In My Opinion

Racing’s new rule: Win or go home

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 20, 2014 

NASCAR purists won’t like the changes the sport is considering.

But many of those purists left when NASCAR left North Wilkesboro. They left when Darlington was de-emphasized. They left when they no longer could find a Southern driver with red clay beneath his fingernails.

Many abandoned the sport because they felt the sport abandoned them.

The purists who stayed would love NASCAR to return to its roots. That’s not going to happen any more than the NFL is going to return the Bulldogs’ franchise to Canton, Ohio. Nothing stays the same. I’ve been in Junior Johnson’s Charlotte home. It has furniture from France.

I love the potential changes. Win a race and you’re practically assured of a spot in the Chase.

Fans love the drama and anticipation of a team playing a loser-go-home game, especially if their team wins. What works in the NFL – check the TV ratings, the most accurate barometer of interest in an event – should at least be given an audition by NASCAR.

The new format will add four drivers to what was a 12-driver Chase. That means four more sets of happy fans and happy sponsors.

The field would be reduced after the third, sixth and ninth races. Get them in and, if they can’t hang, get them out.

Only four drivers would advance to the Homestead finale with a chance to win, and they’d be tied.

I’d like the format even more if only those four cars were allowed to race. Stick the others in what would be to NASCAR what the National Invitation Tournament is to the NCAA basketball tournament. The rest of the field would be a very large preliminary. If they want, they could stick around and watch the main event.

The changes are daring and drastic and necessary. Do you remember the last time you went to a race and said, “It sure is crowded in the grandstands”?

Of course fans will complain.

Some will complain because it’s what they do when a change of any kind is proposed.

Others will complain because they believe consistency, not victories, is the best measure of a driver.

Fans of Jimmie Johnson will complain because he dominates the Chase as it’s presently configured.

I suspect all three have sent critical emails to NASCAR.

But think of the possibilities the potential changes confer. Drivers no longer will finish sixth and thank their sponsors and the fellows back in the shop.

If the rule is: Win a race and you are practically in the Chase, second place will look lonelier than it ever has and winning will look even more beautiful.

And what if Danica Patrick, after running 37th all season, wins a race?

Some race fans criticize stick-and-ball sports. The ultimate insult, when they want me to go back to my own kind, is to tell me to stick to stick-and-ball sports.

A stick-and-ball sport held two playoff games Sunday. You watch?

A stick-and-ball sport will hold its championship in New Jersey a week from Sunday.

You’ll watch.

And if NASCAR finally emphasizes winning, you’ll watch more racing, too.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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