NASCAR is set to shuffle its competitive cards in a big way later today, announcing a series of sweeping format changes for all three of its national series.
Beginning next month at Daytona International Speedway, Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup Series races are expected to be divided into three distinct segments, with planned stoppages in between. The opening two stages of each event will comprise 25-30% of the race total, with the final stage accounting for 40-50%. Each stage will pay championship points to the Top-10 finishers in descending order (10, 9, 8, etc.) with stage winners receiving a single bonus point for seeding at the start of the post-season playoffs.
Monday’s announcement will be controversial in some corners, with fans bemoaning the latest in a series of changes made to the sport in recent seasons. Ironically, the sanctioning says the changes were spurred by suggestions from that very fan base; an ever-changing group that seems to want more action, fewer lulls and a more compact product.
Today’s announcement will be a clear attempt by NASCAR to inject some excitement back into the first half of its events. For far too long, the sanctioning body has been dogged by complaints of “boring” races, with fans tuning in for the green flag, then wandering away – often for hours at a time -- to cut the grass, shop for groceries or tend the barbeque; confident that they won’t miss much.
More and more these days, they’re right.
In modern-day NASCAR, engine failures have become virtually non-existent. Cars don’t erupt in plumes of white smoke anymore, spilling fluid on the track while being chased down the backstretch by their own connecting rods. Mechanical failures of all kinds are down dramatically, with a vast majority of the 40-car starting field still on-track at the drop of the checkered flag. Tire technology has improved, leading to fewer blow-out related crashes. An increased dependence on aerodynamic downforce keeps cars glued to the race track like never before, resulting in fewer spins and crashes. Fewer caution flags means fewer pit stops, fewer restarts and less excitement; a trend that NASCAR cannot afford to ignore any longer.
Awarding 10 points to segment winners will incentivize drivers to go the front immediately and stay there, all day long. No more “riding in the pack,” no more “saving your car” for a points-paying finish that is still hours away. Modern-day NASCAR fans want action now instead of excitement deferred, and Monday’s announcement should deliver that, in spades.
Today’s announcement will be a difficult pill to swallow for many NASCAR fans. Personally, I am uneasy about a system that could – at least in theory – award the 2017 championship based on a driver’s ability to win the Daytona 200, 300 or 400. I’m a traditionalist, and appreciate the endurance aspect of our sport. I’m willing to sit through the occasional mid-race competitive lull, knowing that business usually picks up at closing time. But I’m in the minority, and I know it.
For every fan like me, there are a dozen who say they doze off during those mid-race lapses, lulled into a competitive coma by a sport that has contented itself for far too long with the idea of a dominant leader, cruising along with an eight-second lead, lap after lap after lap.
Is NASCAR’s new format manipulative? Perhaps. But there are worse things to be called than "manipulative."
Boring, for instance.
NASCAR cannot continue to be the sport you sleep through. With races routinely requiring more than three hours to complete, NASCAR has become a marathon event in a microwave society. That trend cannot be allowed to continue any longer.
There is too much on the line.
We cannot expect a fan base increasingly raised on thrill-a-minute video games to sit and wait – often for hours at a time – for their final-lap payoff. It was time to add some spice to the soup, before we lose another generation of fans.
Adapt, or die.