Many moving parts to watch as NASCAR season nears – ABC News – ABC News
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Amid all the talk about the new points system as drivers met the media Tuesday and Wednesday, Joey Logano talked about something that could have just as big an impact on the championship:
“The aero changes for this year … have been lost in the shuffle of all this,” Logano said. “That will be a big deal.”
For two days when drivers were supposed to talk about the upcoming season, few in the media did a lot of digging on how the reduction in downforce for 2017 could impact the racing.
That is a good thing, and there is a good reason that the talk centered on how drivers will race instead of how the cars will race. Nothing turns off a casual race fan more than trying to predict what could happen with a different-sized spoiler and splitter before seeing it on the track. And for NASCAR, it just conjures up the specter of creating hope that might or might not be achieved, as well as memories of single-file parades at too many intermediate tracks.
There’s more than enough time to discuss physics. There will be some talk about that at the Phoenix test next week, anyway, and the aero package doesn’t even apply to the Daytona 500. So those discussions can wait.
This points stuff? It’s sexy. And NASCAR got the message across to its drivers and teams to make it sound as glorious as possible.
Drivers also will accumulate “playoff points” during the season — one point for a stage win in the two new segments that are being introduced over the first half of races, five points for a race win plus points for being in the top-10 in points at the end of the regular season (15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale) — that are added to their total each time when points are reset for the first three rounds of the 10-race playoff. The playoffs will no longer be called “The Chase.”
If only I had a dollar for every time I heard the word “enhancement” the past few days. I’d be so excited.
It surprises no one that drivers speak in favor of the new format. They know they need to spread optimism about the sport. At such a critical time, any negative comment would be ultimately frowned upon by the NASCAR brass.
But many genuinely approve of the announced changes. The drivers had significant input into the new system. And, even more importantly, those changes addressed one of the drivers’ biggest beefs: that the regular season meant nothing.
Before, if you could win at Daytona, you could pretty much cruise the next 25 weeks, because if bonus points for wins mattered only in the first round of the playoff, they meant little. After all, if a driver couldn’t finish in the top 12 out of 16 in the first round, that driver likely didn’t have a realistic shot at the title.
“It keeps us honest, it keeps us pushing,” said Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski of the new system. “It keeps us from taking races not necessarily off, but races that we would have looked at before and said, ‘Let’s save our best car, that race isn’t important’ — the propensity to do that is going to go down.
“As drivers, I think what you’re going to see is a desire and maybe more of an anger factor when things don’t go your way [when] in the regular season it didn’t exist.”
Seven-time Sprint Cup — oops, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup (another change that pretty much went without much discussion) — champion Jimmie Johnson isn’t sure if it will change the way he races.
“As a competitor, it’s tough to say that’s going to change much of what I do,” Johnson said. “But I know there will be opportunities where that point matters for someone.
“We’re at 100 percent in those cars, and then we try to articulate that all the time. Some get it and some don’t. It might take people from being at that 100 percent mark to making them a little bit more desperate in given situations.”
The new system could create more urgency for rookie drivers to perform earlier and for Toyota drivers to get acclimated to their car’s new body style. In the past, they had time to get adjusted and just had to worry about winning a race in the first 26 events.
Now with “playoff points” for wins in play, a slow start to the season could hinder a driver from advancing to compete for the title at Homestead.
“That’s a valid point,” Toyota driver Denny Hamlin said about how the points system impacts the transition to the new body style. “I haven’t really thought of it that way to where what is our learning curve with this new Toyota Camry? The good part about it is Joe Gibbs Racing and [Toyota] helped develop this Camry together.
“The learning curve probably will be less when learning other new [cars] in years past. I’d suspect we’d come out of the box just as strong as we were at the end of last year.”
Austin Dillon believes speed is key. He can’t assume the way he and Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman got into the playoffs the past couple of years will work moving forward. Grinding out good-but-not-great finishes possibly won’t earn enough points. RCR has not won in its past 109 races.
“Myself and Newman did a good job of getting into the Chase and making a name for ourselves by getting through each round,” Dillon said. “But now we’re going to have to show speed early and often for these segments.”
That sounds like that means they could take risks. After the Homestead finale last year, Kesleowski moaned over the format requiring drivers to take risks at all costs.
Homestead will remain a risk-or-lose venture. But for Keselowski, knowing that risks taken during the regular season can have an impact in the playoffs at least makes more sense.
“I want to know that if you go to the first Loudon race and a driver wins a race that that made an effect that you will see in the second Loudon race,” Keselowski said. “Our fans deserve that. Our fans deserve that reasoning and that rationale to know that whatever they see on any race weekend is guaranteed to be important for the entire season, so I think that’s what I see in this balance with the format.
“There’s still the Homestead scenario, which isn’t ideal, but I understand and respect it.? But I think the pathway to Homestead makes a lot more sense and will be a lot better for our sport.”