Consider this, NASCAR Nation ... please
I've been wondering what NASCAR could do to ring your chimes, NASCAR Nation, here in another winter of your discontent.
I've come up with my top 10 things.
There has been a positive stir over reports that NASCAR will limit drivers to collecting points in one series, stopping Cup drivers from running for Nationwide championships on the side.
But the other anticipated announcement of the next week or so, of more changes to the Chase, probably will just draw more grumbling from multitudes who deem "Chase" a five-letter word no matter what.
I'm talking about changes that would knock your socks off, jump-start your enthusiasm and pretty much eliminate all the reasons you give me for your general malaise.
Here we go with changes you could sink your teeth into -- some silly, some serious, some absurd. I throw 'em out there; you decide.
10. Eliminate the Chase and go back to the full-season points system.
Of all the change-by-undoing you have howled for, this tops the list.
But I'm not sure how many of you remember just how dull autumn could be, for example, when Jeff Gordon blew away Mark Martin by 364 points in 1998, or Bobby Labonte cruised away from Dale Earnhardt's last championship try by 265 in 2000.
People always talk about Matt Kenseth's droning on to the title with only one race win in 2003 as critical mass for the change.
You think that was a runaway? Listen: Earnhardt, in winning his seventh championship, beat Martin by 444 points. It looks nice in the history books but wasn't very electrifying in the making.
In those days, NASCAR was thrilled if the Cup battle went all the way to the season finale, rather than locking up early.
But let's change it back, just to get it out of your system. A year or two of it, and you'll be demanding the return of the Chase.
9. Dump the COT (Car of Tomorrow, Car of Today, Car of Tedium, whatever you want to call it) and go back to letting manufacturers and their teams build the bodies they want, within limits.
Lest we forget, pre-COT racing, with manufacturer designs, had become one-by-one, runaway racing. If it wasn't Chevrolet teams complaining that Ford had an aero advantage, it was Ford teams complaining that Chevy had an aero advantage.
Basically, the teams were racing an American version of European sports car prototypes.
Brand identification? The cars looked so little like the street models that manufacturers actually welcomed the brand identification they could get with all the stickers on the COT.
What is evolving now is best. First, you shouted down the wings and got your spoilers back. For 2011, manufacturers get more freedom with noses. The splitter is still there, but it's well concealed to look like an "old" car.
So the car is getting more and more aesthetic, while retaining the strict safety specifications that inspired the COT in the first place.
8. Drop the Lucky Dog system and go back to racing back to caution.
Yeah, that free pass back into the lead lap is way too soft on those who fall laps down, right? All you have to do is be the highest-running driver one lap down, and you're handed a get-out-of-jail card, erasing the mistakes you made to lose the lap in the first place.
So let's get barbaric again. Let's leave drivers with only one way to make up laps: charging all-out back to the caution flag, regardless of what wrecks might lie along the way. Back to, say, a Dale Jarrett sitting sideways on the front straightaway at New Hampshire with others, hurtling at top speed back to the caution flag, narrowly missing him. (That was precisely the situation in 2003 that led NASCAR, far behind all other racing series, to ban racing back to caution.)
7. Award a 100-point margin, rather than the current 15, for winning over second place.
On this one, I'm serious.
This way, you finally get around to recognizing the point of this exercise, winning races, that the fans buy tickets and watch television to see.
Plus, there would be opportunities to reel in runaway points leaders by taking bigger bites out of their margins.
Currently, 161-point swings are possible in any given race -- considering 185 for winning, five bonus points for leading a lap and five for leading the most laps, for a total of 195, as opposed to 34 for finishing last.
My way, a 246-point swing in one race would be possible.
Volatile, huh? Talk about "on any given Sunday."
6. Cut Cup fields from the current 43 to 34 cars, and eliminate guaranteed starting spots for the top 35 in points.
Goodbye, start and park.
Everybody has to go or go home.
Suspense returns to qualifying in full force. Who knows what drama might develop -- such as when Richard Petty started missing fields in 1989, or, to borrow from open-wheel racing, when the mighty Penske team failed to make the Indianapolis 500 field entirely in 1995.
