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Playoff system causing controversy

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By Roger Diez

Perhaps the most controversial topic in all of racing right now is NASCAR’s proposal to change the points system to include a “playoff” for the last 10 races of the season.

As pre-season testing for Nextel Cup teams wrapped up on Thursday, third-generation, 41 year old NASCAR Chairman Brian France addressed criticism of the plan. (I wonder what he’d be doing for a job if his last name was O’Malley.) France denied that the scheme is a “playoff” system, declaring that any change would serve to make a good points system great. France seemed undeterred by the fact that competitors, fans, and the Motorsports press have expressed almost universal antipathy to the scheme.

No name has yet been attached to the proposal, nor was anything said about shopping the concept for sponsorship. Apparently the one thing still not clear is exactly how many drivers will be included in the final run-off. Will it be 10, 12, or some other number? France indicated that any driver with a mathematical chance of winning the title would probably be included. Consistency will still be rewarded, but not perhaps to the extent it is under the current system. This deal isn’t done yet, so stay tuned for further developments.

After Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI) drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip set the pace in the first week of Nextel Cup testing at Daytona, probable DEI driver John Andretti was fastest off the trailer this past week. DEI cars have been all but unbeatable in restrictor plate trim for the past few seasons, but when the dust had settled on Thursday the DEI Chevys were fourth, fifth, and sixth fastest for the pre-season test. Ken Schrader, living hand-to-mouth for sponsorship of his BAM Racing Dodge, sat atop the speed charts with a lap of 187.793 miles per hour. The Fords of Elliot Sadler and Ricky Rudd were next quickest at 187.664 and 187.555 respectively. Are the DEI guys sandbagging? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’d say they’re still the cars to beat in February.

Another update on the CART/IRL war: The Indy Racing League is reported to be considering making an offer for the assets owned by CART. The Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS) is set to purchase those assets, pending any other qualified bid. According to OWRS partner Kevin Kalkhoven. I doubt that the IRL would put in a bid in order to continue the series. In my opinion, their desire would be to kill it. . . The IRL wants to bury, OWRS wants to build; that’s the difference.

Whether the IRL buries CART or not, things are shaping up for the 2004 IRL season. It was reported last week that Buddy Rice will substitute for the injured Kenny Brack in the opening races of the 2004 season. Brack hopes to be back in the car by mid-season, possibly even in time for the Indy 500.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the upcoming “reality” show featuring the NASCAR Busch Series. The teams to be featured in the series were announced last week: drivers Casey Atwood, Kasey Kahne, Tim Fedewa and Randy LaJoie will be the first to be featured on the series. Unlike most “reality” TV shows, which set up artificial situations and use actors, this will be a show documenting the reality of big-time auto racing. All the people featured on the show are real racers, and NBS 24/7 (the show’s title) will merely document what happens during the course of a race weekend, and what happens between races. I definitely plan to tune in, and those of you who get SPEED Channel should plan to do likewise.

A quick update on local racers (yes, our Outlaw Kart competitors are still racing in California). Little Kellcy Bell became the first female driver to win the “Big” perpetual trophy at Red Bluff, racing in the Beginner Box Stock division. Big sister Mackena finished third in points in the QRC cup series. Jay Dargert got his first main event win in California, racing his Open Kart at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico. And the prestigious QRC Cup tour is scheduled to run at Thunder Bowl Speedway in Mound House this summer, with upwards of 200 karts expected!

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.