Drivers differ on proposed NASCAR format changes
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carl Edwards said NASCAR is taking the wrong approach in its effort to draw more fans to the race track.
If NASCAR really wants to create better competition and higher interest in the sport, Edwards said it needs to focus on changing the setup of the cars and not the championship format.
NASCAR will announce its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format on Thursday. It is expected to be to a 16-driver field whittled down through eliminations to four drivers and a winner-take-all season finale. It would be the fourth significant change to either the points or championship format since the Chase debuted in 2004.
Edwards said drivers are already doing everything they can to win and the proposed changes that NASCAR chairman Brian France laid out two weeks ago won’t change that.
"I don’t think you can take the top 15 guys in this sport and make them race any harder for wins. I don’t think you can," Edwards said Tuesday.
It’s a sentiment shared by 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, who initially showed public support of the new format but is now reserving judgment until he sees exactly what NASCAR wants to do.
France has been adamant he wants drivers to race at 100 percent at all times and to value winning, and he preached most of last season that the frantic, door-banging battle to the checkered flag at California between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano is the kind of racing he wants to see.
"From a driver’s perspective, there’s nothing left," Keselowski said Wednesday. "There’s no set of rules to make me race harder than I do."
Keselowski passed on a chance to move Kyle Busch out of the lead at Watkins Glen last August in what could have been a last-ditch effort to win the race. That victory would have likely ensured Keselowski a spot in the Chase; instead, he failed to qualify and was unable to defend his championship.
Keselowski also doesn’t think any changes will hurt six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
"No matter what format you put out there, he’s the favorite," Keselowski said. "Until that’s not the case, I don’t see how there’s any format that could be wrote, unless it’s the slowest guy wins, and I don’t think they’re going to do that."
Edwards said taking away the downforce on cars and making the tires softer is a good place to start. He said it would go a long way toward increasing competitive racing at the front of the pack.
"No matter what format we race under I can’t just try harder and go up and race with the guy or pass him," Edwards said. "I think the thing we have to focus on as a sport is making sure the cars can race one another. … Right now, if I’m staring at the guy in the front window it doesn’t matter if (I’m racing) for a billion dollars and 10 championships — if I can’t catch him, I can’t catch him."
It’s not necessarily that Edwards is against the format. But he said if France’s proposals — with the emphasis on winning races to get into the Chase for the Championship — come to fruition, it will change the way drivers approach the season.
"Things will get really, really interesting around Richmond. That will be insane," Edwards said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he wasn’t excited about the proposed changes at first, but has begun to warm to the idea.
"Let’s change it all. I’m all for it," Earnhardt said. "A lot of times we change things for the fans, and I think the drivers are going to enjoy some of this stuff as much as the fans are."
Team owner Richard Petty said proposed changes are a "PR deal" by NASCAR designed to drum up more interest in the sport. He still thinks the best drivers will come out on top regardless of the format.
"They just want to shake things up," Petty said.
NASCAR is essentially borrowing a page from other major sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball where teams — or in this case, drivers — are eliminated from playoff contention while the season climaxes with one championship event at the end of the year. Earnhardt Jr. called it a "bold, aggressive" move by NASCAR.
"When you look at other forms of sport, there’s an elimination factor in the playoffs that we don’t have," Earnhardt said. "We, as drivers, don’t feel the intensity of an elimination factor being over our shoulders every race. I feel like we’ve had it easy in that regard where we just tally up points. Coming down to Homestead with four guys (racing for the championship), that’s crazy — but it’s exciting."
However, driver Ryan Newman doesn’t necessarily agree with the elimination-style system.
"I don’t think we can take everything the NFL or NBA is doing and say, `We need to do it like this because they’re doing it like that and it’s working,’" Newman said. "This is still stock car racing. This is NASCAR. A certain percent of change is good, but we do not need to copy the playoff system."