor and has laid early claim as perhaps the man who could unseat Johnson's run for a sixth straight title.

(2nd) - Jimmie Johnson
Cool under pressure as always, Johnson did exactly what he needed to do Sunday with a nothing flashy second place finish to add to his unprecedented assault on the NASCAR record book.

(3rd) - Kevin Harvick
Didn't get the help he needed to make the run from third to the title but the Richard Childress Racing turnaround story was still impressive in 2010.

(8th) - Tony Stewart
A top ten finish something to build on in what ultimately will be remembered as a disappointing championship season for Stewart that never got back on track after he ran out of fuel while leading in the New Hampshire Chase opener.

(9th) - Matt Kenseth
Did his usual consistency act to make the Chase but will need to up his game some in order to do more than simply qualify for the playoffs in 2011.

(10th) - Greg Biffle
Gave Roush Fenway Racing more to celebrate with wins this season and another consistent finish on Sunday.

(12th) - Clint Bowyer
The "What Might Have Been" thoughts have to be on Bowyer's mind as the off-season begins.

(14th) - Denny Hamlin
Fell short of his prediction a year ago that he would win this year's title but not by much. Hamlin established himself as one of the sport's powerhouses this year and expect him to be a serious contender for the 2011 crown.

(18th) - Kurt Busch
End of an era as Busch drove his final race in the Penske Racing Miller Lite Dodge on Sunday before moving over to the team's No. 22 Shell/Penzoil Dodge in 2011.

(31st) - Jeff Burton
Had a fast race car but slapped the wall hard enough to damage the Caterpillar Chevrolet enough to end any chance of contending.

(32nd) - Kyle Busch
His run at a three-peat weekend ended at after making contact with Kevin Harvick and the incident has more than a few fans salivating over a continued feud in 2011.

(37th) - Jeff Gordon
Blown engine ended Gordon's season without a notch in the win column and punctuated what ultimately be remembered as a disappointing campaign.
Posted on: November 14, 2010 6:38 pm

Charting the Chase - Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. - You could probably hear the sound of high five slaps from NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach Sunday after the checkered flag flew in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are separated by only 46 with the top two only fifteen apart - the closest margin in the history of the Chase format:

(1st) - Carl Edwards

Made a big statement over the weekend with his Nationwide and Sprint Cup race sweep that he'll be a championship contender in 2011 and Roush Fenway Racing is back on track from its early season problems.

(4th) - Greg Biffle

Another Roush Ford with a top five finish and is certainly someone to watch next week at the Homestead finale where Biffle has been very tough throughout his Cup career.

(5th) - Jimmie Johnson

Somehow coaxed his last tank of fuel to the end to avoid devastation and those who tried to bury the four-time champ saw another example of why that's never a very good idea.

(6th) - Kevin Harvick

What looked like a disastrous mistake when a lug nut was left off on a pit stop turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the fuel cycle came back around and Harvick was able to outlast others who were forced to stop of gas in the closing laps.

(7th) - Matt Kenseth

Gave Roush three cars in the top ten and someone else to watch try and steal the thunder away from the title contenders with a win next Sunday in Homestead.

(9th) - Kurt Busch

A top ten confidence builder was what the Miller Lite team needed after struggling mightily the last few weeks.

(11th) - Jeff Gordon

The "old" 48 pit crew was serviceable but not outstanding. Gordon had an ill-handling car most of the day and did well to muster the 11th place run.

(12th) - Denny Hamlin

Had the point lead by the neck until the fuel mileage game bit Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford and a dominating day ended in a very disappointing 12th place finish that saw the series top spot nearly slip out of their hands.

(13th) - Kyle Busch

Challenged teammate Hamlin for the lead at one point but slid back as the race wore on.

(17th) - Tony Stewart

Has not had much to shout about since early in the Chase and a less than stellar finish at a track Stewart considers one of his favorites.

(19th) - Jeff Burton

A much less eventful day than Burton's afternoon in Texas a week ago but never really in contention for anything but a top twenty finish.

(21st) - Clint Bowyer

Endured an afternoon of scrapes and tangles with a battered car finally coming home outside the top twenty.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or