Over the last few weeks Race Fans Forever has seen a flurry of very interesting Chase articles. The points intriguing. The discussions lively. I have participated in the Chase overload, both in article and discussions.
My last article on the "Chase for the Checkers" was a tongue-in-cheek poke at the contrivance used today to crown a Cup Champion. Now it's time for my second Chase article. But this one is quite different as I'm even more serious about this one than I was light-hearted about the other.
This was written in 2003. It was written and posted on a little racing site now long gone. It was a fan's last desperate plea to Mr. Brian France to consider this proposal before implementing his 26/10 plan which for the last dozen years we have lovingly known as "the Chase".
It was my first attempt at writing.
Over the last few weeks writers on this site and other sites have encouraged us to do everything from modifying the Chase through unidentified baby steps to determining the race to name the Champion through a pill pull. And those who are critics of Chase critics, imply "If you don't like it come up with something better."
Well, I believe this is better. I believed it was better when I wrote it in December 2003 and I still passionately believe it is still a better alternative today.
Oh, a lot has changed since 2003… drivers, sponsors, tracks and rules, so this will be a bit of a walk down Memory Lane. As a result of these changes, the factors mentioned here should probably be adjusted from 20-20 to say 12-28 so don't get hung up on that as you read these fledgling writings. I believe the concept would still work today and is innovative enough to address so many of the problems we have been discussing over the last few weeks. As you read this, do you really think the Gibbs riders would have spent Sunday in the back with Martinsville looming ahead of them?
The modified "Latford System" is gone and under this current regime has about as much chance coming back as a Stanley Steamer qualifying at Daytona. Though I still believe this is the best points system and it works best as a total package, the 20-20 concept and all its benefits can be easily adapted in the current format. And because of the benefits it brings, I believe it should be used.
Maintaining the Chase theme, think of this as "The Chase for the Race" aka "The Tour de Brian France", so sit back as we revisit.
"Take a Chance, Mr. France. Take a Chance"
"NASCAR's proposed new playoff system, commonly referred to as the "26/10" system has met one of NASCAR CEO Brian France's three criteria for changing the points system. It has created excitement if nothing else.
While the debate rages on between drivers, owners, writers and fans about NASCAR's latest point proposal, no one can deny the fact that the proposal has created excitement. Some would say it’s arguably misdirected excitement; it's excitement all the same.
Mr. France could achieve his commendable goals of a better, more exciting system that crowns a credible winner while returning the focus of this sport back to racing by adopting the NEXTEL "20-20" system.
This system would use an improved "Latford" points system in conjunction with a weekly round of "playoffs" (this is the last time that word will be used; playoffs are for ball sports; qualifiers is the proper term for racing) to crown the 2004 NEXTEL Cup points champion.
Each week the NEXTEL "20-20" system would use qualifying races to set the starting order for Sunday's races (the Main Event).
The first 20 positions (1-20) would be set by the finishing order in the previous week's Main. The next 20 positions (21-40) would be set by the finishing order in a short qualifying race run the day before this week's Main with the top 20 finishers in the qualifier advancing to the Main.
The final three positions (41-43) would be filled by provisionals, the three highest teams in the current owners’ points that did not qualify through the races. Simple, straightforward and effective.
The NEXTEL "20-20" system settles everything from starting positions to Champion on the track, while at the same time, racing. And… it is based on known components that NASCAR is familiar with and has been highly successful with in the past, but applies them differently to crown the first NEXTEL Cup champion in an exciting and innovative way.
The first component needed to implement the NEXTEL "20-20" system is to improve the Latford point system. Although this system has served NASCAR well, it contains a flaw that can be corrected under the "20-20" system. The major problem is the winner is not awarded enough points. Currently, if the second place finisher leads the most laps he leaves with the same number of points as the winner. That should never be. The race winner should always leave a race with the most points… always.
The improvement to be made would be to increase the point differential between first and second place from 5 points to 8 points. The winner would then always get more points than the second place finisher no matter how many laps he led.
That's all that needs to be done with the points system…. period.
But what about all the comments about "the winner needs to be rewarded more", "qualifying should be factored into the points" and all its variations? How are those concerns addressed? Those concerns would be addressed through the "20-20" portion of the system.
The race winner would not only get more points but would start on the pole the next race, get first pit selection and all the other perks that currently go along with being the fastest qualifier.
