Last night was President Obama's State of the Union address, a chance to impress voters and the American population with his next referendum as the 2012 election looms 22 months away.
Brian France? He doesn't have that kind of time. A misstep in tonight's NASCAR State of the Union address, perhaps his most critical since ascending to CEO seven years ago, would send fans and wary sponsors running for the exits before the Daytona 500 even starts. With France expected to announce the most sweeping change to the points system since 1975, fans in my inbox were treating the adjustment at about a 40 percent approval rating, far below what's needed for alienated supporters to turn around and give this ailing sport a second chance.
So France must address that while explaining what steps the sport is taking to address a myriad of fan frustrations, such as a homogenous CoT, a playoff system that's struggled to catch hold and racing that, too often, doesn't get good enough anymore until the final 50 laps.
Can he do it? Believe or not, this oft-criticized head man has a better chance than you think. It was last year when NASCAR's VP Robin Pemberton came up with the "Have at it, Boys" quote, a back-to-basics mentality that served the sport well in competition that definitely took a step back in the right direction in 2010. But gentle optimism or a simple one-liner won't be enough this time. The woes this sport is facing are years in the making, leaving peoples' patience on thin ice and France in need of an A+, rabble-rousing performance the second he steps on stage at a venue touched with irony itself: the financially ailing NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Three days into the sport's 2011 media tour, the message from the ground has been pushy. Drivers, car owners, whoever's at the podium has urged the media to "write positive" and put the brakes on criticism to help stop the bleeding. But the ethics of journalism is to write about what's really happening, how people are reacting, and the true story beyond the PR spin. Only if France hits the right note with everyone from President Mike Helton to Joe Schmo watching on his couch will some form of optimism take hold.
Fingers crossed. In the meantime, we'll take these fingers and type answers to your reaction on NASCAR's pending changes. Too many great responses, too little space this week, but don't stop writing in:
The first part of that last sentence emphasizes the majority opinion I've been getting from fans. To them, bad racing is more important than an ugly championship battle, because even when the points get out of hand, two drivers duking it out for a win can still be enough to keep people coming back every Sunday. NASCAR needs to address that problem, providing incentives either throughout the race or beyond the points to keep drivers fighting hard from the drop of the green to the checkered every week.
Your thoughts on bonus points for average position during the race? Well, then that's not really simplifying the system, is it. Giving them for winning, top 2 or even top-5 finishes throughout the course of certain stretches are on thing, but when you spread out the numbers all the way through the top 15, well, guess what: you have the point system we do now, even more complex and harder for fans to understand.
Great points, excellent analysis of how DNF's and luck have affected the title races with or without the Chase. Note that this new system, depending on the bonus points, could reward consistency more than the old. Perfect example: 10th place gets you 134 points, 72 percent of what you'd get if you'd won the race (185 points). In the new system, the same finish would get you 79 percent (34 points versus 43), giving a gentle nudge towards stroking it over risking it all for a win.
So how many bonus points do you have to give? To make those percentages more favorable than the old system, you'd need to give out at least five; ten would be ideal. Those are the magic numbers you need to look for from Mr. France tonight.
Not bad, although I think there's a risk in making the system too complicated. That's the lone problem I have with rewarding points early in the race: fans just won't understand it. I think money is better, maybe a $100,000 bonus for who leads at lap 50, 100, 150, etc.? You may ask where NASCAR could find that kind of cash ... for the answer, look at the final page of their TV contract and the numbers they're actually pulling in.
On the testing idea, I really like it if there's one tweak: assign dates to owners but limit them to one car. If the Wood Brothers are fighting five teams at the same track, all of them sharing information -- who do you think wins that battle? That's like asking David to beat Goliath, then handing the big guy a machine gun.
See what I said about Brian having his work cut out for him?
A very, very popular suggestion over e-mail this week. Again, I'm all for it if you can keep it simple. What about the 43-to-1 point system, but a 10-8-6-4-2 bonus for who's in the top 5 at every corner of the race? Is that too complicated? Let me know.
Time to give that 40% minority their due. Point taken, Eric, and you weren't the only one happy...
There are quite a few of you out there, Richard. Me? I like my points a little more complex, as long as it spices up the racing.
That would be Jeff Gordon you're referring to. He won four of the first eight races in 1997, led a whopping 789 laps in that span (for comparison's sake, only five drivers led more during the ENTIRE 2010 season) but was third in points based on an engine-related DNF. Head-scratcher, for sure, although he did go on to win the championship that year by a whisker.
20 people in the Chase! Either you're a closet Paul Menard fan, or you haven't added up the sponsored, full-time teams as of late. There's only 30 capable of competing full-time each week with proper funding ... so that means 67 percent of the field makes the playoffs? Too much.
That's an interesting point lost in all of this mess: fans' dissatisfaction with the Chase. Unless there's a big surprise tonight, NASCAR is supposedly not going to make any changes to that part of the system, throwing out the elimination format that had gained popularity behind the scenes. I thought that was a bad idea to begin with, but many others were jumping on board. Could that decision to push points reform over playoff elimination backfire?
Now that I like, a small tweak that would make Richmond meaningful for anyone from the 11th-place man in points to an underdog team willing to try fuel strategy, track position under yellow, anything to try to sneak into the playoffs.
Speaking of winning...
Amen; the perfect point to end this conversation on. Finally, for this week's "out of left field" e-mail, we go back to Boise's Eric from earlier...
When I look at Al Davis, I think of one thing: God, I hope that's not Mark Martin in 2040, still trying to drive on Retirement Tour XXXV without knowing which way is up when he walks out of bed in the morning! Rick Hendrick wouldn't let that happen ... right?