The short of it in NASCAR
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist
Ah, short tracks! With the Nextel Cup Chase participants coming down to the wire, today’s race at Martinsville is just what the doctor ordered to keep things exciting.
Brian France has to be rubbing his hands in glee at the way the Chase is panning out this season. With eight of the 10 Chase drivers changing positions at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last week, the battle for the championship is tighter than ever. Jeff Gordon, who fell to 10th place in the points last week, is the top Chase qualifier for today’s Martinsville round in second place. Four of the Chasers are mired deep in the field, the worst part of that scenario for them being poor pit selection.
Where you are pitted at Martinsville can mean the difference between winning and losing, no matter how good the driver is or how well the car is handling. Points leader Jeff Burton is well back in the field in 31st spot, and a poor finish on his part will set the stage for other drivers to really tighten things up. All in all, it should be an interesting race.
This brings up the subject of points in NASCAR’s premier series. Brian France has indicated that the Chase scenario might be “tweaked” for the 2007 season, and racing pundits everywhere have weighed in on just what those tweaks might be.
If I were King of NASCAR, here’s what I would do. First, give more weight to winning, not only in the Chase, but throughout the season. A win should be worth at least 25 points more than second place, maybe 50. Second, there should be a 10-point bonus for whoever captures the pole position in qualifying, again throughout the season. That will encourage the teams that have a locked-in starting spot to try a little harder.
Third, during the last 10 races, the Chase drivers should be scored separately from the rest of the drivers in the race. First Chase finisher gets 50 points (plus a 50 point bonus for a win). Second Chase finisher gets 45 points, no matter where he finishes overall, with 40 points to the third Chaser, 35 to the fourth, and so on. These changes make perfect sense to me . . . and for that reason alone, I’m pretty sure NASCAR will do something different.
Mark Martin proved to be one of the sport’s true gentlemen last Saturday night at Lowe’s after a really scary crash brought on by a bonehead move on J.J. Yeley’s part. Mark was nothing but gracious, allowing as how it is difficult to see another driving signaling, especially at night. He also gave a lot of praise to the SAFER barrier that had a lot to do with Mark’s being around to race at Martinsville today.
His crash looked to be every bit as bad as the Daytona impact that killed Dale Earnhardt, yet Mark exited the car and stood on the window ledge to wave at the crowd. NASCAR has taken some flak in recent days since the publishing of Bill Elliot’s book, which is highly critical of the sanctioning body’s reluctance to implement safety measures in the past.
I’ve been known to voice similar opinions, but I must say that Earnhardt’s fatal crash did serve as a wakeup call, and NASCAR has been quite proactive on safety in the last few years. Martin’s crash and survival is proof of the strides that have been made.
Today’s Formula 1 season-ender ought to be interesting. It is Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher’s final F1 appearance, with the possibility of winning an unprecedented (and probably never to be duplicated) eighth World Championship. It is a fairly remote possibility, however.
All points leader Fernando Alonso of Renault has to do is finish eighth or better and he will clinch the title. Or, as has happened at least twice in recent memory, Alonso can take out both himself and Schumacher in the first corner, thereby clinching the championship. The coverage of the race begins just half an hour before the start of the Nextel Cup race, which means I’ll either be recording one of them or getting a blister on my thumb from pressing buttons on my TV remote.