Let's look at the NEXTEL system in a little more detail to see just how it could work by starting at the 2004 Daytona races. In order to implement this system, NASCAR would set the lineup for the Daytona 125's not by qualifying against the clock but by the finishing order in the 2003 points race. This means that Matt Kenseth will start on the pole of the first 125 race with Dale Earnhardt Jr (third place finisher) on the outside pole. The remainder of the field for this race will be set with the odd-place finishers in the 2003 points race.
In the second 125 race, Jimmie Johnson will start on the pole and Jeff Gordon (fourth place points finisher) starting outside front row. The remainder of the field for this race will be set with the even-place finishers in the 2003 points race.
The 125's are run as usual and will determine the starting lineup for the 500's in the following manner-
- As always, the top qualifiers for the 125's will automatically start on the front row. This means Matt Kenseth will start on the pole and Jimmie Johnson will start outside pole for the 500, regardless of their finishing position in their respective qualifiers.
- Odd positions 3-39 will be set by the finishing order of the first 125.
- Even positions 4-40 will be set by the finishing order of the second 125
- Positions 41-43 will be filled by the three highest finishers in the 2003 owners’ points who did not finish high enough in the 125s to lineup within the first 40 slots.
After Daytona, all other races will be lined up as follows:
- Positions 1-20 in this week's race (Main Event) would be set by the finishing order of the top 20 in the previous week's race.
Last week's race winner would start on the pole for this week’s race, second place finisher-outside pole, third place-inside second row, through position 20.
- Positions 21-40 would be set by the finishing order of a qualifying race that will be run the day before the Main Event. The qualifier race length would be a distance set by the sanctioning body, specific to the track and will not exceed the distance of a full fuel run (i.e. fuel mileage will not be a factor).
- The lineup for the qualifying race would be set by the finishing order of the previous race. The 21st finisher in the previous Sunday's race would start on the pole, 22nd finisher-outside pole, 23 finisher-inside second row, through position 23. The remainder of the qualifying race would be made up of non-qualifiers (24th place or worse) from the previous race who are present.
Entries that did not participate in the previous race would follow, with their order set by current points accumulated. New entries with no previous points would bring up the rear. If there are multiple new entries they will line up based on the receipt date of entry forms with the earliest lining up ahead of later entries.
- The top 20 finishers of the qualifier race would advance to the main race, with the winner of the qualifier starting 21st, second place starting 22nd, on through 40th. The final three position would go to the top three non-qualifiers based on current points.
That's it. Line 'em up based on how they race, week after week after week, and it is all done without a clock. Let them all race for the NEXTEL Cup Championship.
Now let's see what NASCAR accomplishes with the "20-20" system (note: these benefits are not in order of importance, so bear with me)
- It rewards the race winner with more points for winning than the current system. This prevents the situation where the race winner and the second place finisher leave a race with the same number of points. The winner would always get more "valuable NEXTEL points".
- In addition, the race winner is rewarded by giving him the benefits currently received by the fastest qualifier for the next race. The winner starts on the pole and gets first pit selection; both are huge benefits, huge rewards for winning a race. Win this week, start on the pole next week.
- Everyone must race. If you don't race you go into the hole. Finishing in the top 20 takes on more importance now, since it not only means more "valuable NEXTEL points", but it keeps you out of the qualifying race next week. More racing means more excitement.
- There are no "fresh starts" or "do-overs". You stink this week you can't get a fresh start by busting off a good qualifying lap next week. You have to race for it. This year Ryan Newman finished 39th at Richmond, but started on the pole at the Charlotte because he got off a good lap. That wouldn't happen under the "20-20" system. He would have to run in a qualifier and the very best he could have started was 21st. You have to race your way back to the front.
- Conversely, under the "20-20" system, momentum gained from good finishes is not killed by subsequent poor qualifying runs. If you've got momentum from a good finish this week you get to keep it by a good starting position next week.
How many times have we seen someone drive his tail off on Sunday and stink in the run against the clock on the following Friday and lose all the momentum they had? Take Terry Labonte. Wins Darlington, starts 32nd the following week at Richmond. Under this system he'd be on the pole with his momentum intact and could have been the start of a more dramatic, more exciting climb in the points.
