No sport is perfect, but NASCAR needs some fixing up

11/14/2007 - NASCAR

The 2007 Nextel Cup season will be remembered for many things.

Most of them are not good.

Jimmie Johnson's incredible run at the end of the Chase is historic even if it has robbed the sport of a fight to the finish. If he closes with five straight wins to become the first to do it since Richard Petty in 1971, it may permanently shift the balance of power at Hendrick Motorsports away from Jeff Gordon and into Johnson's corner.

But that's a battle that Johnson and Gordon can wage. Let's look at the things that went wrong for NASCAR in 2007 and ways to fix them.

1. The Chase has got to change its venues
I know this won't happen for next year with schedules already set. But some of the sites the Chase has chosen as the backdrop for the championship are just flat-out wrong.

The Chase starts in Loudon, N.H. In September, New Englanders are consumed with two things: the Red Sox and their pursuit of a pennant and the Patriots' pursuit of another Super Bowl.

Kyle Busch's pursuit of points is not high on their list.

Starting the Chase here brings no fanfare to the sport. This problem may be resolved for NASCAR by Bruton Smith, who is likely to take an event away from his recently purchased Loudon track and shift it to Las Vegas, a much better place to make a splash at the start of the Chase.

The end of the Chase isn't much better. It finishes in the Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix and Miami markets. All these cities are home to four pro sports teams and have a lot going on in the fall. There were lots of empty seats in Atlanta and Texas. There will surely be some in Homestead, Fla., too.

There is not a great variety in the tracks, either.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage would like to have his second race moved from November to September. Maybe the second California race could be moved to November. Maybe someone would show up at the Fontana track for the later date rather than on Labor Day, when it feels as if the race is being held on the surface of the sun.

Personally, I think a season that starts in Daytona should end in Talladega. Get a little closer to NASCAR's roots.

2. Change the Chase's points system

I'm not saying this because Gordon is 86 points behind and I would like to see a more interesting finish, but I think the driver who leads the standings after 26 races should get 25 bonus points.

Ten points for victories is fine. That can stay. But one win shouldn't count for more than the consistency it took for a driver to be No. 1 after 26 races. Reward the regular-season winner with something that counts.

It's not as if that would guarantee the No. 1 driver of the championship. As you can see, Gordon would still trail Johnson by 61 points if this were in place.

3. More night races, please
First of all, there's something that is just cool about the way the cars look under the lights. Yes, I am including even you, Cars of Tomorrow.

There's something very uncool about butting heads with the NFL from September to November.

I know NASCAR's audience is different and there are lots of college football fans among the fan base, too.

But if you want to do something about that roughly 10 percent drop in ratings, stop going up against the Cowboys and the Colts Sunday after Sunday. At least a lot of the college games are played during the day so you wouldn't be competing with them.

4. Fewer four-hour races, please
There is nothing magical about 500 miles or 500 laps. It's just a number, and with the caution fests that the COT has produced, we have seen plenty of 3 and even four-hour races.

I know that sells a lot of advertising. It also causes a lot of channel surfing, too.

A three-hour race is a good race. There is nothing wrong with 400-mile events.

5. Close up silly loopholes
What other sport would favor a system in which team owner Roger Penske can just take the points earned by Kurt Busch this year and hand them over to Sam Hornish Jr. in order to get him into the first five races?

Busch can qualify on the past champion's provisional. But the fact that Busch is successful and has two ways to qualify shouldn't be used to get Hornish into races and knock out someone more deserving.

That rule was used by other teams this summer. This sport should be about the driver earning his way in, not a team owner's ability to manipulate the rules.

Other than that, I think everything will be just fine as long as Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus don't mind running every race with a restrictor plate on their engine next year.

Tim Cowlishaw is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.