What if NASCAR tried stability?

by Monte Dutton

Just what does Brian France want to change?

The NASCAR monarch — after all, stock-car racing has a clearly defined royal family and order of succession: Bill I, Bill II, Brian I — thinks if times are bad, the only possible solution is change.

The Internet hasn’t changed as much in the past decade as NASCAR.

Why not wait on the fans for once, instead of asking them to adapt?

The Chase, which made finishing 12th as important as first (for 26 races), is in its best shape since 2004, when it debuted. Somehow, by the strangest quirk of fate, one race remains and Jimmie Johnson actually doesn’t have it sewn up.

Johnson, unbeatable and unloved, thinks winning it this year might actually decrease the number of fans who dislike him. He’s going into the final race without the lead. Could the specter of Johnson the… underdog… be raised?

“It would probably be received better than the ones in the past, with the runaway show we’ve had in a couple of them,” he said.

It’s worth a shot, yes? Lead changes and exciting finishes are up.

The flip side, of course, is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is down.

NASCAR changed its grading system and put everyone on a curve — or maybe all the courses are strictly pass/fail — for 26 races. It made all the cars so close to identical that Johnson himself might not be able to tell a Ford from a Chevy without those handy headlight decals. It revved up the action with rules that make the old “racing back to the caution flag” seem safe. The number of laps aren’t even reliable anymore.

Some fans are ticked off. Some are just tired. Maybe change has been transacted at so dizzying a pace that people just can’t keep up. And contradictions flourish.

With cars that look just alike, inexplicably, one manufacturer, Chevy, dominates as never before.

Exciting races are perceived widely as just the opposite. “Boring” is just a strange word to be used in relation to what has taken place on the tracks this year, but fans say it every day.

Every change is sold as cost-cutting, but none of the teams ever actually save any money because, before they get a chance to do so, more changes emerge from that godforsaken Research and Development Center.

Even change gets old when it never stops.

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘© 2010 King Features Syndicate

Jimmie Johnson – underdog? What might that do for the popularity of NASCAR? (Photo: Getty Images)