- The NEXTEL system forces everyone to race every race, because now every race is important. Teams cannot "ride around" or slide by at their weak tracks so they can start over and make it up the following week at a stronger track.
If you want to start up front at the first Talladega so you can avoid the big wreck, then you'd better run well at Martinsville. If you need to start up front at the Daytona Pepsi 400, you'd better drive your tail off at Sonoma. If Indy is important to you, hope you run well at Pocono. A driver must race every race.
- The NEXTEL "20-20" system increases, not diminishes, the importance of every race on the NASCAR circuit. Now, not only does the race determine the amount of NEXTEL points awarded for the finish, it sets the starting order for the next race.
As mentioned above, Martinsville becomes even more important because it sets the lineup for Talladega. The finish at Sonoma sets the starting order at Daytona. Pocono sets it for Indy. The importance of those races increases dramatically under this system.
- Since the 2005 Daytona lineup is set by the 2004 NEXTEL points Championship the Champion gets the additional reward of starting on the pole. If that doesn't make a team want to race then nothing will.
- "20-20" incorporates qualification into the point race, which many fans feel should be a component in determining a champion. This system automatically makes it a part of the point race by putting the race winner on the pole of the next race.
- Basing the line-ups on race results and not the clock, NASCAR eliminates the need for the entire qualification program. All the costs and resource drains that teams experience for qualification goes out with it. Shouldn't settling the starting order by competing against each other on the track at the same time, in other words “racing”, be what it's all about?
- Qualifying races are more exciting than one car racing against the clock. If it wasn't why do they continue to run qualifying races at Daytona?
- The NEXTEL Cup Champion under the "20-20" system must be the best on all tracks because each race impacts the next race. No fresh starts… no do-overs. He would be the best of the best.
- This system minimizes the need for testing. For example, since lineup has been set for Daytona, this one change has just saved the teams and estimated $200,000 each, which they would normally spend just on qualification practice for Daytona alone. With reductions in costs like that, more sponsors might be able to participate. And even if money is going to be spent for testing, it can go toward race testing. This should result in better race setups and result in better racing. Better racing means a better point race. The NEXTEL system allows more time and resources to be focused on racing. This should improve racing and improved racing equals a more exciting point race.
- "20-20" would minimize wear and tear on teams. A 36-race Championship is grueling enough and this system could provide some much needed relief. Since all the teams will do is race, teams can send the cars to the track with race setups instead of qualifying setups on them. All the crews will have to do is tweak the setups instead of ripping out a qualifying setup and replace it with race setup. Again, easier on the teams, plus it allows everyone to focus on racing, which again should result in better racing.
- An added benefit is with the cars set up for racing when they leave the garage is that teams will need fewer staff to be at the track before the race. This reduces operating expenses for all teams, and makes it easier for smaller, less financed teams to compete.
- Teams can get by with less practice sessions on race weekend. A session for everyone before the qualifier, the qualifier acts as an additional practice for the guys in the back, Happy Hour for all participants in the main and then the Main Event itself. Fewer practice sessions mean fewer resources spent by the owners and more time available for crews and drivers. Under the "20-20" system, all teams race every weekend! It may only be a short race on Saturday, it may just be Sunday, or it may be both. But everyone who shows up at the track races.
Because everyone races, every sponsor is guaranteed potential exposure. The current system doesn't provide that. If TV goes to commercial at the start of the qualifying run and it's a bad run, no one knows you were even there. This system prevents that.
- The change to the "20-20" system makes it easier for team owners to approach potential sponsors. Owners can make two guarantees to potential sponsors that they can't make under any other proposal. They can guarantee sponsors that their team will be race each weekend and they can even tell the sponsors where they will start in the 125's. This system provides sponsors with some certainty, some level of assurance that they all need during these tough economic times.
- The "race guarantee" provided by the "20-20" system eliminates the need for a "franchise" system. No need to buy your way into the race; you race for it. How good you race determines when you race and where you start. But everybody races.
- This proposed system helps develop rookies. Even if they don't make the Sunday show, they still get a chance to compete at the track under race conditions and with a smaller field. This should develop new drivers quicker and make them even more competitive when the circuit returns to that track.
- Media have something positive to talk about in the off-season. With this one decision, everyone knows where they are going to start in February and that can
be analyzed and discussed from now until then. That should build interest in the series that NEXTEL is looking for.
