Many have said that if the rumors are true and the sanctioning body alters the format to include, say, 15 drivers instead of 12 and convert the 10-race “playoff” system into a elimination process, designed to assure that two or more drivers have a chance for the championship at the season’s last race at Homestead, they’re gone – goodbye and adios.
They claim aren’t about to be a part of sport that, with each passing year, becomes more like professional wrestling with all its gimmickry.
When it comes to NASCAR its fans are free to say and do what they want. If they choose to no longer support the sport that’s their right. Many have already checked out for various reasons. The Chase itself is one of them.
But complaints over NASCAR’s championship points system have been routine and prevalent over the years. What’s happening now certainly isn’t anything new. It’s a part of history.
Since its beginning in 1949, NASCAR’s point system has been altered so many times it’s hard to keep count. At one time during the 1950s and early ’60s, it was so convoluted that fans didn’t bother to keep track. This was during the era when 50 races per season was the norm and any driver who wanted to win a championship had to exhaustingly compete in the majority of them. Most did not.
In 1967, the year he won 27 races including 10 in a row, Richard Petty earned 42,472 points to win the championship by 6,028 points over James Hylton. Petty entered 48 races, Hylton 46. That many races and thousands of points are necessary to earn a title? Who could follow that?
After that year the system was changed repeatedly until it settled into a more realistic format that came with the “modern era” of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s entry as the series sponsor in 1971.
The late Bob Latford, a long-time NASCAR, sponsor and speedway public relations official, has been credited with establishing the process, based largely on finishing positions, bonus points for wins and laps led, that stood for years.
But even that method was always questioned.
Many thought there was no excitement or drama as a season wound down to its close.
It happened often – yet there were exceptions. Petty beat Darrell Waltrip by 11 points in 1979. Waltrip overcame Bobby Allison by 53 points in
1981. Allison surpassed Waltrip by 47 points in 1983. Bill Elliott slipped past Rusty Wallace by 24 points in 1988 and then Wallace topped Dale Earnhardt by 12 points in 1989. Earnhardt bested Mark Martin by 26 points in 1990.
Finally, in 1992, Alan Kulwicki nipped Elliott by 10 points – still the closest finish in NASCAR history.
In each of these seasons the outcome was uncertain until the last race.
But many still found all of that unsatisfactory, especially given that Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won titles by over 100 to a whopping 400 points for most of the seasons from 1993-2002. In some cases the matter was settled well before the green flag fell on the year’s last event.
Fans and the media questioned the system. It was always an ongoing issue.
Among other things it was suggested that more points should be given for pole positions and even more for victories.
NASCAR’s “traditional” point system was consistently a matter of debate and one that never abated.
The argument intensified after Matt Kenseth won the championship in 2003 by 90 points over Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth had only one victory that year. Johnson had three and Ryan Newman, sixth in points, had eight.
Many repeatedly asked – as they had previously – how can the driver with the most victories not be the champion? Points were awarded for consistency of performance, from which Kenseth benefited, but was that really the right thing to do?
The Chase, which followed in 2004, changed everything and brought with it a new series of debates which have not abated to this day.
They will continue in force if NASCAR does indeed alter the Chase format next year. That’s inevitable.
But the point here is somewhat simple. To challenge the method by which NASCAR crowns its champion is something that has always been a part of its history. It has never satisfied everyone and never will.
It seems, despite the fact that this year the Chase provided the most dramatic finish of its existence, NASCAR will, in the near future, do what it deems to be beneficial.
The fans, which have seemingly always been polarized on the issue, can accept it or move on.
They have done so in the past and will do so again.
One opinion is that most will wait to see what happens. After all, it could be a good thing.