Imagine a runaway points leader failing to qualify, and therefore getting zero points for an entire race weekend.
And 34 cars are more than enough to have a good race. You just get rid of the ones that get in the way if they don't start and park.
5. Award 20 points for winning the pole, and 10 for outside front row.
If you're going to make qualifying matter again, make it matter more than ever.
There has been much discussion of awarding points for the pole, for years, but the suggestions have been limited to small numbers, usually five points.
But if you've got everybody putting forth such effort, and taking such risks of missing the field, reward those efforts heartily.
4. Cut the maximum possible green-white-checkered finishes from three back to one.
Judging from the feedback I get, you all have been fed too much ice cream with this GWC business, and you're getting sick of it.
It all came about because fans were throwing things onto the tracks and borderline rioting while races finished under caution -- especially when that last caution kept Dale Earnhardt Jr. from getting one last shot.
But because cautions breed cautions -- restarts, especially double file, induce more reckless driving -- the three-shot green-white-checkered has become a series of melees where winners win crapshoots, not entire races.
3. Vacate some of the cookie-cutter tracks and bring back some golden oldies.
This is virtually impossible, considering the financial straitjacket NASCAR has gotten itself into with the new venues. But it bears discussing, because the cookie cutters -- the 1.5-mile tri-ovals built with seating more in mind than good racing -- rank right up there with the Chase and the COT on NASCAR Nation's most-hated list.
You howl especially loud about the newer ones such as Chicagoland and Kansas, but there are five more on the tour.
What you're asking for, ultimately, is abandonment of some of them. Usually, in the same breath, you ask for a return to tracks such as Rockingham and North Wilkesboro.
You cite Rockingham as an exciting track. Either you weren't there, or you have a distorted grasp of history.
We used to call every Cup race that was run at the isolated 1-mile track "The 24 Hours of Rockingham." That's how long the races seemed if you were there.
Your hindsight envisions magnificent racing. I recall Cale Yarborough leading by two laps before the halfway point.
As for Wilkesboro, it was rough and tumble, all right -- on the track, and off. As for those colorful local crowds you've read about, well, I'll go back to the old Southern proverb that "There's two kinds of whiskey: dancin' whiskey and fightin' whiskey."
Moonshine or bonded, a whole lot of fightin' whiskey was consumed at Wilkesboro. I'll pass, if you don't mind, on being challenged to fight just for asking to be let into a line of gridlocked traffic -- or, once free of the jams, on pickup trucks trying to run you off the road if you dared try to pass them.
But by all means, let's bring back Wilkesboro and the Rock. Y'all come. Get it out of your system. It won't take long.
2. Announce that Brian France is retiring as chairman of NASCAR.
I don't mean really do it, I mean just announce it, to get the public off the poor guy's back. Deservedly or not, the very name is the focus of your discontent.
Never mind that much of his change has been predicated on the rising tides of business and common decency.
I've always said NASCAR has every bit as much right to a playoff system as any other pro sport. When you think about it, none of them are necessary, just contrived for money and television.
As for the COT, the American public at large no longer has the stomach for drivers getting killed or injured. And, homely as the car may be, it knocks bigger holes in the air and provides better racing, and it's more durable for slam-bangin'.
You still wouldn't be satisfied with, say, NASCAR president Mike Helton running the show. So maybe hold a fan election and nominate some people who would cause an uproar.
Say, Darrell Waltrip versus Dale Earnhardt Jr. for commissioner of NASCAR. Either of those would get your heart started, not to mention splitting NASCAR Nation right down the middle and polarizing it, to assure that NASCAR fans could do what they do best and love best -- argue -- forever more.
1. Just call off the 2011 season.
Very few would notice, if you really mean what so many of you say in all those e-mails and comments in the ESPN Conversation: that you've given up on NASCAR and no longer pay attention to it.
Besides, to get all the radical changes listed above accomplished, you'd need a year to get reorganized.
But here's the thing: You write in often, and vehemently, and provide details of races you're supposed to be ignoring. You sure are worked up, in droves, over a sport you've ceased to follow.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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