INDIANAPOLIS – NASCAR chairman Brian France spent about 20 minutes Sunday morning talking to the media about … nothing.
Oh, he said the 2011 schedule will be revealed in the next week or so and that it will feature some changes, though he didn't say what those changes would be, and he talked about potentially reconfiguring the Chase, though he didn't offer any specifics other than this: "Every formula we've run, Jimmie Johnson would win anyway."
The best point France actually made was that changes, if any, would at least be vetted better than our new health-care czar. Drivers, team owners, executives and, heck, even fans will have a say in the process. France proudly noted that he'll meet with a fan focus group on Aug. 11.
Despite offering no specifics, France made it abundantly clear that he wants to create a Game 7 situation in NASCAR's Chase, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if it comes about organically. But the gusto France presented Sunday makes it sound as though NASCAR is seeking a tricked-out formula that will almost guarantee a final one-race, winner-take-all, showdown.
"If we have the perfect Chase that we would love to see, it would be just like any commissioner would tell you, they'd love to see great playoff events, as many Game 7 series as possible," France explained. "That's what they're after. That's what anybody is after. We're no different. If we can have our format be more consistent with delivering those results … we'll figure that out."
Truth be told, Game 7s aren't just commissioners' dreams. Fans like them, too. But what's a Game 7 worth if the road getting there is littered with a bunch of rules assuring that it happens? In other words, what if the NBA adopted a rule that states whenever a team takes a 3-0 series lead, the trailing team starts the remaining games with a 20-point lead?
NASCAR obviously won't go that far, but it sure does feel like that's the direction it's headed. When Matt Kenseth ran away with the 2003 championship while winning only one race, NASCAR responded by formulating the Chase. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon didn't qualify every year, NASCAR expanded the field from 10 to 12 drivers. And now that Johnson has won four titles in a row, each devoid of much drama, changes appear necessary once again.
While I agree that a change needs to be made, tweaking what hasn't delivered the results they were looking for – namely, increasing television ratings and attracting more younger fans – isn't the answer. In fact, there is no answer as long as the Chase kicks off about the same time as the NFL season.
What NASCAR really needs to do is get out of the NFL's way. Start the Chase in August, end it in early October.
- Brian France