- Media and the fans have something to talk about all week, not just for the final 10 races of the season. This is an area in which the NFL has NASCAR beat all to pieces. In the NFL you know the match ups for the following week and everyone has all week to talk about it. Some channels even have pre-game shows to analyze the upcoming games. NASCAR has none of that. Now, unless something controversial happened on or off the track, there is very little to talk about from Tuesday till they qualify on Friday or Saturday. Under this system, the fans and the media have all week to discuss and analyze what can happen because the lineup has been set by the previous races finish. If Ryan Newman crashes out first on Sunday, he'll start 23rd in the qualifier next Saturday. Don't you think that will cause a buzz around the water fountain at work on Monday? Jeff Gordon gets spun on the last lap at Watkins Glen and drops from an outside front row starting position at Michigan to having to run the qualifier. Wouldn't folks be talking about that all week? Can he win the qualifier? Can he come from that far back? It builds excitement, and Rusty's stronghold on the front row at Bristol goes away, since he finished 16th at Darlington. People would be talking about that! Could DEI continue their stranglehold on the restrictor plate tracks when qualifying against the clock no longer exists? This system would generate tremendous interest and excitement through the week… interest that currently isn't there with the current system. More importantly this interest is centered on what NASCAR does best… race.
- The NEXTEL "20-20" system builds excitement during the off-season too. Since everyone now knows where they are going to start for the Daytona 125's, everyone has all winter to discuss it. We don't have to wait for that Saturday in February; we can start now. We have six weeks left to build up to our “Super Bowl” and we already know the match ups for the qualifiers. Talk about excitement! With one decision, the decision to implement the NEXTEL "20-20" system, NASCAR has real off-season excitement. And the NFL, NBA, BCS have nothing to compare to that.
- TV and radio benefit greatly. What’s more exciting, 45 cars running individually against the clock or 25 running against each other in a sprint race? Which gets better ratings, Benny explaining the red or green ball at the bottom of the TV screen or describing the finish in a qualifying race that determines who races on Sunday and where they start?
If you don't think qualifying races generate excitement for media outlets, just try logging onto the Internet to get the results of the 125's. It can't be done, because all the lines are jammed. NASCAR could have this interest not once a year, but every week by adopting this proposal.
- Fans at the track benefit. It’s more fun to watch a race than qualifying. Running the qualifying race on the same day as the companion race greatly increases ticket value for those days. The entertainment value of those tickets just got more reasonable and another fan complaint has been minimized. And fans, you aren't going to be viewing the back-markers in these races. Remember Ryan Newman finished last at Daytona. Lots of good drivers will be racing in the qualifiers throughout the year.
- Tracks would benefit also with increased ticket sales for those races. Get a bunch of top drivers running in a qualifier and watch ticket sales increase on qualifying day. Take the 2003 spring race at Martinsville. After the big one at Talladega, the Martinsville qualifier would have included Nemechek, Waltrip, Stewart, Martin, the Wallace brothers, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Nadeau, Spencer (always exciting), Todd Bodine (even more exciting), Benson and Ricky Rudd. Don't you think that would draw a crowd? No doubt, it would build excitement and increase sales and attendance.
- Budweiser Pole is out and replaced by the Budweiser Fast Lap Award, which is given to driver who completes the fastest lap during the Main Event. The Budweiser Clash is made up of fast lappers from the Mains, plus a wild card, a fast lapper from a qualifier.
- "Buschwhacking" situation is automatically addressed. Winston Cup drivers can compete in the Busch series, but if they didn't run the previous week, they have to make the race by running in the qualifier. Under this scheme the best they can qualify is 21st. If they can run to the front from there and dominate the show, so be it. At least they won't get the pole and everything else that goes with it.
- Regular Busch competitors are rewarded. If you're there every week you should start near the front. At least the top twenty finishers from last week won't have to worry about the Winston Cup guys taking the front of the field.
- Allows the Series to reduce the provisionals. It’s understandable to have so many provisionals when racing against the clock is so close and a bobble or the sun coming out from behind the cloud can be the difference between making the field and going home. Under this system, if you can't beat them lap after lap in a qualifier, you probably don't need to be there. Three provisionals should be enough.
- Drivers benefit. This system could reduce the need for the extensive testing required now. This could mean more time away from the track that could be used for rest, time with family or fulfilling sponsor obligations.
