A few thoughts as we start to count down to the end of the off-season...
- While I appreciate that drivers like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch are competitive and want to win every race and championship they can, it's for the best that NASCAR has instituted a rule that forces a driver to choose a championship to chase after. The Nationwide Series has always had Cup driver participation, but it was never meant to be "Cup Lite". Look at the stats, guys like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Geoff Bodine, and Rusty Wallace may have run Nationwide Series races, but their schedules were always extremely limited and they never chased after a championship.
- I, like many others, find it interesting that Ray Evernham has left ESPN to rejoin Rick Hendrick in what is apparently a non-racing role. I wonder if that is truly the case, or if Ray is there to help behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. In any case, he's earned the right to choose what he does after a highly successful career as a crew chief and an owner. I do hope that he someday does make a return to the television booth; he is a great communicator, very articulate and was a great addition to the ESPN team.
- The open wheel convergence on NASCAR continues as Nelson Piquet, Jr. will compete full-time in the Camping World Truck Series after dipping his toes in the water in a limited role last season. As with every other driver to attempt the switch, the learning curve will be steep. Maybe too steep. Chris Carrier will step in to crew chief, and with 30+ years of experience there may be a chance for success. However, that didn't help the last former open wheel driver that Carrier worked with, former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish.
- The rumored changes to the Chase have done nothing but inspire a resounding "meh" from me. I get why it was instituted and I get why they want to expand the field. Who doesn't want more drivers with a chance to win it all, right? But the realist in me says why should a guy who is the 12th best after 26 races have a chance to be the champion? In a true playoff system, a wildcard or any other lower seed has one chance to beat the best and if they pull it off, well, more power to them. But in a season that is determined by accruing the most points, shouldn't the driver that actually earns the most points win? Make no mistake about it, Mark Martin wasn't the second-best driver in 2009, he was given hundreds of points by NASCAR and his points deficit all but eliminated.
All of these tweaks to the Chase are the wrong way to go, in my humble opinion. If NASCAR wants to have a true "Game Seven" feel to it's playoff, then a total revamp of the way the champion is determined needs to be implemented. Don't base the championship on points. Base it on wins, and any driver that wins at least one of the first 35 races is automatically invited to the season-ending and championship-determining race. The other drivers aren't done just yet, they have one more chance as Championship Weekend is actually a double-header: a "200-mile" last chance race on Saturday and a winner-takes-all (say $10 million to win along with the Sprint Cup trophy) 300-mile finale on Sunday. It sure would place a lot more of an emphasis on winning during the so-called regular season and it would grab a lot of headlines for the finale, which as it is currently is constituted, barely registers on the radar with most of the sports media.