Posted: Wednesday November 3, 2010 10:45PM ; Updated: Wednesday November 3, 2010 11:54PM
Tom Bowles

NASCAR's upcoming election, the lure of plate races; more mailbag (cont.)

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Clint Bowyer (above), who has more wins than anyone in the Chase, would be fifth in points if not for his 150-point penalty.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

Here is the obvious problem with the Chase in my eyes: Other than the actual champion and maybe the runner up (48 and 11), I would think the other 10 drivers in the chase would have rather had Jamie McMurray's season than their own. The sanctioning body just doesn't seem to favor winning that race on each given Sunday.
- Steve K, Columbus, Ohio

Add Clint Bowyer to that list, Steve. He's now won more races than anyone in the seven-race Chase playoff despite being scored dead last in the standings. Ask him if he'd take the 150 points lost at Loudon for an illegal car -- a gift that would leave the driver fifth in points -- at the cost of losing both wins off his resume and he'd take the trips to Victory Lane in a heartbeat. NASCAR drivers at heart want to run each race to win, not to finish fifth a whole bunch of times so they can collect a cool trophy at the end of the season and call themselves champion.

The popularity of McMurray's season combined with Bowyer's Chase win-total-turned-points-bust should be the clearest signs yet what fans want in a new, more aggressive points system. Once again, this November three-race sprint to the finish will tell the tale as to how far executives will go to revise the format.

How many teams really can win? It narrows real fast when you look at the money and resources.
--Charles Percival, Phoenix

So far, only a dozen drivers have visited Victory Lane through 33 races, with the championship trio heavily favored to sweep the final three. That matches 2008's total and serves as the lowest total since 11 drivers cashed in during a 34-race season in 1999. Among the 0-fers still looking for their first trip to Victory Lane in 2010: Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Edwards, and Earnhardt Jr.

How much does a dwindling list of winners have to do with NASCAR's dwindling support? Hard to tell, but during the glory years of the early 2000s, when the sport was growing at a rapid pace they averaged 18 winners over a three-year period from 2001-03, an average of one every other event. That unpredictability kept fans glued to the television with hope their favorite driver could come through.

Since the Chase, those numbers have seen a steady decline, although the change has to do more with a lack of competitive owners than a playoff format pushing consistency. Still, I feel like that's food for thought for a sport that's watching NFL ratings continue to skyrocket based on parity all across the board -- not within the top 10, 15 teams among a 43-car field that's got a huge gap between the upper and lower classes.

Where you asleep during the Martinsville Race? Or maybe I was asleep! Junior led 90 laps.
-- Harold, Conover, N.C.

Harold's responding to my criticism of Earnhardt Jr. the last few weeks. Sure, Junior looked great at Martinsville, then at Talladega too in leading the most laps in an event for the first time in nearly two years. But where did he finish in both races? The answer is not inside the top-5 for either track, continuing a disturbing trend where his only runs of fifth or better for the last TWO YEARS could be counted on one hand: Loudon (fourth this September), Michigan (August 2009). That's it.

Look, you can lead all the laps you want but if you're not in contention to win on the last one, all they equate to are numbers on paper. And that ugly top-5 stat, along with a zero in the win column just isn't enough for multi-million dollar sponsors like AMP and National Guard to be satisfied with their standing three years into a five-season deal. If you're Hendrick, you have to make a change to show them you're working to improve the product, and keeping crew chief Lance McGrew would send a message you believe the status quo is acceptable.

It's not.

Oh please! Jr. made a mistake and admitted it. Talladega has nothing to do with McGrew getting fired, if that even happens!
-- @NASCARCars

Yes, it does NASCARCars. If Junior somehow won that race (in his hometown track) it provides a boost of mental momentum that could translate into better runs the last three events. It also gets a whole lot harder to fire a crew chief a month after ending a two-year victory drought, making Sunday the equivalent of McGrew's last stand even though he had little to no control over the outcome.

It didn't work out.

Want to "fix" NASCAR? I got it! NASCAR has gotten boring because there's way too many intermediates on the circuit! If there not going to shorten the season, why not add more short and plate tracks!? Despite my interest in NASCAR being at an all-time low, I'll be glued to the screen during Daytona, 'Dega, & Bristol! If I were an intermediate track owner & had the capital, I'd reconfigure my track to be a plate track! California would be the perfect track to start with!
-- Wayne, Savannah, Ga.

There was a lot of talk about turning Fontana into a restrictor plate track, but that's died down some and seems a near impossibility now that it's cut down to only one date. You make a good point that the best ratings come from the parity-filled events that both types create, unlike the 1.5-mile intermediates that just haven't found their rhythm with the current bunch of NASCAR cars.

Here's the problem, though: It costs far less to change the cars yet another time -- especially with just a handful of current Cup car owners to worry about -- then entice new ownership in the sport instead of fixing a whole bunch of cookie cutter ovals to make them short tracks. These places are having trouble breaking even with poor attendance and lowering ticket prices as it is; they don't have $20 million they can pull out of their coffers on a dime to make renovations, especially in this economy. I'm not saying I agree with it, but we're stuck with places like Kansas, Michigan, and others for the foreseeable future, meaning the best hope lies in a new 2013 car design that stops the troubling trends and entices side-by-side racing wherever we go.

And finally, our "out of left field" email of the week...

Can you find out if BRETT FAVRE was at the Talladega race today Oct. 31st, 2010. He was seen there and I need proof please send me the answer. Also, is it possible that he could have flown by jet to be in the Vikings-Patriots game because I watched him when he got hurt?
- Cami Spendlove, Alexandria, AL

Umm... I hate to burst your bubble, Cami, but for Favre to make an under-the-radar, unannounced guest appearance at the race, 1,000 miles away from his game at Minnesota are one-in-a-million. Add in the flight time to and from, when Favre had to be at the Vikings facility and chances are who you saw was just someone in a Halloween costume.

Tweet of the Week

"Well they say you can't complain about it if u don't vote, so I'm headed to the polls now."
--@Regan_Smith_, with a good message for everyone on Election Day

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