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The winds of change were an overall welcome arrival

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, January 27, 2011

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Brian France addresses the media
Over the past few days we witnessed NASCAR's willingness to address some needed changes with the vast majority of them being positive steps in the right direction. We also learned of a rather unusual pit crew platoon system that somewhat rivals the National Football League's special teams concept and it appears that there's another NASCAR baby boom in the making. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

An overall THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for their willingness to address and implement changes in their championship points system, for the first time since 1975, and their Chase format. While announcing the changes, last Wednesday night, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said "the fans tell us that winning matters the most with them, so we're combining the tradition of consistency in our sport with the excitement that comes along with winning."

THUMBS-UP to the much simpler championship points system. The race winner will receive 43 points with a one point differential between each position all the way to the last place driver who will receive only one point. The new system also awards three bonus points to the race winner, a single bonus point for leading a lap along with another bonus point for leading the most laps. The max point capability for a race winner is 48 compared to the 42 points the runner up driver will receive. The one point differential could lead to some exciting number scenarios when it comes time to determine the Chase For The Championship line up next September.

By the way, I'm going to assume that no pun was intended regarding the fact that the max points number, 48, matches the car number of five time consecutive champion Jimmie Johnson. Probably not, NASCAR officials aren't exactly noted for "punning around."

In terms of simple math, there's really not a huge differential between the old and new systems other than the fact the new mode will be considerably easier for a fan to calculate the points progress of their favorite driver. Last year we needed a points procedure print out from "NASCAR.Com" and a calculator. This year we won't even need a pencil to calculate points.

Having said that I do feel a need to issue a somewhat reluctant WHAT'S-UP over the three bonus points awarded to race winners. I would have liked to have seen that figure just slightly higher. It has nothing to do with incentive to win. A modern day Sprint Cup driver really doesn't require an extra incentive to win. In fact I've never actually met a driver, from any form of racing, whose primary goal wasn't to be the first to pass under the checkers. This opinion is based on the fact that the exceptionally high level of competition in NASCAR these days requires an extraordinary special effort to win a Sprint Cup event and that extra effort deserves additional bonus points.

THUMBS-UP to the wild card provisional NASCAR implemented into their Chase For The Championship format. The top ten in the championship standings, after race number 26, will make the Chase line up business as usual. But Chase positions 11 and 12 will be offered to the two drivers, outside of the top ten, who won the most races as long as they are within the top 20 in the standings. This appears to be part of Brian France's reference to extra incentive for winning and it has the capability of becoming rather interesting later in the season.

THUMBS-UP for plans to eventually reconfigure the front of the modern day NASCAR stock car so it will again resemble what's actually on the show room floors. The manufacturer decals on the nose of these cars is often the only means for fans had to quickly determine their origin. This move will also return credence to that long time racing adage that states "win a race on Sunday, sell a car on Monday."

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WHAT'S-UP with the back up pit crew plan at Hendrick Motorsports? This scheme is the handy work of Chad Knaus, the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson's #48 championship team, that also benefits the HMS #88 team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte, for driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Following some recent shuffling at HMS, these two teams now share a shop building.

The plan calls for the two teams to travel with three complete pit crews, a total of 18 men, for each race weekend. That will allow crew chiefs Knaus and Letarte the luxury of mixing and matching the crew members they feel they need for each race while covering any pit road emergency such as injury or the frustration of slumping job performance levels. It appears at this juncture that there may not actually be any real permanent crew members for either of these teams.

We all saw how Knaus handles performance emergencies. Remember last fall, in the midst of the Chase event at Texas, when a frustrated and angry Knaus exchanged his #48 crew with Jeff Gordon's #24 team?

On the other side of the HMS complex Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin's teams will have full time pit crews. consisting of six men each, with four extra men representing their back up plan.

After hearing all this one can't help but ask: why limit the back up plan to just pit crew members? If Chad Knaus or Steve Letarte makes a pit stop call that transforms their car's handling from bad to worse then send in the back up chief to man the pit box. This procedure would work similar to a National Football League offensive coach who swaps running backs or receivers to suite the need of a particular moment.

How about a back up public relations team? If for some reason the primary PR unit isn't properly selling a story to the NASCAR media, then send in the second stringers who can cleverly reword the bullet points of the very same theme.

How about a back up team cook? If for some reason the breakfast, served to the #48 and #88 teams, totally sucks then have the back up cook take over the stoves so he can make things right again just in time for lunch.

(Someone should stop me now-I could do this all day!)

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From our GOD BLESS department we urge you to send some thoughts and prayers to NASCAR champion and icon Ned Jarrett who will be taking his rightful place in NASCAR's Hall Of Fame next May. Some frightening chest pains, late last month, forced a surgical procedure that required a pair of stents to be placed in arteries to open blockages. Jarrett is slowly but surely recovering.

During his career Jarrett was a hard charger that always displayed the spirit of a true racer. That's what led him to becoming a member of the NASCAR Hall Of Fame's Class of 2011. Off the track Jarrett is a gentleman, a true class act and one of the nicest people a fan would ever want to have a conversation with. Please get well soon, Mr. Jarrett.

A GOD BLESS also goes out to the families of Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth all, of whom, recently announced that their wives will be delivering babies later this year. Note to team owner Jack Roush: you may want to check the quality of the water at the Roush Fenway race shops.

That leads to a THUMBS-UP to Mr. Excitement, Jimmy Spencer, who, during a Thursday night appearance on SPEED, commented on the Roush Fenway driver's expectant wives by asking "is there anything that David Ragan isn't left out of over there?"

On the topic of the NASCAR baby boom, THUMBS-UP to Mrs. Jamie McMurray for telling her husband that he's not allowed to send text messages on his cell phone while their brand new baby is riding in the car with him. Then again, WHAT'S-UP with sending text messages while driving no matter who's in the car? Note to Jamie McMurray: when you head west, for the Auto Club Speedway race next March, you need to know that texting and driving out here in California will net you a big time, expensive, traffic ticket.

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Finally here's two THUMBS-UPs for this week's NASCAR notable quotables. The first goes to DeLana Harvick who sent the following message on "Twitter": (This) sounds like a bad country song. I'm headed to a town called Welcome, (the official home of Richard Childress Racing), to see a man named Happy, (the official nickname of husband Kevin Harvick).

Then there was the matter of fan favorite Kenny Wallace who wanted to share the good news that his exercise and nutrition program is working and he's now down to a fit and trim 176 pounds. In a "Tweet" sent on Thursday he wrote: "you know what's good? When I am on the toilet now, I DO NOT have a little belly hanging over. That's the s**t! ha ha ha ha !"

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