Sunday morning update from The Glen (Update)

UPDATE

Brian France has exactly what he wants with the revised Playoffs format
Brian France has exactly what he wants with the revised Playoffs format

To absolutely no one's surprise, one of the big story lines being pushed this weekend is The Chase err…..NASCAR Playoffs. With a mere 5 races left in the 'regular season' (I'm not sure if this stick and ball analogy has been turned into a proper noun yet), drama is high for those not yet playoff qualified.

Now, before I get into the scenarios, allow me to reiterate: I believe the best way to determine a champion is to agree on a points system; have points count equally for all events; add up the points at the end of the year, and give the championship to a driver with the most points.

Furthermore, I am not a fan of the ‘win and you’re in’ format, which encourages extreme risk taking on the one hand and extreme cruising once a spot is solidified.

My apparently antiquated beliefs noted, we do have some drama headed into the last 5 races and this weekend. To start, I have the playoff table below (please give it a look if only to indulge me, as it took every bit of my mathematical education to figure out and compose).

IN (for now)

Playoff Points Driver Wins +\-Pts
1 1 Martin Truex 3
2 11 Jimmie Johnson 3
3 2 Kyle Larson 2
4 5 Brad Keselowski 2
5 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2
6 3 Kevin Harvick 1
7 4 Kyle Busch 1
8 6 Denny Hamlin 1
9 12 Ryan Blaney 1
10 14 Kurt Busch 1
11 15 Ryan Newman 1
12 19 Kasey Kahne 1
13 21 Austin Dillon 1
14 7 Chase Elliott 0 +39
15 8 Jamie McMurray 0 +38
16 9 Matt Kenseth 0 +17

OUT (for now)

Rank Driver Wins Pts. +/-
17 Clint Bowyer 0 -17
18 Joey Logano 1* -69
19 Daniel Suarez 0 -130
20 Erik Jones 0 -150
21 Trevor Bayne 0 -188
22 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 0 -216

*Logano's win at Richmond is encumbered, and does not qualify him for the playoffs.

Jamie McMurray is enjoyng a solid season with 10 top-10 finishes. However, his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs is far from secure.
Jamie McMurray is enjoying a solid season with 10 top-10 finishes. However, his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs is far from secure.

As you can see, thirteen drivers have won (actually fourteen, but we’ll get to that), and thus their spots are mostly secure (we’ll get to that also). Elliott, McMurray, and Kenseth are currently qualified but without a victory their positions are tenuous. In the case that a driver who has not already win scores a win, that would mean one fewer spot available to qualify for the postseason (yes, I’ve been fully indoctrinated with all the stick-and-ball analogies) on points.

With respect to this weekend, there are a few drivers without wins seen as potential winners here at The Glen. A.J. Allmendinger, for example, won this race in 2014, and is of course, a winner in sports cars and Indy cars. And then there is Joey Logano, who did in fact win, at Richmond. However, for the purposes of The Playoffs, that win isn’t really a win (you can read about it here.) Anyway, the long and short of it is, Logano is in the same spot as Bowyer, Suarez, Jones, etc.: he needs to either win, or make up points on Elliott, McMurray, and/or Kenseth, and/or hope drivers that have not won, win.

Got all that?

There is also another convoluted scenario in which three or more drivers who haven’t won, win in the next five races. That would put drivers such as Austin Dillon or Kasey Kahne in danger of missing The Playoffs even with a win. In that scenario, the tiebreaker would be points and without knowing of all the scenarios yet, that is a bridge we will cross if/when that does occur.

Anyway, call it contrived, hokey, arbitrary, silly, random; tell me that Bill France Jr. and Sr. would roll over in their graves; you’ll get no argument from me. But if drama is what you want, drama is exactly what you have. Given the winner-take-all format and a road course race, opportunity exists today for those who desperately need it. And, if anything, today likely won’t be short on excitement.

