I was having a debate with some race fans before Sunday's race at Atlanta about proposed changes to the Chase and one common denominator kept resurfacing.
Ever since the advent of the Chase format, there has been something missing from every race weekend - that's the idea that each race was a special event in and of itself. Yes, race fans care about who wins the championship and certainly that's a focus in other sports as well. But in NASCAR more than other sports, each race weekend always seemed to be looked on as a special event in itself.
Today, races like Richmond next week are branded as "the 26-race cut-off" and New Hampshire, the weekend after, as "the first Chase race" as if those titles in and of themselves should more greatly entice fans to attend in person. Long before race No. 26 was "the cutoff to make the Chase" fans still filled in the grandstands at Richmond to see who won that weekend.
You've heard the sayings: "I would never miss Talladega." "I love restrictor-plate racing at Daytona." They are numerous and repetitive and they have nothing to do with what system is used to determine the champion or whether there is a champion at all. I know one family who just loves the "experience" of a race weekend and uses it as family vacation each year. What they take out of their weekend together doesn't change based on who wins that race or that season's title.
This is the challenge tracks face today. You can sit at home with your computers and gadgets and FanViews and listen to radio communications and see 12 different angles of the race and all 43 pit stops. You can even DVR the race and skip the commercials. Everything is at your fingertips to enjoy NASCAR in the comfort of your own home. Except one thing - the experience of being there in person.
There is still value in that. And that value is what each track promoter must try to collect and advertise and improve upon each event. As someone who has attended too many races to count since 1998, I can emphatically tell you watching a race on TV is NOTHING like watching one in person.
You may not have as good a view of all the action. I may not know what the points are "as they run now" (like that ever matters). But being in the thick of the experience is still the foundation on which millions of NASCAR fans were created.
There was - believe it or not - people going to races long before they were on TV. And for good reason. It's past time NASCAR and all its partners focused on why that was.