‘Race within a race’ – don’t touch that remote!

Published 9:49 am Monday, January 30, 2017

I’ve got to give Brian France and the NASCAR honchos credit; they know how to polish up their product.  Thing is – after Monday’s Media Tour in Charlotte – have they buffed too much of the luster and shine away?

In short, what NASCAR’s done is overhaul itself – and you thought calling it the Monster Energy Cup was going to take some getting used to … oh, Winston, where are you!?!

From now on, races – Monster, Xfinity, and Truck series – will have three stages for each race. Points will be awarded at the end of each of the first two stages, and then the race winner will be whoever wins the third and final stage.

The goal is to create action from green flag to checkered flag rather than the bulk of your “real” racing taking place over the final 30, or so, laps.

Also, the season’s final 10 races, formerly called the “Chase for the Championship” – are now simply going to be called the playoffs. Actually, they’ve always been the playoffs, anyway.

If it sounds like a gimmick, it is.  If it sounds like it’s complicated, it might be. But, if it sounds like it’s dumb, I think you’re way off.

Drivers used to tell me they hated Rockingham because twice a year they held a 500-mile race on a one-mile track.  Even someone as math-challenged as I am knows that equals 500 left turns and a looong afternoon. Might have worked back in the 70’s and 80’s with Dale and Darrell, but it doesn’t work for bored-easily millennials. In fact, nowadays, it pretty much doesn’t work for a lot of people.

NASCAR had to change something. Just look at the stands at any Cup track and you see thousands of empty seats everywhere. Add in “soft” – declining – TV ratings and you see more evidence.

Under the new system, you have to watch more. The dramatic peaks this will produce for every race in the first third and the middle third of the race seem made for television.

In a lot of ways, this reminds you of the All-Star Races, which will make the last half of the month of May in Charlotte really interesting: you’ll have one weekend of formatted racing for no points, followed by Memorial Day weekend with pretty much the same thing – for points.  Unless the All-Star folks decide they want to jazz their races up some.  Bring it on!

“I know it’s going to be the right thing for the sport,” driver Joey Logano told the Charlotte Observer.  Logano won three races and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in 2016. “Every lap became more important. Every race became way more important and that’s good for everyone. This whole format is structured for everyone to race hard and put on a great race for our fans. If you can get some bonus points early in the year it sets you up well for when you get to (the finale) Homestead.”

I’m going to be like the rest of you fans, especially the ones who just tune in on summer Sundays when the NBA playoffs are over or your favorite baseball team is playing at night, taking some time to get used to this.  But overall: I like it.  Why?  It’s different.  And if you still fear change, think of it like one racer put it this week:

“You don’t necessarily need to know how a watch works,” driver Denny Hamlin said at Media Days. “You just need to know what time it is.”

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.