- Better racing. Guys in the back need to make it to the front and the guys in the front need to be careful and stay there. This should result in tighter racing, which is what the fans want to see.
- Rainouts are no problem. The top twenty have been set based on the last weeks finish. Next twenty by this seasons points. Final three, non-qualifiers that don't have enough points lined up based on their finish in the last race.
- NASCAR has more tools to "punish" rule offenders. Action detrimental to the sport-fine them and make them start in the rear of the next qualifier. See if that doesn't get some attention and talk about excitement. Think what the Bristol race would have been like after the Spencer-Busch incident, if both had been forced to the back of the qualifier and had to race their way into the Main. Talk about excitement. This system provides NASCAR with another, very effective tool to police the sport.
- Inspection by NASCAR should be easier since qualifying is not against the clock. There is less incentive for teams to "explore the boundaries of the rules" (cheat), since qualifying is done in such a different manner. Plus if you get caught, NASCAR takes the parts, fines the team, and sends the car to the back of the qualifier. See how many folks want to take a chance then.
- Cost for NASCAR to implement-$0. Benefits to NASCAR, drivers, team owners, sponsors, media and fans - immeasurable. When's the last time that's happened in this series?
- Finally, it turns the season’s point race into a true race. A NASCAR race is run in segments or runs-from caution flag to caution flag. Where a driver finishes in one segment often dictates where he starts for the next segment (with the exception of outstanding pit work). If he is going to win he must do it on the track. This system turns the season’s point race into one big race made up of 36 segments, with each race representing a separate segment. This would make any winner under this system a credible champion, since he has in fact accomplished it by racing the entire race, the entire NEXTEL season.
So how does the NEXTEL "20-20" system stack up with Mr. France’s criteria?
Is it better? Of course.
Problems with the Latford system are corrected, incentives and rewards for winning are increased, and incentives for increased competition are provided. Sponsors have something to hang their hats on. It solves numerous problems; wear and tear on the teams are reduced and out of control operating costs would also be reduced. Provisionals and "Buschwhacking" are dealt with fairly. It provides benefits for sponsors, team members, drivers, media and fans that are not available under the current system, and more importantly it refocuses the entire system back on the most important thing… racing.
Is it more exciting? It has to be. What's more exciting, racing for a position or qualifying against the clock? If it wasn't more exciting they wouldn't still be running qualifying races at Daytona. 'Nuff said.
Will it create a credible winner? Everything seems to indicate it will.
The "20-20" system does two things that the proposed 26/10 system can't do; it names a single champion and it doesn't destroy the credibility of previous champions.
If NASCAR implements the 26/10 system there will inevitably be comparisons between the "old" and "new" system and there is a chance for a "split championship", with one driver winning under the new system and a different driver "winning" under the old system.
What a terrible possibility for the first NEXTEL champion. This cannot occur under the "20-20" system because its qualifier component makes direct comparisons between the two point systems impossible. Unlike 26/10, the "20-20" system will crown a single champion.
Similarly, the "20-20" system does not destroy the credibility of previous champions. Even as this is written, writers have recalculated the points for races from last season on back and announcing, "Well in 2002 Matt Kenseth won under the old system, but Jimmie Johnson would have won using the new system" or "Tony Stewart may have won 2001 but under this system it would have been Kurt Busch". NASCAR hasn't even implemented this plan and they are already undermining the credibility of thirteen of their WINSTON CUP champions. The "20-20" system has absolutely no impact on previous champions. Their accomplishments stand as they well should. The only way to know how the "20-20" system affects the NEXTEL point race is for Mr. France to take a chance...
Take a chance on something that wasn't developed within the confines of their corporation or their board rooms...
Take a chance on something that corrects so many problems the series faces today without totally destroying what the sport was built on...
Take a chance on something that could take the sport and this series sponsor, NEXTEL to a new level...
Mr. France, just take this chance."
If you are reading this, thank you for your endurance. This probably seemed like the old 500-mile races at Dover. But before I close I'd like to leave you with one final question.
Dale Earnhardt was a racer. He was a champion. He raced to win no matter what it was and I believe no matter which system he raced under he would have been a champion. My question to you, especially those who knew him better than I, which system would he have rather have been crowned Champ under? The Chase? Or 20-20?