Brian Carroccio reporting from Watkins Glen

Denny Hamlin en route to victory last year at The Glen
Denny Hamlin en route to victory last year at The Glen

08/06/17

Good morning from a chilly Watkins Glen International. I stayed near Corning, NY last evening about a half hour south of The Glen. It was, as usual, a lovely drive in on a picturesque morning here in New York's Finger Lakes region.

Currently, it's sunny and 54 degrees with temperatures expected to be as high as 74 degrees by this afternoon. It appears it will be cloudy for the race today, but only a 20% chance of rain (again, the weather here is bizarre).

Typically, on a Sunday morning before a race I go the information area in the media center and look for the starting lineup sheet. These sheets usually have all the info you need (sponsors, car name, starting position, driver hometown, etc.). As I was perusing the handout display and not finding the starting lineup it suddenly hit me: the starting lineup isn't here, because duh, it has not yet been set.

Yes, as they did last week at Pocono and will do later this year at Martinsville, qualifying for today's I love New York 355 at The Glen will be a mere few hours before the race. While it has this media member's routine thrown off a little, the new format is an attempt to give the spectator a little more bang for the buck and 'condense' the race weekend if you will.

See, racing is different from many other sports in that it isn't as easy for the spectator to pop in for the race. For example, over a decade ago when I was young, single, and living near the city I would often say to myself at around 5 or 5:30: hey, I can go to the Washington Nationals game tonight. I would call a friend, hop on the DC metro and be at the game in a half hour, beer and hot dog in hand; then, home by 11 that night. No problem.

And I know people, where I live in the Washington Metropolitan area, who to a lesser degree, do the same with the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards.

With crowds not what they once were, NASCAR is attempting changes to its race-day format
With crowds not what they once were, NASCAR is attempting changes to its race-day format

The business model of racing, of course, calls for more advanced planning on the part of spectator. Save for street races, many major races are not in urban centers accessible by public transportation. Schuyler County, where Watkins Glen is located, has a population of 18,000. Simply put, further travel is required by the spectator meaning increased costs for travel, hotels, lodging, etc.

And previously, race series were able to make that work. As opposed to the spectator going to a 'game' in the stick and ball sports, the racing business sold a 'weekend.' In addition to practice, qualifying, support series, with typically a main event – and main event only – on Sunday, people could camp, party and in general make a weekend of being at the track.

The idea of a 'weekend' also had a media/PR component. For example, following practice and qualifying, stories in the local media could help build momentum and buzz for the race. So, in addition to the hard cores who were there for the whole weekend, the hope was some local buzz would help the 'walk up' crowd on race day.

Granted, this is still a viable model to some degree. However, when the recession hit in 2008, a lot of NASCAR's blue collar fan base began to feel the pinch. With money tighter, a weekend of race tickets, hotels, travel, food, possibly taking time off work, etc. Began to drive people away.

Another component of this is technological changes such as high-definition and the smart phone, which have created a climate where staying home is easier. Furthermore, technology has created a consumer that demands more and doesn't do well with idle time. A weekend is too much commitment and just one race too little to draw people from a long distance. See the rub?

So, in essence, what we have here is an attempt by NASCAR to create a little more immediacy with 'race day'. Adding qualifying to the Sunday main event potentially gives the consumer more bang for the buck, and potentially gives that fan who was thinking about traveling for the race on Sunday a little more impetus to go. Also, could this create more drama during the day? What if Kyle Busch or Jimmie Johnson wreck their car in qualifying and have to race the backup with no practice?

We'll have to wait a few times to see how the qualify/race same-day format works. Conceding there are no easy answers and without knowing its effectiveness yet of this new measure, I will give NASCAR credit for not sitting idly by and hoping that the old methods work. While the hard cores will continue to enjoy the weekend at the track, this method perhaps provides those who aren't able or willing to do a weekend, a better opportunity to enjoy a day at the track.

I'll have more a little later.

Brian Carroccio reporting for AutoRacing1

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