NASCAR used the Charlotte Observer to launch a trial balloon this weekend. The paper reported Friday night that the sanctioning body is contemplating changes to its Chase for the Championship format. NASCAR, natch, then refused comment when asked by other news organizations to confirm or deny, saying they will announce any changes at the end of the month.
Political parties, particularly those in government, like to do this sort of thing all the time. They plant a story with a favoured reporter or media outlet and sit back to await the reaction. If nobody much cares, or everybody thinks it's ducky, it becomes policy; if there's an unholy backlash, they back off.
According to the Observer, the number of drivers in the 10-race Chase would be increased from the usual 12 (2013 notwithstanding) to 16. Four drivers would be eliminated after the first three races, another four after six and yet another four after nine. That would leave four drivers going for the championship in the tenth race - a one-race shootout for all the marbles.
As you can imagine, the drivers all seem to think this is a swell idea. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski and others are all Tweeting positive reactions. (If ever you could label a group "company people," NASCAR drivers would head that list. Just once - just once - it would be so refreshing to hear one of those guys say, "This idea is really stupid." But I digress.)
Auto racing columnists and other observers seem to be against it, with some saying it's a gimmick and others saying it penalizes consistency. I can't understand either criticism. You want a gimmick? How about Formula One awarding double points in the last race? And how can anybody say this idea penalizes consistency? If you run near the front every week, consistently, won't that get you into the last-race shootout?
I suggest NASCAR is doing the right thing. The Chase needs tweaking. One of the ideas floated in that trial balloon is that a race win during the regular season will get you into the Chase. Bravo. I'm all for that. Winning is what racing is all about and seven guys who won races last season - Jamie McMurray, Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin, David Regan, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers - didn't qualify for the the Chase. Of course, Truex was kicked out and Stewart was injured but the point has been made: win and you're in.
And it's 2014. Short seasons, as is the case in F1, IndyCar and sports cars (20 or fewer races), don't need a playoff system. But NASCAR, with its 36-race schedule, needs something to goose interest as it goes up against pro and college football, world series baseball and pro basketball and hockey.
A "Game 7" would be just what the doctor ordered.
Now, for every good idea NASCAR has, they always seem to come up with a clunker. Get this:
The sanctioning body has outlawed tandem drafting on restrictor-plate tracks for the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series. Why? Because there were some terrible accidents last year at the end of races at Daytona and Talladega.
Apparently, "bump" drafting will still be allowed but tail-to-nose drafting for a lap or more will result in black flags.
There are several things wrong with this.
1) Restrictor-plate racing on superspeedways is ALL ABOUT drafting. One inevitably leads to the other. I have a better suggestion: scrap the restrictor plates.
2) How do they intend to police this? If a car can either pick up speed or save fuel by sticking to the back bumper of the car in front, find me a driver who's not going to try it.
NASCAR is digging itself into yet another hole. It's 2014 and they now have to be constantly vigilant about team orders (they made their bed when it comes to that stuff last September) and tandem drafting.
NASCAR is going to make an awful lot of judgment calls about human behaviour this season and I will say right now that this will not be good for the sport.
One of the great things about auto racing is that - most of the time - it's not like football or baseball or hockey, where a bad call by a referee or umpire can determine the result of a game.
But by doing what it's doing, NASCAR is injecting the potential for inconsistent officiating into racing and it will rue the day ito chose to go down that road.
Brian Clauson won the indoor winter classic Chili Bowl midget race at Tulsa, Okla., Saturday night with Kevin Swindell second and Christopher Bell third.
Remember that name: Christopher Bell. He is another open-wheel racer destined for NASCAR greatness. I have it on very good authority that he is even better than Kyle Larson, who will drive for Chip Ganassi in NASCAR this season.
I think it's such a shame that guys like Larson and, soon, Bell are automatically slotted into NASCAR instead of IndyCar when they begin to show promise. Do the people in IndyCar not know about some of this "local" talent.
Two days ago at Sebring, IndyCar team Panther Racing tested a young driver from Colombia named Carlos Huertas. The test was paid for by Chevrolet. I'm sure that young Mr. Huertas is a fine racing driver - but so is Christopher Bell. It might be that Huertas is a better driver than Bell, but how will anybody ever know if the Christopher Bells of the world aren't given an opportunity to show owners of IndyCar teams what they can do?
IndyCar keeps saying it wants the best drivers in the world competing in its series but it will only be able to make that boast when it makes every effort to ensure that's the case. By overlooking obvious talents like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell (and, before those guys, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, et al) it leaves itself open to this kind of criticism.
By the way, nearly 300 drivers signed in for the Chili Bowl this year, which was close to a record. It is, of course, a total crap shoot and all sorts of "names" didn't even make it to the A-Main, along them: J.J. Yeley, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and so-on. Oh, and my favourite midget and sprint car driver, Critter Malone. Any guy with the name "Critter Malone" has got to be great.
Glenn Styres, owner (with his family) of the Ohsweken Speedway out on the Six Nations Reserve, was eliminated about halfway through the knockout competition. Glenn wasn't planning to race - he was going to fly out to watch - but at the last minute Yeley brought a car for him and he strapped in.
Said Styres: "I had one good run, sixteenth to third. Then my car stalled on the last lap."
Other racing results: Nani Roma won the Dakar Rally as X-raid Mini teammate Stephane Peterhansel slowed on the final stage so that all three team members - Nasser Al-Attiyah was the third - could cross the finish line together. Roma's first Dakar win in cars comes exactly 10 years after he won the motorcycle category. . . . Sebastien Ogier, the defending World Rally Championship title-holder, won the Monte Carlo Rally. It was the first Monte Carlo win for Volkswagen. . . Chad Reed - I wrote a feature on the guy for Toronto Star Wheels a few years ago - broke a two-year winless streak when he finished first Saturday night in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. It was the 40th anniversary celebration race of Monster Energy Supercross, which will be making its annual stop at the Rogers Centre here in Toronto before long.
Finally, although this has nothing to do with racing but very much to do with the world of automobiles, one of the finest men I ever had the pleasure of knowing, Major Danny McLeod of Medicine Hat, Alta., and Kingston, Ont., died this past week at age 92.
Between stints at the Globe and the Star, I lived and worked in Kingston for many years and got to know the Major when I was writing about sports other than car racing.
He was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, supervisor of referees and linesmen for the National Hockey League, two-time coach of the year in the Ontario Hockey League, founding athletic director of Royal Military College in Kingston and a driving force behind the establishment of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport organization.
And almost up until the time he died, he sold cars at the Taylor AutoMall on Princess Street in Kingston. Like the late Wallie Branston, who was national sales manager of Subaru Canada till his was 79, Danny McLeod was my kind of guy.
You know, although I was born during WWII, I know nothing of what it's like to be in armed combat. But I read a lot and there is a thing on the Internet called The Memory Project, whose aim was to create a record of Canada’s participation in the Second World War and Korean War as seen through the eyes of thousands of veterans.
Here is Danny McLeod's entry:
"Right from day one, right through until the end of the war, and then basically with the Pacific Force, once the war was won in Europe, you were just bouncing from one situation to another, fortunate enough to not be killed along the way or badly wounded.
"The whole operation was such that you had great respect for the enemy and I think probably the most outstanding thing that I remember of the war was that the tank was your home. That’s where you got your supplies; that’s where the mail came and so on. That’s where you slept and when you had a chance to retaliate, you had something to retaliate with."
Don Cherry talked about him on Coach's Corner Saturday night. He said he was a great man. I second the motion.
- NORRIS McDONALD