Changes coming to NASCAR

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 26, 2007

This past week in the NASCAR world was one of changes and harsh words. I think some of the changes will be good, some will be bad, and I am afraid of the outcome of the harsh words.

Third generation NASCAR leader, Brian France, announced fairly significant changes to the Chase for the championship this week. At the same time, France announced slight changes to the current points system.

For the first three years of the Chase system, 10 drivers qualified to compete for the championship. Those drivers were determined by the points standings after the first 26 races and the champion was determined in the last 10 races.

Beginning this year, the eligible drivers will increase to 12, you can call this the “Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. missed the Chase in the past and we can’t allow to happen again” rule. I don’t like this change, why should a guy not even in the top-ten in points after three-quarters of the races be allowed to compete for the cup?

Never in NASCAR’s history has a driver come from that far back in the standings, that late in the season, to win the championship.

The other change announced dealing with the Chase in one that makes sense. In the past, drivers were set, in five point increments, based on the points position after the first 26 races. The leader would have 5050, second would have 5045, and so on.

This year, all 12 drivers will be given 5000 points and then given 10 points bonuses for every race won during the first 26 races. The variance in beginning points should be tighter than ever before. This rule will place a more important emphasis on winning, as will the last change announced by France.

Race winners will be rewarded with five additional points beginning this season. A race winner will earn a minimum of 185 points with the potential of 195 points by leading the most laps. The gap between first and second place could be 25 points. That’s a change that makes sense.

The harsh words are coming from the situation of a son of late great racer. The contract situation of Dale Earnhardt, Jr and DEI, the company that his father founded, is getting ugly. Junior’s current contract expires after the 2007 season and believe it or not, there are questions if Junior and the team owner will be able to come to an agreement on a new contract.

The team owner, Teresa Earnhardt, is also Dale Jr.’s step-mother. This will be a major story until the issue is resolved one way or the other. To say that Junior’s relationship with Teresa has been rocky through the years would be an understatement.

Last year, Dale Jr. had to wrangle for a while with Teresa to gain reproduction rights to his name. Imagine how much money is generated by Earnhardt Jr.’s name, and he didn’t even own the rights.

I can’t imagine Junior driving for any other organization other than DEI, but it could happen. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick have even chimed in on the situation. Gordon said this week that the spat between Junior and Teresa might have gone too far to be mended. Harvick called Teresa a “deadbeat owner” who never went to the track. To Junior’s credit, he defended Teresa, calling the comments “ridiculous.”

I hope not, but this situation could get interesting. I feel confident of one thing; this situation is not what Dale Earnhardt had in mind when he built DEI.