All I want for Christmas
Well gang, I just have to tell you, this is the quickest I have seen a year go by. I can’t believe its Christmas time already. Of course, we all want the same thing over the holidays — that everyone is safe, gets along and loves each other. Naturally we all recognize what Christmas is about, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that’s what we are celebrating.
There are also things we want for Christmas that come in the form of gifts. I’m no different and I have my own list of things. One of the gifts I want is for us as a sport to win back some of the fans we’ve lost these last handful of years. I am talking about both the fans in the stands as well as those that tune us in all year on television.
I want 2011 to be a turnaround year. I want us to be able to look back years from now and say that 2011 was the start of the upward climb again. Coming out of this past season we have every reason to believe we will. We had great races all season long. We had a great championship battle right down to the checkered flag at Homestead in November.
We had Jimmie Johnson winning five championships in a row and he made history again this year. No one’s ever done anything like that. He didn’t win Athlete of the Year, but the rate he is going, he should win Athlete of the Decade because he has that kind of record. I believe he’s a strong candidate because he has owned the 2000 decade.
NASCAR’s “Boys have at it” certainly livened things up this year. Atlanta in the Spring really tested it when Carl Edwards retaliated against Brad Kesolowski and sent him airborne during the race. So it started there and didn’t end. I mean c’mon, you even had payback at Homestead between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Those boys were certainly having at it. So I think that old school mentality and old school racing really livened things up.
I think NASCAR not micromanaging the drivers and constantly looking over their shoulders was refreshing this year. They took the reins off and let the drivers personalities come to surface, instead of constantly slapping them with fines and probation.
And to be honest, Christmas actually came early for ol’DW this year in the form of a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. Under the lights on July 9, 2011 is like a dream come true for a lot of us. A lot of people have worked hard on this for over 10 years and now Bruton Smith has made it a reality. That place has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations and things looked really bleak at one point, but next year it’s finally going to happen. That’s one of the best Christmas presents I have ever gotten.
We all have to be thankful for the transition that the race car has gone through. The COT was ugly and at times not very competitive. It was generic looking. Let’s face it: it turned a lot of fans off. You have to give credit to NASCAR for addressing that. First, they got rid of the wing and brought back the spoiler. I think we all agree the car raced better with the spoiler.
Now you are seeing the car continue to grow up. It’s gotten rid of its braces. The nose for 2011 has a little more brand identity. That’s a great thing. They are not there yet, but the cars are starting to resemble again the cars we see on the street. We can also look forward to 2013 when we see a totally redesigned body on these cars. I’ve been told they will totally look like a Toyota, Dodge, Ford or Chevrolet. You’ll be able to tell them apart on the race track. That’s something all of us have wished for and that Christmas present can’t come soon enough.
I know one Christmas present that would be good for our sport is to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. have a fantastic 2011. We all want to see him up front, leading and winning races again. I’d like to see him be in the Chase as a championship contender. You can throw the other two fan favorites, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, into that mix as well. That also creates more competition for Jimmie Johnson in 2011.
There actually are a couple of gifts I don’t want for Christmas. I don’t want the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship to be decided by some kind of lottery or gimmick. A lot of people want to change the Chase. Naturally if it gets changed, then other folks won’t like it either, so NASCAR has to be careful how they step here.
Here’s my question — why even keep points for the first 26 races? All it really does is put 12 people into the Chase and then the points are reset anyways. Heck, now they are even talking about expanding that. So I say, why not just run the first 26 races with no points? You win the race, you get a big trophy and even bigger check, but that’s it.
Then when they get down to the final 10 races, well, everyone is then in the Chase. Everybody starts off the same. So with 10 races to go, that’s when you start awarding points. That way everybody has a fair chance. No one is eliminated.
I mean let’s face it, the points in the first 26 races don’t mean that much. If you don’t believe me, go ask Jeff Gordon or Kevin Harvick. Those two drivers worked their butts off to build big point leads only to have them taken away and points reset at the start of the Chase. So what difference do the points in the first 26 races really mean? So again, I say, forget points for the first 26 races. With 10 races to go, then you points race. I believe that would be more exciting for everybody.
But let’s assume for a second NASCAR thinks that idea is too radical and let’s assume they are going to keep the current Chase format the same. If they do that, then there are still some tweaks I would love to see implemented. First, I believe the cat leading the points at the end of the 26th race should be the cat leading the points the first race of the Chase. It’s just flat out wrong to run your tail off for 26 races, be the points leader and then when they reset the points you still aren’t the leader. There’s just something not right about having your point lead taken away from you. That really bothers me.
The other thing that I think is really important is if you win a race in the first 26 races, you are automatically qualified for the Chase. Our sport is based on being first. So if you win a race, you should be in the Chase, period.
So those are some presents I would like for Christmas. There are a couple, as I mentioned, that I really don’t want for Christmas, either. Stevie, the girls and I all hope you have a safe and happy holiday season. I really think our sport has some exciting things coming in 2011 and I can’t wait to discuss them with you.
OH, BY THE WAY
One thing I want to caution you about. I worry about tire trouble at Daytona. Anytime we go to Daytona and test, we are usually pretty happy with our cars, our setup and our tire combinations. But that’s January and that’s way before they run the 24-hour race down there. I think that race affects that race track more than people realize.
My point is the tires might be OK right now on that brand-new green surface, but they may be too hard when they go back in February. I think we might hear some complaints when we come back for the race. That’s one thing I am going to keep my eye on in January. I will be down there working for Speed for the three-day test and that’s a storyline I plan on following.
OH, BY THE WAY, II
Leave the Nationwide Series alone. I don’t understand why folks are so up in arms about making changes to the Nationwide Series. This is the way it’s been for the entire history of the Nationwide Series, so why change it. If you’re a race fan at the track for the weekend and your favorite Sunday driver is competing on Saturday, well that’s just a bonus for you. I just think we will be making a huge mistake by dumbing-down the Nationwide Series. I’ve been doing this a long time and I just know there’s going to be some unintended consequences that will go along with these changes.