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!"?

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