Regular-season champs should be rewarded


Racing purists prefer traditional, yearlong points races and want playoffs limited to those sports involving balls and sticks.

But NASCAR's Chase for the Championship and the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship are here to stay.

Each series wants guaranteed drama at the end of the season even if it's fabricated. More drama means more tickets sold and more television viewers. It isn't a coincidence that seasons end with events owned by the NHRA and International Speedway Corp., which is NASCAR's kissing cousin.

The Chase has come down to a two-race shootout between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Johnson has a 30-point lead over Gordon heading to Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Phoenix. After that, only the race in Homestead, Fla., remains.

They are the year's two best Cup drivers; Johnson has won nine times and Gordon six in 34 races.

Conversely, in the NHRA, three drivers won major pro championships in the finale Sunday in Pomona, Calif., and none would have under the previous points system.

Jeg Coughlin received his third Pro Stock championship but would have been eliminated from contention with at least two events left. He capitalized on the second chance that the Countdown provided.

Under the old NHRA points system, Las Vegas resident Rod Fuller would be the Top Fuel champion. He would have clinched it when he won the title at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

Instead, Tony Schumacher edged Fuller for his record fourth straight championship.

The Top Fuel Countdown provided over-the-top drama after Fuller smoked the tires to lose in the first round, and Schumacher won four rounds for the event title to beat Fuller by 19 points. Had Fuller won the opening round, Schumacher couldn't have caught him.

Schumacher won a series-best six titles and 12 poles this season. It can't be argued he's not a worthy champion, but he didn't match Fuller's consistency.

Something should be done to reward drivers and teams for being the best before the racing playoffs began.

Gordon led the Cup field by 400 points at the end of the 26-race regular season. When the points and standings were reset to begin the Chase, Gordon's lead over Johnson was cut to 20 points.

When the Countdown began after 17 NHRA events, the points were reset, and Fuller's 154-point lead was cut to 10.

Arguments defending the Countdown say it's like playoffs in basketball, football or baseball: A team with a far worse record can knock out the team that was the best over the regular season.

True.

But if racing is to begin emulating those sports, then drivers' pay -- especially in the NHRA -- should skyrocket along with event ticket prices.

Racing isn't like those sports, which is why so many have gravitated to NASCAR and the NHRA the past few years.

NASCAR and the NHRA could somewhat right their unbalanced playoffs by doing something to honor the best in the regular season. Pay them a bonus, provide a trophy and let them celebrate with fans.

What's wrong with having regular-season champions? It isn't more ludicrous than playoffs in racing.

As stellar as Fuller and Gordon were in the regular season, they have little to show for it.

GRAND PRIX -- Farewell to the Champ Car World Series, and may it never return to Southern Nevada.

It's a marginally national series, and, with four-time reigning champion Sebastien Bourdais headed for Formula One, it lacks anything close to a marquee name.

The demise of the Vegas Grand Prix can be blamed on promoters who believed businesses and municipalities in Las Vegas and Phoenix would kowtow to whatever they wanted. Compliments to Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and the City Council for not throwing away tax dollars to host the downtown street-course race this year.

The city allocated $500,000 toward road improvements, but promoters paid about a million more to provide downtown with about 2 miles of the smoothest streets it's ever had.

The Grand Prix should not return until Champ Car and the Indy Racing League cast aside massive egos and merge into one open-wheel series.

The last thing downtown needs is another bad act. It has enough of those already.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

 

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