Gimmicky Racindeals

January 30th, 2014

As you can see, this is my first post in a long time. My on-again/off-again relationship with racing has been more off than on over the last few years. But there’s enough stuff happening right now that warrants comment, so here goes.

Formula One: I’ve never been a big fan of F1 racing. It always seemed like whoever won the pole would eventually be the race winner. Over the last couple of years though I’ve made it a point to watch as many F1 races as I can. I found it interesting that they’ve eliminated refueling the cars during the races. Without that burden, pit stops are an incredible 2 or 3 seconds. Of course, they’ve got 20 people over the wall  servicing the car (3 on each tire, a front and rear jack man plus a backup for each, plus some other folks who do who knows what).

It still seems like qualifying up front is the best way to win races, but there’ve been a few times over the last couple of seasons that someone from outside the front row won. I guess that’s what keeps it slightly interesting; watching the field head toward turn one to see who gets the lead (and probably the eventual win). I do like the fact that they have to run two different tire compounds during the race; that does add a little bit of uncertainty, and racing in the rain is certainly more exciting than not.

This season, F1 has changed their engine package quite a bit, and mandated higher fuel economy. Those changes should be interesting.

NASCAR Qualifying: NASCAR has changed the qualifying procedure this year for the top three series. To say it’s a gimmick is an understatement. I get the fact that they’re borrowing ideas from other racing series, but if they’re going  to borrow ideas, borrow ideas that make the racing better. Basically, they’re going to let all the cars on the track at the same time to run qualifying laps. There will be two or three sessions and you have to be in the top so many positions to move to the subsequent rounds.  Teams can’t change tires between rounds,  so expect the fastest times to be in the first round. And expect to see a car on the pole that has a qualifying time slower than quite a few other cars that only ran in the first round.

“Knock-out” qualifying isn’t new to NASCAR, and multiple qualifying sessions isn’t new either. But what is new is that rather than have the cars go out one at a time and run  one or two laps,  all 43 or however many cars will be on the track at the same time in the first session. So if 50 cars show up at Bristol, will they all be on the track at the same time? The potential for wrecks during qualifying is a lot higher, with multi-car wrecks taking possibly taking out top teams.

Championship Points: Not content with messing up qualifying, NASCAR has also changed the way the championship is awarded.  This system is so convoluted I would refer you to another web site to get the details. NASCAR leadership seems to think that NASCAR is declining because the drivers don’t have a ball to play with, or something. This whole “chase” format was created so NASCAR could claim that they had a playoff system. Anyone with any common sense could see it wasn’t anything like a playoff system. So now NASCAR has created elimination rounds in the Chase.  After three races, they get rid of four drivers, then so on until they’re down to only four who are eligible to win the championship. Then in the very last race of the season, all those points and wins from the first 35 races become meaningless. Whichever of the drivers finishes ahead of the other three wins the Championship.

I’ve seen a lot of people say “this will eliminate points racing”, like points racing is a bad thing. About the only time a driver will “points race” is if he wrecks and repairs the car so he can come back out and gain a spot or two. Most drivers always race to win. But a smart driver in a car that can’t win a race, will do his best to stay out of trouble to get the highest finish he can.

I’ve always contended that a driver who finishes consistently higher in races than other drivers is the one who deserves the championship. A driver who wins one race and gets 30 top tens versus a driver who wins 10 races and has 25 DNFs is the better driver. Going for a win is one thing; going for a win recklessly is stupid.

But, Brian France is determined to make this “his” sport, thus all the gimmicks.

EIRI: I see that NASCAR left open the possibility of having more or fewer than 16 drivers eligible for the chase (Except In Rare Instances). They created that precedent last season whey they manipulated the number from 12 to 13 and disqualified a driver from the chase.  The fact is, it really doesn’t matter what the rules say; if NASCAR wants to make sure a particular driver is in the chase, or not in the chase, then they have the power to do that.  They would have a lot more credibility with these types of issues if they actually disqualified drivers from races  when found to be running an illegal car. Sorry, Jimmie Johnson, your car that won the Daytona 500 was illegal, so you not only lose all the points from the race, we’re going to eliminate you from the results (and prize money). But for whatever reason, NASCAR has this mentality of “even if a car is illegal, we’re not taking the win away”.  But they’ll take you out of the chase in a heartbeat for a perceived infraction.

Travis Pastrana: I’d gotten pretty much bored with Sprint Cup Lite (AKA the Nationwide Series).  It’s great for the big name drivers to drop down into this series occasionally and run with the up-and-comers. But to basically steal all the prize money from already under-funded teams is just lousy. That’s why I’d pretty much stopped watching that series.

Then a few years ago, Travis Pastrana announces he’s going NASCAR racing. He ran some K&N Series races and I watched those for the first time ever (at least the ones I could find on TV). Then right before he was supposed to debut at in the Nationwide Series, he injured himself at the XGames. That delayed his move to the Nationwide Series by a little while.  When he did start running, he drove for Michael Waltrip Racing (or as they called it at the time, Pastrana-Waltrip Racing). He raced for that team for a year and I figured he’d be back with them again, but somehow he ended up at Roush Racing.

He had better equipment at Roush, but no sponsor. Which was puzzling, since he has a sponsorship deal with Red Bull (perhaps they were still stinging from their foray into Cup racing).  But despite having no sponsorship (I assume that Pastrana funded the car himself), he showed flashes of brilliance. He won a pole and led a few races, and it was amazing to see him learn what to do and not do during the course of a race. He had a few DNFs, most of which were caused by other drivers, and he messed up a few times too. But he was making progress.

That’s why it was so surprising when he announced that he was giving up his NASCAR quest. It still puzzles me why no one would sponsor that team. Travis Pastrana is the anti-Kyle Busch.  All of his media interviews showed a polite young man who was so appreciative of the opportunity he had; he never had a bad thing to say about anyone, not even when he was knocked out of a race by another driver.

NASCAR has this “diversity” program that gives people rides based on their skin color. It’s too bad they don’t have a diversity program that gives guys like Pastrana a chance.

To Be Continued: I’m probably going to write more about racing this year, especially since  there’s a lot of stuff that’s new. I’m not sure how often, but definitely at least once a month if not more.

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