Track boss: Make races about money

Forget tweaking the points system and the Chase. One of NASCAR’s most influential people thinks it’s time to take a radical new approach to the sport.

O. Bruton Smith, Chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight Sprint Cup tracks, said Tuesday that the Chase for the Sprint Cup format may not be around in a year or two. And to him, that’s not a bad thing.

If you want to get people’s attention, he says, make it more about the money.

Despite the fact that the difference between first and second entering the 2010 season finale was the closest in the seven-year history of the Chase, Smith contends the program is not connecting with the fans. Smith says the Chase “started out as a good idea” but that it has run its course.

“I think it started off being very important, but I don’t think it’s as important as maybe we thought it would be,” Smith said. “We may be looking around here in another year or two and maybe we have done something differently and we no longer have the Chase. That’s my thinking. In one or two more years, we’ll find out. That’s just my opinion.”

NASCAR is expected to finalize its new points system Wednesday — offering a sliding scale with 43 points to the winner down to one point for 43rd, along with one point for leading a lap, one point for most laps led and two to three additional points to the winner.

While Smith has tremendous respect for NASCAR chairman Brian France and speaks with him on a regular basis, he questions whether changing the points system will have any effect on enticing new fans. Smith still believes a cash reward is the answer.

“With this (proposed) point system, I don’t know if it’s that big of a thing,” Smith said. “We could cure this whole thing with the purse. That’s the whole thing. We’ve tried this many, many times over. Money. You’ve heard them say, ‘follow the money?’ These race car drivers will follow the money.

“Look at the all-star event. It pays a million dollars to win and who cares about second? I think it pays two (places), maybe $350,000 for second place, so that’s the reason the all-star race is such a good race. That the reason people like to come is because they know they’re going to see a fabulous race.”

Smith admits he’s "sick and tired" of hearing about points. If he had his way, NASCAR would take half of the current pool of money distributed to teams at the end of the season based on points and allocate it to individual race purses. He believes that would incite buzz.

“These fans aren’t interested in points, they’re not,” Smith said. “If you can have a huge difference in the money between first and second, that’s where there’s a real race going on. Imagine sitting up in the stands and you know there’s a big spread between first and second. You’re not going to leave if second is six car lengths behind.

“Say there’s $400,000 between first and second. You’re going to stay because you know there’s going to be a helluva finish. Don’t ya? That’s what I want to see. As a race fan I want to see some serious racing. It’s going to be balls out. That’s what fans want to see.”

The current point structure has been in place since 1975; however, the sanctioning body tweaked the system to add 10 bonus points per win during the “regular season” to start the Chase in 2007.


Are you qualified?

Both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series will take a page out of the Camping World Truck Series’ qualifying book.

As reported on Monday, Cup cars will line up for time trials based on practice speeds with the slowest cars going first. On Tuesday, Nationwide Series director Joe Balash admitted that his series was following suit.

“We’ve watched what the Truck Series has done and liked that,” Balash said. “I think it enhances our qualifying package. It puts an emphasis on qualifying again. I think talking with our fans, there wasn’t an emphasis for them to kind of tune into qualifying or there wasn’t the excitement. So we looked at what we did at the road courses where we look at practice times to set your qualifying line up and go from slowest to fastest.”

Where the Cup Series will still likely differentiate from trucks and Nationwide time trials is regarding the number of cars allowed on the track during qualifying. On road courses, NASCAR has run as many as six cars at a time for qualifying. Balash says the size of the track will determine how quickly officials release subsequent cars from the end of pit road and how many cars are allowed on the track.

“A small track like Bristol — where it may not make total sense to do quick qualifying because the laps are so fast anyway, and then at superspeedways — we have to watch to make sure that no one catches the draft,” Balash said. “We’ll adjust kind of on the fly at every event. I don’t know if we’ll get to four because the draft can be felt a long way away, but we’ll take an eye and see how that is playing out. But we will be able to kind of speed up our qualifying and build that excitement to who finally gets the pole.”

Balash says in case of rain, the Nationwide Series will line up according to points.


Secret weapon

Ronnie Crooks, one of the most respected shocks specialists in NASCAR, joined Stewart-Haas Racing on Monday.

Crooks formerly worked for Richard Childress Racing, but spent the last 12 years with Joe Gibbs Racing. The 64-year-old Alabama native started his racing career in 1977.