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NASCAR must make sure new 16-driver Chase sticks

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Change is a constant force in our lives that we cannot escape. But while change can be positive, it can also be negative – especially if they come one after the other.

Many citizens of NASCAR Nation argue that such has been the case regarding the sanctioning body’s willingness to continually tinker with its decade-old Chase format, which emerged in 2004 to redefine the way a champion is crowned in the top-tier Sprint Cup series.

The Chase has taken various forms since its original incarnation, which had the Top 10 drivers in the championship (and anyone else within 400 points of the leader) going into the 10-race post-season. But then came the tweaks – an expansion to 12 drivers in 2007 (with the 400-point bit dropped), followed by an overhauled points system and the addition of two “wild cards” in 2011.

Now, yet another change has arrived. As first reported by the Charlotte Observer earlier this month, the Chase has now officially expanded once more to a 16-driver field and will feature eliminations after every three races in the playoff to set up a four-driver, winner-take-all battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway for stock car racing’s biggest prize.

Depending on your viewpoint, NASCAR CEO Brian France is either to be commended on his persistence in creating a “Game 7”-style playoff environment like those of other sports, or vilified for craving it so much that he’s forgotten that NASCAR simply isn’t like any of the other sports.

We see France’s thought process and I would think that we all understand it.

The last thing he wants is to produce a boring product, especially with NBC Sports coming in to join Fox as the sport’s broadcasters in 2015. Then there’s the fact that the core NASCAR fan is getting up there in age – the sport itself may be at the start of a youth revolution (hello, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon; goodbye, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte), but that’s not showing up in the grandstands or in the TV demos.

Naturally, France wants to change that with a show that cannot be ignored.

The sport’s purists can complain until they are blue in the face, but society demands to be entertained (and considering that we’ve fueled the rise of the likes of Jersey Shore, the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, we don’t care how). If France believes this new format can entertain more people and help NASCAR enjoy another mainstream run like the one it had in the early to mid-2000s, then more power to him.

But at the same time, he and his colleagues need to put the hammers away in the toolbox and let the changes stick. This format needs to be in place for more than just a few years, because while change can be good, there are advantages when it comes to long-lasting continuity.

Too many changes can make the sport look desperate, as if it’s looking for the magic bullet that instantly brings back the days when NASCAR was part of the “Big Four” of American sports and drivers like Jeff Gordon were hosting Saturday Night Live.

You’d hope NASCAR would know there is no such thing as a magic bullet after seeing the much-hyped Danica Patrick struggle in her rookie Cup season last year or seeing the IndyCar Series continue to suffer with a miniscule national presence after American open-wheel racing united again in 2008.

Furthermore, too many changes agitate the loyal fans that have stuck around for decades and have remained loyal as their sport has evolved into a national phenomenon. There’s the balancing act of this change: Gaining as many new fans as possible without finally driving that longtime base away for good.

NASCAR shouldn’t be attacked for wanting to be more relevant. But it needs to understand that this new format has to be given time to make an impact and that it must resist the impulse to tweak it again in the near-future.

Jenson Button receives honorary degree from University of Bath (VIDEO)

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren Honda in the garage during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button became ‘Dr. Jenson Button’ earlier this week when he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bath in England.

Button, 36, made what looks set to be his final Formula 1 appearance at the end of last month in Abu Dhabi, drawing the curtain on a 16-year stint at the pinnacle of motorsport.

The Briton won the F1 drivers’ championship in 2009 and was runner-up in 2011, as well as winning 15 grands prix.

Button added to his list of achievements by picking up an honorary degree in engineering from the University of Bath earlier this week.

“I didn’t go to university and work hard in my early years, but I would say that a lot of my achievements in motorsport are down to my engineering understanding of a racing car,” Button said when addressing the audience at the ceremony.

Button does have a contract to race for McLaren in 2018 should both he and the driver be keen, but looks unlikely to return.

Button does remain keen to race occasionally through 2017, expressing an interest in racing in Super GT and rallycross.

Williams expecting Stroll to make mistakes through debut F1 season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 24:  Lance Stroll of Canada and Williams talks in the Paddock  during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Williams Formula 1 chief technical officer Pat Symonds says he expects 18-year-old Lance Stroll to make mistakes during his rookie season in 2017.

