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Friday, November 14, 2014

Championship Finales

I have a couple of things to say about NASCAR's upcoming championship weekend. I'm sure my opinions aren't unique, but I'd like to think I have something useful to say about the situation...

The purpose of a championship in racing (or other sports) is to reward performance over an entire season. It's one level of accomplishment to win a single race, it's another entirely to sustain that performance over 15 or 20 or 36 races. No individual race result should be used to determine that champion-it's the culmination of his or her work over an entire season. In the current NASCAR system, it's actually possible for a driver to win the championship without winning a race (which is, you know, the point of racing, and what NASCAR was trying to encourage) all season long. Conversely, a driver could win the first 35 races of the season and still lose the championship if 2nd place in the points did nothing more than finish ahead of the points leader.

The entire concept of the "Chase for the Cup" playoff system is flawed. Playoff systems are necessary in stick-and-ball sports, not in racing. Racing's fundamental difference is that every competitor faces off against every other competitor in each event. In other sports leagues, only 2 teams can play each other at one time in any given event. When it comes time to decide a champion, the best team may not be apparent. To find the best team, those with the best records face off in eliminations until the two best teams play one series (or one game, or what have you) to decide the ultimate winner. In racing, the best team in the league is obvious EVERY SINGLE RACE-only one car can win. By assigning a points value to each finishing position, a champion can be decided at the end of the season.

But what is a complaint but a chance to put my own ideas and suggestions out there? I'm sure nothing I propose will be adopted by anyone anywhere, but it was fun for me to think about. By the way, this is non-series specific. It ought to work as well for Indycar as NASCAR as anyone else. The whole point of racing is to complete a given distance quicker than any competitor. What if the championship worked on the same principle? Instead of assigning points based on finishing position, what if the championship were based on who finished the total championship distance in the least amount of time?
What I'm thinking about is assigning points to the 2nd, 3rd, etc place finishers based on how far behind the leader they are at the end of the race. Apply some sort of multiplier based on their interval to the leader. I'd assign extra points for the win, since that's the point of the whole enterprise. Races that end under caution would use a fixed, pre-set multiplier to determine points. I admit it's a complicated system that precludes counting points in one's head, but that's what our computers are for. This system would reward winning and hard-charging at the end of races, while still putting a premium on consistency and reliability. And what better way of promoting your season finale by announcing who "Got Here Fastest!"?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014: A Disorganized, Rambling Review

And just like that, it's over. The 2014 Indycar season is in the history books. It's a little depressing to think that we're done racing for the year. On the other hand, since I wasn't indoors watching a race, I did get the garage cleaned out last weekend.

Congratulations to Will Power. The guy is Superman behind the wheel. Not to mention he led the league in penalties this year, yet still took the Astor Cup. Even with his mistakes behind the wheel (I personally think he threw away 2 or 3 wins), he was still the clear championship winner. Look out, he's only going to be more dangerous from here on out.

Regarding the Fontana race, it was good to see the attrition so low after 2013. It wasn't good to see all the complaining about the race's late start time. I thought the reasons were pretty clear: 1. The race was on the west coast, meaning 3 hours behind the eastern time zone. 2. The race was on Labor Day weekend, meaning sunset was still relatively late in the day. 3. Running before sunset meant blinding glare for the drivers going into turn 3. That would be bad anywhere, but it has to be especially harrowing at high-speed Fontana. I wouldn't think it would be a big deal to stay up late one night to watch one race, or that most could DVR it. Me? I watched the entire race, live. And I was out of the house by 6:30 Sunday morning.

The real problem is the Labor Day date. Indycar got their advice from a consulting group that may or may not have known anything about racing. Stopping early in the season to avoid competing with football seems strange to me. I can see where football would bury Indycar in the ratings. Which is worse: Being buried in the ratings and getting little attention, or not being in the ratings at all and getting zero attention? I'm no media expert, but I'd think maintaining some profile for a larger portion of the year would be better than a blitz, followed by absolute silence. Run the season into October, but accept that those late-season ratings might suffer a bit. The positive effects on the rest of the schedule should make up for it, especially in the long-term. I'm thinking of a more consistent, spread-out schedule where individual venues have a little more flexibility with their dates and races are run about every 2 weeks. On the other hand, maybe that professional consulting group knows what they are talking about and the way we have it now will prove most effective.

Anyway, I thought it was a great season. Few (if any) 'bad' races and a lot of entertaining ones. Some high points of the season for me:

Best race: Indianapolis

Winner I cheered loudest for: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Indianapolis

Biggest disappointment: The Rahal team. Between yet another disappointing season for Graham, the lack of a full-time seat for Oriol Servia, and the loss of the National Guard sponsorship, this turn-around year turned out to be anything but.

Most heartbreaking moment: Tie, Long Beach and Mid-Ohio for Josef Newgarden. Ryan Hunter-Reay KNEW that Newgarden (on fresh, cold tires) had Long Beach won. That's why he went for the position when he did. Unfortunately, the pass proved optimistic and they wound up in the tires. Mid-Ohio looked like it was in the bag, too, when Newgarden ran over an air hose on a crucial pit stop.

Most heart-warming moment (Since I already mentioned Indy twice, I'm not going to say RHR and his son at Indy): Mike Conway validating his own and Ed Carpenter's career choices at Long Beach.

Biggest Comeback: Well, one could say Conway above, Montoya, or Bourdais. What the hell, it's a 3-way tie.

Best possible handling of a bad situation: Toronto. I'm sure the fans in attendance who got no updates will disagree, but I thought Indycar took care of that tricky weekend the best way they could have.

Most impressive rookie: Not to diminish anyone else's accomplishments, but NASCAR bad boy Kurt Busch humbled himself by leaving his comfort zone and learning to play on a new stage. He finished 6th on race day, ahead of guys like Will Power, Tony Kanaan, and Scott Dixon.

All right, I'm going to wrap it up for now. I'll be trying to keep up with demand for blog posts and new T-shirts in the off-season!