Commentary

Five burning arguments in NASCAR

Updated: February 9, 2011, 11:47 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Just for a moment, let's all pretend we are skilled attorneys making an argument to the jury.

With the start of the 2011 season only days away, here are five points of contention in NASCAR that never seem to go away. So get on your soap box and make your case:

The Chase

Seven years and counting into the playoff system, it remains the biggest argument, pro and con, in the sport. It's just as controversial today as it was the day it was announced.

The case for it:

1. More drivers have a chance to win the Cup championship with a 12-man playoff in the final 10 races.

2. Less chance that one driver will clinch the title early and end any championship drama.

3. Brings more attention to NASCAR in the fall months when it's going head-to-head with football.

4. Adds excitement and sponsor recognition for the teams fighting for a playoff spot near the end of the regular season.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCARIs five-time defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson the best ever? Give him time, people.

5. More teams receive attention in the final weeks of the season because they are part of the playoff.

6. Gives NASCAR a playoff format that is part of every other major professional sport.

The case against it:

1. Viewed by some fans as a staged and cheapened way to crown the champion.

2. Traditional fans still believe the true champion is the driver who scores the most points for all 36 races.

3. No real proof that the Chase has increased fan interest at the end of the season.

4. Teams outside the Chase believe they receive less attention in the final 10 races than the teams in the Chase.

5. The final 10 tracks on the schedule tend to favor certain teams and are not a true representation of the season as a whole.

6. It hasn't guaranteed a closer title chase at the end, often failing to produce a tight points battle in the final event.

The verdict: Keep it in some fashion. No championship format is perfect, but having a playoff is better than not having one.

The car (formerly known as the Car of Tomorrow)

It was despised from the first day on the track, but the car has evolved and some fans have changed their perspective.

The case for it:

1. Vastly safer than the old car, which was used at the time of Dale Earnhardt's death 10 years ago. This car is bigger and boxier with crush panels and a larger greenhouse (driver compartment).

2. Its look has been improved over the past two years, eliminating the rear wing last year and the front-splitter braces this year.

3. Statistically speaking, it has produced more passing than the previous model.

The case against it:

1. It's still incredibly ugly, too boxy and not as sleek-looking as the old model.

2. The racing isn't better. It only appears that way because of double-file restarts bunching the leaders back together.

3. It's too hard for teams to make any significant changes to the cars because of the overly tight rules keeping all the cars the same.

The verdict: Keep it for the safety improvements alone. Also, the look of the cars will continue to have more manufacturer distinction when the new model comes out in 2013, similar to what we see now in the Nationwide cars.

The Cup schedule (where it goes and how long it lasts)

It's the longest in sports with 38 race weekends over 10 months. Some traditional Southeastern tracks have been eliminated in recent years and others have lost races to new markets.

The case for it:

1. A diverse schedule that crisscrosses the country into most major markets and keeps NASCAR in the forefront from February through November.

2. A good mix of short tracks, intermediate ovals, road courses, large ovals and restrictor-plate tracks.

The case against it:

1. It's just too long. Oversaturation with 36 championship events and two all-star weekends, having so many races that it waters down the interest.

2. Traditional fans hate that NASCAR has moved so many races out of the heart of NASCAR country in the Southeast. They want two races in Darlington, including the old Southern 500 Labor Day weekend. They want to go back to Rockingham and North Wilkesboro in North Carolina.

3. Too many races are too long in the age of communication immediacy and social networking. People lose interest quickly and move on to something else.

The verdict: Mixed. The schedule is too long and needs to be reduced to no more than 32 races. And many races are too long. NASCAR has reduced the length of some events.

But NASCAR doesn't need to return to The Rock or North Wilkesboro. Those days are gone, just like the Dodgers aren't going back to Brooklyn. NASCAR needs to build new tracks (less than a mile in length with less than 100,000 seats) in new markets like Denver, New York and Seattle and cut back some tracks from two events to one.

[+] EnlargeKeselowski
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBrad Keselowski won his first -- and likely final -- Nationwide Series championship in 2010.

Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series

Cup drivers won the past five Nationwide championships, something that never happened until 2006. New rules will end that streak, but there are no limits on Cup participation.

The case for it:

1. Fans want to see the stars of the sport racing in as many events as possible.

2. Cup drivers help tracks sell tickets to the Nationwide events.

3. This is a free country and drivers should be allowed to race in any event they want.

4. Young drivers benefit and improve by competing against Cup stars.

The case against it:

1. Major league athletes are dominating in a Triple-A league, something that doesn't happen in any other sport.

2. Cup domination has seriously damaged driver development and limited the opportunities for young drivers and underfunded teams to compete in the Nationwide Series.

3. The Nationwide-only drivers don't receive enough recognition and don't become well-known by fans because they rarely win in their own series.

The verdict: Mixed. NASCAR took a major step in the right direction this year by saying a driver must pick only one series to race for the title, meaning a Cup driver won't win the Nationwide championship.

Cup drivers always have raced in the feeder league to help increase interest in the events but only recently started racing the full schedule. NASCAR should limit Cup drivers to 20 Nationwide events a year.

Jimmie Johnson is the greatest driver in history

Johnson's dynasty at the top continues as he attempts to win a sixth consecutive Cup title this season. It is one of the most remarkable achievements in sports today.

The case for it:

1. The man has won five consecutive Cup championships and may not be done. No one else in history won more than three in a row.

2. Johnson has dominated at a time when competition is closer than ever, with more teams capable of winning.

3. Regardless of the championship format, he has won 53 races in nine seasons and never finished lower than fifth in the standings. Only twice has he finished worse than second.

The case against it:

1. All his championships came in a made-up, 10-race playoff that doesn't represent a true season champion.

2. He's still behind Richard Petty and Earnhardt, who each won seven Cup titles.

3. Anybody could win in that car. Johnson has the best crew chief in Chad Knaus and drives for the best organization at Hendrick Motorsports.

The verdict: Still out. Give him a few more years and we'll re-try the case.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter