National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing :

An easy sport to make fun of it surely is, but a sport nonetheless with athletes who race machines. That shouldn't be abhorent to a bunch of geeks. At its top levels like the Winston Cup series, stock car racing is the highest tech sport in world right now. They dump so much money into design and R&D, and you should see how wired a pit crew is. Industrial laptops everywhere. I read about one team that had employed a cracker to sniff other teams wireless LAN packets. If horse racing is the "sport of kings", stock car racing is the sport of the masses.

Now on to the athletes... yes athletes. Do you have the guts to drive a car 195 MPH? Ok guts alone don't make an athlete. Do you have the endurance to drive a car at 195MPH with a track temperature of 140 degrees and an air temperature of 98 for four hours while drinking less than a gallon of water? Rare birds those guys.

As for the appeal... easy, vicarious midlife crisis solving-- can't afford a new red convertible how about watching someone else's car go real fast. Or like Tom Skerrit in Singles, "People like their cars." I am not a wrenchhead, but I appreciate high performance in most of its forms. The appeal of the actual racing events no longer has much to do with the race. They are basically giant tailgate parties with free (well it's an $80 ticket) cigarettes, chew, and beer for everyone. A buddy of mine came home from his last NASCAR event with six cases of Budweiser, and 15 cartons of cigarettes that he didn't pay a dime for.

Finally NASCAR on television just doesn't capture it. Much like baseball and soccer you gotta be there to get the effect. The cars are the loudest thing you've ever heard. Way louder than a rock concert. You can actually feel the cars go by. On some tracks you'll see no one sitting in the first few rows. Part of its because of the poor view. Part of its because the blast of air from each passing car is like a Lennox Lewis body blow. Everybody is a NASCAR fan after going to their first race.

True anecdote from the early part of the 2000 NASCAR season:

Driver Jeremy Mayfield and his team received disciplinary action from NASCAR for using a disallowed experimental fuel additive to increase engine performance in a race. The most memorable reaction to this was by a sportswriter in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who wrote:

These days to cheat in NASCAR, typical mechanic's tools won't cut it anymore. You now need a masters in chemical engineering.

From a fan's perspective, NASCAR is undeniably intriguing. The raw power of hearing the engines rumble gives the races an animalistic nature. The only comparable events are rodeo, or perhaps bullfighting, though I have never witnessed the latter.

However, rodeo and bullfighting are sports. NASCAR is not. Allow me to explain.

The essence of sport is competition -- individuals or groups, playing against each other in a contest. If you win, congratulations. If you lose, you should try to improve. Thus, the champion is determined by natural selection.

NASCAR, however, is not a sport. The governing body of NASCAR believes that it is better for winners to be penalized down to the level of those they defeated, or similarly, that losers should be improved deus-ex-machina style.

This, NASCAR believes, will make races very close. If no car goes too much faster or two much slower than the median speed, then the races will be "competitive."

That is a logical flaw. For instance, a competitive baseball season does not mean that every team finishes with essentially equal records. A competitive baseball season means that some teams do very well, some do very poorly and the others win about half their games. Same thing happens in football, basketball, hockey and any other real sport.

Here is an example of NASCAR's anti-competitive behavior:

There are four major auto makers who operate in NASCAR -- Dodge, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Ford. Owners fund drivers and their crews -- often more than one team the same race, a fact that is also worryingly anti-competitive -- and the owners/drivers/crews mutually decide which auto make they will use.

In the beginning of the 2001 season, the Dodges were slow. There's reason for this -- Dodge hadn't been a part of NASCAR for the last 20 years or so, and likely their engineers needed to get up to speed. One would think, then, that Dodge would light a fire under their butts to improve. But no; NASCAR beat them to the punch. In late July, NASCAR decreed that Dodge cars would be allowed a larger air dam on their front bumper, which redirects more air upwards atop the car and thus increases downforce, which makes the car go faster and handle better. Chevys, Pontiacs and Fords were not allowed this improvement.

This would be like making Babe Ruth use a whiffle ball bat so that he wouldn't hit so many home runs.

Think the non-Dodge teams weren't pissed? Here's what Robert Yates, owner of a few Ford teams, told the Indianapolis Star:

"They see Dodge putting a lot of effort into this and maybe not quite getting there, so they give them a nudge. It just shows again that the cars we're racing aren't totally stock anymore, and so NASCAR can step in and give somebody a little help. But then they can pull it back as quickly as they put it in."

By saying "not totally stock," Yates means that the cars aren't unique. The original theory of stock-car racing was that the racing cars would look similar to cars that regular people would buy. So, if you loved to buy Ford cars, you could watch a race and root for the cars that looked like yours. But, in NASCAR's desire for homogeneity, that's all lost.

Does this really matter that much? Yes. Since NASCAR has set a precedent for tinkering cars whenever they feel like it, who's to say what they won't do? At the Pepsi 400 in 2001 -- the first race at Daytona Beach after Dale Earnhardt's horrific fatal accident -- his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won seemingly with ease. Many reasonable people theorized that the race was fixed, that letting Dale Jr. win would be a fitting tribute. NASCAR vigorously denied this ... but isn't NASCAR like the boy who cried wolf? If NASCAR can tweak cars, then can't they tweak outcomes?

I have no idea if the Pepsi 400 was fixed, but I sure wouldn't be surprised if it was. Why? The same reason I am unsurprised when WWF matches are fixed. Neither have legitimate competition, and neither are sports.

Other forms of motor racing, such as Formula 1, don't share NASCAR's silly policies, and they most certainly are sports.

In the past, I have heard other allege that auto racing isn't a sport because it's just cars going around in circles. This is a ludicrous belief. The common population has neither the coordination nor the endurance to compete in high-level auto racing. Trust me. If you tried, you would quite literally die.

Changes to the NASCAR point system

The NASCAR Winston Cup decided its champion based on the amount points each driver had at the end of the season. Each place was worth x amount of points and there were built in bonus points to the system. If you lead a lap you received 5 bonus points, if you lead the most laps in the race you received 5 bonus and so on.

As the season ran down to the end it was easy to determine who would be the winner based on calculating the total points available in the race and deciding how much a person will have. It is actually something really easy to do if you watch the races and the last several winners have had a sizeable lead and had to do nothing more then qualify to win.

According to Chairman Brian France, this causes the later races to not have as much fan support and cause the ratings to drop. (Note since NASCAR has exploded recently in growth in fan base and large television contracts. NBC and Fox split the season and share the Daytona 500.) This season, along with the name changing to the Nextel Cup, there will be a change in how the points are counted.

The last 10 races of the season, with the final being at Homestead as usual, would be the only ones that count for points. This would then cause the ratings for the last 10 races to be higher. At least that is the goal.

None of the drivers are happy with this change. The racers feel that nothing needs to be done and the system works as is. Jeff Gordon has stated the system makes it an enterntainment system and not a true point system. France states in response "We are in the entertainment business.Hopefully, our events entertain people." 1 Nascar already haves a hard time being defined as a sport, this may add fuel to that discussion.

In an interview with France 2, he states that this new change might not effect the last 10 races, but will affect the top 10 players, thus leaving the bottom racers with no hope of winning a championship with a great drive at the end. As more comes out, in fact on Tuesday the 20th of January an offical announcement is made, we will see both what happens and what the fans and drivers think about it.

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