NASCAR is a sport where the spectators call some of the shots, even to the point of dictating who stays and who goes. It is a place where heroes are hunted — sometimes from without and sometimes from within.
A typical NASCAR event combines patriotism, stardom, financial prowess, team spirit and glamour. This begins in the Pre-Race activities and extends until the Winner’s Circle interviews. It’s a place where the rules change to thwart a monopoly that manages to exist despite these preventive measures. A sport where predicted champions me-also-rans and anonymous names are donned with the prefixed of the battles they conquer.
Let’s face it. Stock Car Racing hasn’t become the nation’s largest spectator sport for nothing. It was born amidst the echoes of “The South Shall Rise Again…” and reeks of nationalism. Masses flock to it like moths to a flame because of its relatable to the common man. It’s not the posh carnival of speed that Formula 1 is; it is an event where a guy can drive home knowing that the emblem on the back of his truck was the same one that crossed the finish line first, making him somewhat of a champion — at least for a weekend.
In 2014, Brian France and his team have made some changes to the post-race layout. First off, the post season play-offs, affectionately known as “The Chase” will have the largest group of finalists since its inception in 2008. There will be 16 contenders struggling to survive through three segments and a championship race, perhaps taking a page from the “Survivor” style of elimination.
The first three races are called “The Challenger Round” and a win will advance any driver to the next level. Four drivers will fall to the wayside. Next,”The Contender Round” and its three races will determine which eight gladiators advance to “The Eliminator Round“. The final race is an epic battle to determine a champion. How does this system further ensure that one guy doesn’t just skate through these rounds and come away with a points lead? Simple, after each of the three rounds (Challenger, Contender & Eliminator), the points are reset and each competitor starts on an even keel.
All the changes to The Chase certainly make each race exciting for the fans, but will provoke more strategy from the race teams as well. The Chase was historically a time where 10-12 drivers could wipe their foreheads and be grateful that they made it. They could also pray for their fellow Chasers to fall victim to the mythical “mulligan”. This new format makes any mulligan a nail in the coffin for Championship contention. Every team has to play to win, but they also have to win in order to play.
In 2003, Matt Kenseth won the last championship (then, Winston Cup) under the old points system. He did so, not by wins, but with careful consistency. The consistency it took for Kenseth to win a title in 36 races is now what it takes just to be considered as a contender for the title in only 26 events.
The heralded Sprint Cup Series is not the only attraction. The Camping World Truck Series promises beating and bashing similar the way it all began in the 50’s. The Nationwide Series will have its own set of heroes and a few top-tier ringers to make things interesting. This coming Sunday, the battle begins at Daytona International Speedway and at some point between February 23rd and November 16th, one, two or all three of these divisions will allow the world’s biggest motorized carnival to set up shop at a Speedway near you.
The fish will be jumping in Lake Lloyd (the Speedway’s on-site fishing hole). Most likely, they are jumping or the same reason that hundreds of thousands will be entering the gates of every event and millions more will be watching. There will be enough good stuff to get us on the hook and then reel us in. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, NASCAR is back for 2014 and judging by this past weekend’s, spontaneous combustion, multi-car pile-ups and nail-biting last lap racing that was The Sprint Unlimited, it will be more unpredictable than ever!