10 Tough NASCAR Questions: Part 3

Part 3 in a five-part series addressing issues facing NASCAR in 2012

Part 3 in a five-part series addressing issues facing NASCAR in 2012

Was the nail-biting finish to the 2011 Chase a result of the new points system, a one-year anomaly … or a sign of things to come?

At some point, NASCAR’s tinkering, toying and manipulation of the point system had to produce the desired effect, right?

Thus, the culmination of eight years worth of “creative engineering” — point resets, format changes, wild cards, point allocation changes — gave NASCAR CEO Brian France his Austerlitz: a title fight that not only came down to the last race and last lap, but that ended in a tie, forcing a “most race wins” tiebreaker, validating his claims that wins, indeed, are more important than ever.

While some of these claims can be argued, the point is that NASCAR, after years of striving for France’s “Game 7 Moment,” finally got what it wanted. And the reality is, we may never see a better finish to a season. After all, how could it get any closer?

The short answer here is it’s probably all three. The point system undoubtedly tightened things up; it took Chase winner Tony Stewart to win half of the playoff races to stay anywhere close to runner-up Carl Edwards; and yes, this incarnation of NASCAR’s Chase lends itself to providing tight title tussles, which we should expect going forward.

The only fear many now have is that since NASCAR got its all-important “last-lap championship duel,” more changes will follow in years to come that ensure we’ve not seen the absolute best its Chase can provide.

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<p> As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</p>

Kurt Busch vs. Roger Penske: What is Kurt’s future in the sport?

Racing’s old dog learned a new trick last offseason on the national power of YouTube. Kurt Busch’s verbal deconstruction of Jerry Punch, a two-minute temper tantrum captured on a camera phone, had well over 600,000 views by the time sponsor Shell Pennzoil forced its business partner, Roger Penske, to pull the trigger on some amateur negative branding. So yes, in that sense it was the only choice for a man in his 70s whose inability to stop this monster showcased his age and waning power. Honestly? It’s shameful for Penske that it took a fan sneaking around with a smart phone to force a firing of a driver whose vicious attitude and verbal assaults were all too well known to those in the garage.

At this point for Penske, it’s worth the short-term fallback in performance the No. 22 team may experience — and at least AJ Allmendinger will actually want to come to work every Sunday. As for Kurt, he claimed in an awkward YouTube video of his own that a sports psychologist combined with a fresh start will “make racing fun again.”

That’s hard to believe, but history isn’t: There’s never been a former champion who’s won at least one race every year for a decade straight sitting on the sidelines without a top-tier ride at Daytona. But talent trumps all, and Busch will man the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevy this season for James Finch, who has vowed not to put up with the petulant antics Busch has displayed in the past. Not that it matters, really. Busch’s deal is for one-year, and by the time that year is up, it’s our prediction that he and Finch will have had about enough of each other.

Visit AthlonSports.com each day throughout the month of February for exclusive preseason coverage of the 2012 NASCAR season. 


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