Williams announced last month that Stroll would be stepping up from Formula 3 to a full-time F1 seat for 2017, replacing the retiring Felipe Massa.

Stroll has an impressive track record through his junior racing career, becoming the youngest ever FIA F3 champion in 2016.

However, his on-track actions have caught attention for the wrong reasons at times, with the Canadian receiving a race ban in June 2015 for causing an accident.

Speaking to Reuters, Symonds said that Williams is braced for Stroll to make mistakes during his rookie campaign as he gets to grips with life in F1.

“Of course he’ll make mistakes and we’ll be repairing cars. These things happen as part of the process,” Symonds said.

“If you look at his Formula 3 career, in 2015 he was having quite a few accidents in that. The Monza one is just staggering.”

However, Symonds has no doubt in Stroll’s talent, believing the youngster to have proven himself during his two-year stint in F3.

“He hasn’t won that championship with anything other than a lot of skill and maturity,” Symonds said.

“For a guy that young, he’s driven really well in pretty well every condition. He’s raced well, he’s led at the front. He’s come through the field a bit, he’s driven well in the wet.

“He is the real deal.”

Besides his F3 commitments, Stroll has also completed an extensive F1 testing program through 2016 that saw him conduct running in a 2014-spec Williams in order to prepare him for his race debut in Australia next March.

Ecclestone: Rosberg not among F1 greats, ‘a world champion and nothing else’

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates finishing second on the podium and winning the World Drivers Championship during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone does not believe that the recently-retired Nico Rosberg will be remembered as one of the sport’s all-time greats, saying that the German is “a world champion and nothing else”.

Rosberg won his maiden F1 drivers’ championship two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing just five days later.

The news came as a shock to the F1 community, including Ecclestone, and has raised questions about the legacy that Rosberg will leave.

Speaking to Press Trust of India, Ecclestone said that he would not place Rosberg in the same realm as many of his peers who have won multiple titles, including Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

“Let’s just say he is a world champion. The other names that you mentioned have obviously won more than a few times and have achieved more,” Ecclestone said.

“So I would just call Nico a world champion and nothing else.”

Ecclestone did concede that not having the defending World Champion on the F1 grid in 2017 would not help the sport, a situation that has not arisen since 1994 following Alain Prost’s final title win.

“[He’s] not as popular as Lewis but Nico was a very popular driver,” Ecclestone said.

“So his absence is certainly not good for Formula 1.”

Rosberg became the fourth driver to retire after winning the World Championship, following in the footsteps of Prost (1993), Jackie Stewart (1973) and Mike Hawthorn (1958).

2017 MotoGP calendar tweaked as German GP changes date

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 13:  The MotoGP riders start from the grid during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP of Valencia - Race at Ricardo Tormo Circuit on November 13, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The calendar for the 2017 MotoGP season has been subject to a minor tweak following a date change for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.

The provisional schedule for next year was released back in September, with 18 rounds listed in a similar fashion to the 2016 calendar.

The biggest change for 2017 was the removal of the back-to-back round between the races in Argentina and Austin, Texas, with many encountering travel difficulties en route from Termas de Rio Hondo.

In an updated schedule released by MotoGP on Wednesday, the German Grand Prix has now been brought forward by one week to create a longer summer break.

The race at the Sachsenring in Saxony will now take place on July 2, going back-to-back with the TT Assen race in the Netherlands and create a month’s gap to the next race in the Czech Republic.

The date of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas remains unchanged, taking place on April 23.

2017 MotoGP provisional calendar

1. Qatar – March 26
2. Argentina – April 9
3. USA – April 23
4. Spain – May 7
5. France – May 21
6. Italy – June 4
7. Catalunya – June 11
8. Netherlands – June 25
9. Germany – July 2
10. Czech Republic – August 6
11. Austria – August 13
12. Great Britain – August 27
13. San Marino – September 10
14. Aragon – September 24
15. Japan – October 15
16. Australia – October 22
17. Malaysia – October 29
18. Valencia – November 12