This is a follow-up to my earlier Epistle, entitled "Take a Chance, Mr. France." That article was written on the 20-20 concept proposed as an alternative to the Chase.
This article includes the back story and "rest of the story" that couldn't be included in the earlier article. You'll also find some present day applications using the 20-20 methodology for consideration and additional understanding of its benefits.
To recap, the 20-20 proposal was a proposal I made in 2003 as an alternative to the initial version of the Chase.
In a nutshell, it eliminates qualifying against the clock to set the starting lineup. Instead it uses the finishing order of a race to set the starting order with the top 20 finishers in Sunday's race lining up in that same order the following Sunday, while the bottom 20 use their finishing order in Sunday's race to set the lineup for a qualifying race.
The finishing order of that qualifier then sets the final twenty positions for next Sunday's race. Additionally, the race winner gets all the benefits currently received by the pole winner, including first pit selection.
20-20 is an overall race concept in which I believe deeply as a viable alternative to the nonsense used today to crown our Champion. I believe in the concept more so than the numbers.
Is 20-20 the perfect number? I don't know. Maybe 16-24 or 12-28 or something else. 20-20 seemed right in 2003 but after a dozen years, I'm not married to it.
Smarter people than I can determine the magic number. And if you find that number problematic and believe a different number is better you probably won't get an argument from me. Your number is probably better than mine anyway.
Please understand, I'm more into the concept and its benefits. As I said, I have believed in it for a long time… since 2003 to be exact. When the initial announcement of the Chase was made I was so distraught over what I saw it doing to the sport that meant so much to me, I quit my whining over what was to happen and worked to come up with an alternative.
I did what most working sports fans do and kicked ideas off co-workers. I bent the ears of John Barnes, Jerry Wright and Keith Smith until they were tired of listening to me… but each was patient and provided valuable feedback, which I appreciate greatly. And because I believed in it so much, I then did something I thought I would never do… I got off the couch, went to my home computer keyboard and wrote it up.
The next step was even bolder for me as I sent my crude proposal to a now former NASCAR beat writer whom I respect greatly. I asked him if he would review it and see if it had merit. He corrected a couple of errors and suggested I publish it. His comment, "I wished I had written it", meant more than I can describe and are words I'll always cherish.
I finally found a web site… a small website now long gone, which agreed to post it, providing me a chance to make one final impassioned plea to Mr. Brian France to consider this alternative instead of embarking on the slippery slope we are now on, known as the Chase.
It was December 2003. It was my first attempt at writing on racing. It was a small website. The readership was pretty sparse. I'm sure a more captivating title would have helped draw more traffic. But the few comments received were favorable and encouraging and very much appreciated.
The article had stimulated others to come up with suggestions to make the proposal even better or share their own ideas for a better methodology to crown a Champ. It showed me that there were fans (at least a very few) out there who believed this was a better way.
The biggest surprise came when I was contacted by Mr. Mark Rossi, VP of Sales and Marketing with Dover Motorsports asking permission to take the proposal, make some tweaks to it and then get it on the table for discussion with Mr. Jim Hunter, NASCAR's VP of Corporate Communications.
To say I was blown away was an understatement!
The rapid exchange of ideas further fleshed out the concept, with greater emphasis given to the advantages it provided to media. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that my feeble efforts would lead to this.
Mr. Rossi contacted me a few weeks later and explained it had been presented. They hadn't heard anything but don't get discouraged... "These things take time".
One thing we understand around here is time. Kentucky bourbon has to age for quite a while before its ready. That was 2004. If it were bourbon it would be about time to tap that barrel.
So do I believe the sanctioning body would ever adopt any of it? I still hope so. I believe even at this late date the concept is valid and would still pay dividends, improving the product and start rebuilding interest in it. But even if it doesn't, that's OK. It's just another jousted windmill I can add to my long list.
As we say around these parts, this was a long shot with a limb in the way and a heavy crosswind...
[Editorial comment: That’s a reference only a shooter would fully understand. Bravo!]
And though we're a dozen seasons into and on the umpteenth iteration of the Chase, I think it's safe to say the good guys didn't hit their mark. But you know what? I'm still glad I took the shot. It took me on a ride that I will never forget and I made contact with people I never in my wildest dreams would have met otherwise.
And each week as I see issue after issue come up in the sport, like the Gibbs boys riding around, post-race swerving, Kyle "Buschwhacking" the lower series, setting race line up for qualifying rainouts by points, body slamming the car on pit stops, and numerous other rules infractions, I can look back and say that wouldn't be an issue with 20-20 and know its adoption could have made racing and the sport better.
When I tune in and see knock-out qualifying, I usually don't stay with it because if 20-20 had been adopted I'd be looking at a race instead. And I, like I believe most race fans do find racing more interesting than another contrivance, especially when that race sets the starting lineup for the next race. If you don't believe it look at the 125s or whatever they are now.
[Editorial comment: They are 150s but it matters little what they are called. With 36 spots guaranteed, what I would call them is useless and a waste of time and money.]
When I go to work and upcoming NFL games, fantasy team results, standings or trades dominate the mid-week water cooler discussion, I know something that could change that… something that could get NASCAR back in the discussion.
And when I go to Jayski.com and see the same weekly pattern to the stories, race results, Chase impact, penalties, fluff, next track and predictions, fluff and qualifying repeated, I just wonder how 20-20 would impact that.
I wonder how many drivers and teams could withstand the pressure, if once they got in a hole with a bad finish under 20-20. Could they dig out of it? How do you think “Kez” or Martin would deal with having to start in the back of a Martinsville qualifier, knowing that no matter how good they did in it, they are still going to have a bad pit slot? And if they can't get out of the hole at Martinsville they face a bigger one at Texas. How many interviews would they get this week on it? Could they stand that pressure?
How far back do you think the Gibbs trio would have ridden around, knowing it was going to put them in a qualifying race at Martinsville and a possible undesirable pit slot that would probably nix their chances at a win to advance? 20-20 may have made them press down on the gas a little harder.
Wouldn't it be neat to see Brian Scott, after driving a masterful race at Talladega, know he was going to roll off outside front row at Martinsville? How cool would that be? How pumped would he, his team and sponsors be this week? What good things could come from that?
What a lift Richard Petty Motorsports would get having both cars locked in with good starting spots and not even have to run in the qualifiers. Heck some of their guys might get an extra day’s rest.
But now, come Sunday, you are going to see the Gibbs boys right up front with the RPM drivers mired in the back struggling for their lives ... All because of the built-in "do-overs" the system has now.
All the good and interesting stuff we've mentioned is all stuff you can talk about all week-on TV, radio, websites, social media, print media and at the water cooler and it's all possible because of 20-20.
But instead, right now we're in the dreaded weekly dead period-penalties have been doled out and knockout qualifying is days away... Yawn, yawn, and yawn. Let's talk NFL.
20-20 deals with all this in a positive and exciting way.
To me the greatest thing though is everything… everything about 20-20 is it’s about racing and making racing better in the simplest means possible. So whether it's ever adopted, that is something I can take satisfaction in knowing.