A Chase with more sizzle, less fizzle
I'm just trying to help NASCAR come up with a season finish that won't fizzle out -- desperate measures for desperate times, and all that, so here goes.
For openers, if you've got to make a carnival of the Chase by putting a plate race in it, do it at Daytona. Make it the finale. Save the crapshoot for the very end. That way at least you prolong the suspense some.
At least you finish the season where you started it. And the plate-race finale gives NASCAR all sorts of room to issue last-minute edicts, mandates, admonitions, rule changes, technical bulletins and general "because we said so" manipulation of the show.
Tear down the banking? Hell no, just reconfigure the infield road course so there's a crossroads in it. Then make the Cup cars run a good old-fashioned figure-eight race.
Think of it: a figure-eight plate race. That ought to at least quadruple the points leader's chances of crashing out.
And invert the field: Points leader starts dead last, start-and-park cars up front. That'll double the chances of the "big one" occurring in the first five laps.
To the inverted start, add another time-proven short-track promoters' gimmick: Put a bounty on the top driver, a big cash bonus to anyone who'll knock off the guy who's stinking up your show.
Whoever finishes atop the points in that race is only the provisional champion. He then must run a match race against Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the Sprint Cup title.
You could couch Junior's automatic entry in a new rule that would be "the same for everybody," as NASCAR loves to say. Just decree that the title match race will be the provisional champion versus the driver the fans vote in by text messaging -- who of course would be Junior.
If Junior should fall behind in the match race, well, surely you can find some debris on the track, especially down in that figure-eight crossing where all the melees have taken place. So throw a caution and set up a double-file restart.
If at any time Junior should spin, throw a red flag and finish up with a green-white-checkered, all on the banking, total plate racing. One thing you can always count on from Junior is leading a couple of laps of any plate race. This way he could lead the laps that count.
See? Suspense right down to the end: Is Junior going to win the championship, or isn't he?
In the extremely unlikely event that Junior should come out on top of the points after the full race itself, just have him run a match race against himself -- ride around for 10 laps solo, while the crowd goes wild.
You could do all this in the name of "leveling the playing field," NASCAR's catch-all excuse for whenever it jacks things around.
Now none of this is to say Chad Knaus wouldn't analyze this carnival system and figure out how to beat it, the way he's done all the other systems. You know, the way he and Jimmie Johnson played against house odds but still broke the bank at Casino de Alabama this past week.
Ah, but you've still got NASCAR's ultimate equalizer: postrace inspection.
And we all know NASCAR doesn't have to find anything illegal on a Chad Knaus car, just something it doesn't like or doesn't understand.
So, you have NASCAR's tech spokesman rush into the media center soon after the match race and announce, "We have issues with the 48 car."
You don't have to say what. Just issues. Suspense goes on, so you dominate the news on "SportsCenter" all evening.
Monday morning you announce the 48 car is being taken back to NASCAR's R&D center in Concord, N.C., for further inspection. Get the TV news copters all along the south Atlantic coast to do live aerial shots of the hauler progressing up I-95 with the impounded car aboard.
Now you're transcending ESPN and Speed Channel coverage and you're also live on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.
Up in Concord, you still can't find a thing illegal about the 48 car, so after a few days you release it "without issues."
So the 48 five- or six-peats as champion?
Not to worry.
Think how furious and how mobilized Junior Nation will be. Think of how your revenues will soar as those slumping merchandise sales spike through the ionosphere. Especially the jackets and T-shirts that say on the back:
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP CHAMPION
(IF THE 48 HADN'T CHEATED AGAIN)
You couldn't keep 'em on the shelves.
And you never know: A goodly number of Junior Nation just might stay camped out in the Daytona infield from November all the way to February, just protesting, just waiting for that dastardly 48 hauler to roll back in so they can boo it, rock it, throw things at it. Think of the revenue spike for International Speedway Corp., which could charge $1,500 a week for those reserved infield parking spots.
Hey, I'm just trying to help in these desperate times. I'm just applying NASCAR's usual modus operandi and adding a few old short-track promoters' gimmicks for a thorough fix to this whole thing.
Anything short of what I'm saying, NASCAR will just have to settle down and act like the other major professional sports leagues and accept the bad with the good -- the fact that sometimes you get dynasties like the 48 team that just whip the competition soundly, fair and square, over long periods of time.
Sometimes you can't manufacture drama, no matter how hard you try.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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