It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two months since the NASCAR Winston Cup series said goodbye to the 2003 season. Since then, Winston has said goodbye forever, Nextel has embraced its new investment, and NASCAR made a huge change in the points system for its top division.
For all the great things Winston did to get NASCAR to where it is today, Nextel can do more simply because that company is not hindered by Federal laws. The changes in the points system was made solely by NASCAR, a fact Nextel wants to make clear to fans and drivers who were very vocal in opposition.
NASCAR fans are always extremely vocal about change. It was only a few short years ago when fans united to protest the television contract with FOX and NBC after years of coverage on ESPN. Like it turned out with the television situation, the same will likely happen with the points change ”” fans will love it.
Let’s be realistic, there has been a meaningful championship chase in years going back to the Alan Kulwicki-Bill Elliott battle 15 years ago. NASCAR is one of the only major sports that bases its championship on the entire season. Every sport has a playoff, with brackets or seedings based on what teams did for the regular season. So, why not NASCAR?
The first 26 races will be considered the regular season and drivers that perform within 400 points of the leader will be invited to participate in the 10 race playoff. Like all the other sports, there will be a small edge given to the drivers that have performed the best.
A minimal amount of points will separate first and second place as they start the playoff chase. They will definitely not be able to rest easy like in the past. This will force the drivers to race harder and win down the stretch. Just like any other sport, there is a strong possibility a team that started slow will finish strong and win the title. Under past rules, those drivers would have been too far off the pace to have any chance of winning.
For too many years, once pro and college football start, NASCAR’s top series has had to share viewership time. All the major races were done and there was no real chase for the championship. The changes will propel interest and place an added importance on each of those races that generally have not been the most popular according to Nielson ratings.
For wagering purposes, many Sports Books in Las Vegas had to do some adjusting with their future odds on the Nextel Championship because of the change.
"We had to drop several drivers odds because in a 10-week stretch, anything is possible," said Boulder Station’s Kelly Airgood, "We had to look at who performs the best at those 10 tracks and also who has consistently lingered around the top 10 in points over the last few years."
Ryan Newman is still the favorite at 5-2, but his odds were 7-2 prior to the points change.
"Newman falls under that category of being good at the last 10 tracks of the season," Airgood said, "We liked him coming into the season as the favorite. Now with the changes, if he falters like he did early last year, it doesn’t mean anything because he can charge harder better than anyone. It’s almost like having a second chance bet."
Fred Crespi at the Palms sees it similar to Airgood.
"We’re going to do more maneuvering this year than ever before with the points odds," Crespi said. "For one, we’ll have it up longer than ever before. Generally, we take it down somewhere after the half point marker because history proves the leader is almost a cinch to win the title. I’m a little concerned with some of the long shot drivers, particularly someone like Rusty Wallace who has done well on those 10 tracks.
"With the old rules in effect, Rusty is 30-1," Crespi said. "Now with the new rules, he’s closer to 18-1 just because of that last chance opportunity. I think you’ll see several drivers show a renewed enthusiasm towards the end of the year because of the new system. If there was one thing I think they should change in the future it’s adding a more diverse track schedule for the final 10 races. Maybe it should include a road course and another short track race."
Las Vegas test update
Most of the top Nextel Cup and Busch Series drivers will be testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week. The sessions are free to the public and should be a nice appetizer for fans before the season starts.
Vegas works out nice for many of the teams because the track is similar to many others on the circuit. For wagering purposes, keep an eye on the times. Chances are if they are fast this week, they’ll be fast on the first weekend in March.
Latest from Daytona
Daytona tests concluded two weeks ago and for bettors, the times are very telling as to what they’ll see Feb. 15th for the 500. The last few years have seen these test sessions become a prelude for who to bet in the race. Ricky Rudd topped the charts in his Wood Brothers Ford powered by a Yates engine. Coincidentally, the two Yates Fords driven by Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett were fast as well.
The DEI trio was the best group overall. Michael Waltrip consistently topped the charts followed John Andretti and then Dale Earnhardt Jr,. Andretti will be driving only at Daytona this year for the disbanded DEI team, but he is a quality longshot. He won his first Cup race ever at Daytona and DEI has produced the fastest restrictor plate cars for the last three seasons. Odds have been seen as high as 125-1 around town.
Gaughan showing well
Brendan Gaughan, Las Vegas’ newest Cup driver, turned some heads with great times testing at Daytona. Gaughan doesn’t have any restrictor plate experience, but the testing with drafting sessions gave him some on the job training.
Look for a good performance out of Gaughan at Daytona, and even better on cookie cutter tracks like Vegas. He’s currently 18-1 at Station Casinos books to win the UAW-GM Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.