By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Change is in the air.
At the 2016 Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, NASCAR announced several changes and perhaps none bigger than adding a playoff system to the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series.
The system will be identical to the Chase for the Sprint Cup format NASCAR has used the last two seasons.
To be honest it is surprising that it took this long for NASCAR to add a playoff format to its two lower divisions and that it didn’t elect to do this all in 2014 when the new Chase format began at the Sprint Cup Series level.
However, before it starts to sound completely negative here are some solid reasons this is a good thing for NASCAR and its fans:
All three series have varying schedules, which means that not all the same tracks will get the “playoff” atmosphere. Now some tracks host all three series on the same weekend, an example being Texas Motor Speedway, a track that has seen its fair share of fireworks at NASCAR’s top level, will now get a triple dose as the third to last race in all three championships.
The XFINITY Series will have 12 drivers battle it out over the final seven races with two elimination rounds, with four drivers left to battle it out in Homestead. The Camping World Truck Series goes to a similar path as the above, but with eight drivers qualifying.
The biggest takeaway from all of this – NASCAR is not giving the same show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – meaning that it is a refreshing new approach to a format that , in the Sprint Cup Series, has gained popularity with fans and ratings. So if all goes according to plan this could be the long overdue and much needed boost NASCAR’s second and three-tier series have yearned for.
However, when there are new additions there are also subtractions.
Beginning this season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR is implementing a 20-minute caution clock that will take place at all tracks with the exception of Eldora Speedway, the standalone dirt track on the calendar. The emphasis is to keep the field closer together for more intense racing. If the yellow flag waves for any reason (wreck, debris, etc.) the clock will reset.
The reality is this will either be something really great or will fall flat on itself.
It is difficult to see drivers enjoying this, especially if they have the dominant truck and get taken out by shenanigans on a restart or on a pit road mishap. On the bright side, it is only in the Truck Series and we don’t have to wonder about why the yellow flag is out anymore.
One of the more exciting innovations NASCAR’s hierarchy came up with was changing up the Dash 4 Cash program.
Exclusive to the XFINITY Series, the program will be held at four tracks – Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and will now see the addition of two Heat Races and a Main.
The two Heats will set the starting position for the Main with the top-two XFINITY Series regulars in each Heat race becoming eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. The highest finishing driver among the four eligible will be awarded a $100,000 bonus. Only drivers must eligible for XFINITY Series points will be able to compete for the Dash 4.
The concept is a new twist on an old story in that it brings old short track Saturday night racing concept in NASCAR’s second-highest division.
Fans have begged for something similar to what they see at their local short tracks and now they have something that, although it may not be exactly what they were looking for, is a step in the right direction.
This may not be your father’s NASCAR, but new twist on old concepts and shaking up their lower divisions is exactly what is needed for the overall health of the sport as it attempts to gain interest and rebuild an image that will attract new fans and maintain its lifelong ones.
Overall, NASCAR won opening the 2016 season – on paper. Come season’s end, we will see if they won where it counts – in the stands.
Image: Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images