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NASCAR's "Chase For The Championship" Draws Much Reaction
Published January 21, 2004
|Kenseth “Disappointed” With Change|
NASCAR yesterday announced the revised format for its points system, including the creation of the "Chase for the Championship" during the final ten races of the 36-race Nextel Cup Series. NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said the "author of the plan was a number of people in NASCAR," and noted that he had consulted his father, NASCAR Vice-Chair Bill France Jr. France: "My dad likes it. He was always willing to make changes in an intelligent way" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/21). NASCAR President Mike Helton: "With NASCAR having one of the longest seasons in all of professional sports, it became obvious we needed a different approach to enhance the interest and excitement over the course of the season. The modifications will focus more attention on our sport during the fall season when we're in competition with other major sports" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/21). France, on creating more interest in the fall races: "It's a very competitive time. That's part of what drives you. You want to capture attention all the time, not part of the time" (K.C. STAR, 1/21). France, on negative reaction from fans: "If you tell the average race fan more drivers can win the championship and that the drivers are going to have more incentive to race harder, how in the world can any of our fans ... think anything other than it's a great plan? We're not going to run the sport with our finger in the air on polling data. We're going to look at it, but we are going to do things that we know in the end of the day our fans are going to gravitate to" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/21).
TRACK OPERATORS IN FAVOR: In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw writes the ten-race "Chase" will not include Daytona or Bristol, "the heart and soul of NASCAR tracks. But Kansas City, Phoenix and New Hampshire will be in that final 10 races for the championship" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/21). Five of the ten races in the "Chase" will be at tracks owned by ISC, while only two races will be at SMI tracks (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/21). But SMI President Humpy Wheeler said of the new format, "I'm strongly in favor of it. It will put the emphasis on leading and winning. We've gotten away from that over the years. The old system worked for awhile, but it's not working any more. Our department store still has disco clothes in it and it's time to change" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/21). SMI Chair Bruton Smith: "I think the media will pick up on it and give us more coverage, and that's better because we're dependent on the media." Denis McGlynn, President of the independent Dover Int'l Speedway, said of his track hosting a "Chase" event: "We've sold every single seat, and if the economy improves, we plan to add 30,000 more" (USA TODAY, 1/21). ISC-owned Homestead-Miami Speedway President Curtis Gray, whose track hosts the season finale: "It's great for us. It virtually guarantees that we'll have (multiple) cars running for the championship when they get (to Homestead)" (SUN-SENTINEL, 1/21). ISC-owned Phoenix Int'l Raceway President Bryan Sperber: "NASCAR always has displayed a real savvy about the marketplace and delivering the kinds of wrinkles that motorsports fans like to see. I think this is a case where NASCAR is really being more of a visionary than addressing an issue or anything negative" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/21). SMI's Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark: "Conservative racing in the fall has been eliminated. ... The drama and the intensity in the garage and on the track will be higher than we've ever seen before in the final races" (L.A. TIMES, 1/21). More Clark: "This will take NASCAR to a new level. ... One day people will look back and say today's announcement elevated the international perception of NASCAR Nextel Cup racing" (TENNESSEAN, 1/21). ISC-owned Richmond Int'l Raceway President Doug Fritz, whose track's September 11 Monte Carlo 400 will be the final race before the "Chase": "With the huge buzz leading up to this race, this will no doubt be our biggest weekend ever. This will showcase our track like never before and bring an atmosphere surrounding this event unlike anything we've ever seen" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 1/21).
TV: USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke writes NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer emphasized that the new system "was not driven by television." Schanzer: "They told us in December they were going forward." Turner Sports President David Levy added, "Anything that brings more interest and viewers to the sport and to TNT is a positive for us" (USA TODAY, 1/21). Schanzer, on the new system, "I think it's terrific. It's bold and imaginative, and I think it makes a lot of sense" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/21). Schanzer said the previous points system "was like ending a drama in Act 2. (Last year's) season was done 5 weeks before the conclusion" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/21). NBC/TNT analyst Benny Parsons: "When I see how much interest there is in the playoffs for other sports, then you realize, yes, racing does need something to generate that excitement that other sports generate. ... In our final broadcast at Homestead, you know 'the race for all the marbles,' well there were no marbles" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 1/21).
SPONSOR EFFECTS: In DC, Liz Clarke reports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and car owner Ray Evernham "applauded NASCAR's initiative," but "cited concerns over a host of potential unintended consequences of the plan," including "decreas[ing] the value of sponsorship for teams that miss the cut." Evernham: "Where you are going to see the effect is how it's going to affect our sponsors. What are they really going to think about it if their car is not one of the top 10 and has no shot at getting in the top 10?" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/21). But France indicated that "the new format should keep all sponsors happy by bringing increased fan and media attention during the entire season" (USA TODAY, 1/21). France, on drivers' concerns that sponsors "might pull their support or seek a refund if their driver is eliminated from the championship after 26 races": "I don't think that's a reality whatsoever. We realize that talk's out there, but this is going to lift everyone, even if you're not in the chase, because more attention overall will be paid to the final 10 races" (PHILA. INQUIRER, 1/21).
SOME DRIVERS AGAINST IT: In Orlando, Ed Hinton writes the move to the new system "left purists angry and many drivers shaking their heads." Earnhardt Jr.: "I'm not in approval of it, but once the decision is made, it doesn't do anybody any good for me to go any further than that. The only thing personally that's important to me is, if and when I win a championship, how is it going to be compared to the championships my father won" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 1/21). '03 Winston Cup champion Matt Kenseth: "This is entertainment-driven, and it definitely is nothing like what it was when racing started for most of us. I understand the need to keep people interested and understand there has to be entertainment value, but from my vantage point as a competitor I'm disappointed" (USA TODAY, 1/21). More Kenseth: "There was a lot of talk about putting more of an emphasis on winning races, but I don't think this really does that" (USA TODAY, 1/21).
SOME IN FAVOR: Driver Ken Schrader said of the new system, "The racer part of me tells me it sucks. The business side of me says it might be a pretty neat deal for the sport" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/21). Car owner Chip Ganassi: "I don't know what's wrong with the system we have. But having said that, I applaud NASCAR, I guess, for trying to ... bring some type of playoff system to racing" (K.C. STAR, 1/21). Car owner Richard Petty: "Driving a race car I never passed anybody by following them. I had to be in a different lane to pass them. I feel like racing has got to where it's at in a different lane. I'm afraid if we pull over behind somebody (or some sport) that's where you're going to be" (ROANOKE TIMES, 1/21). Driver Michael Waltrip: "It's intensified what's going on in NASCAR. Hopefully, we'll be on 'SportsCenter' more. Hopefully, the networks (and) the people covering the sport will see more interest in the sport." Jeff Gordon: "Now I think it leans a little bit more towards entertainment than competition ... and I think that could be really good for our fans (and) for our sponsors" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/20).
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