The best all-around driver in NASCAR this season? Greg Biffle (L). He's on the pole for Saturday night's Charlotte 500, and Mark Martin (R) is on the outside. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
The championship, the championship....everything seems to revolve around the championship right now.
Points and hoopla.
Racing of course should be about winning races. But each fall, well, things seem to get skewed.
At the moment some fans and writers are reassessing the current points system...
Now there are some who might think, logically, that the NASCAR champion should be the man and team that does the best job over the entire season.
What better way to judge that, by the numbers, than by 'best average finish.'
It's plain and simple and just -- a man who finishes first, gets one point; second place, two points; and so on.
You get what you earn, no more, no less.
No smoke and mirrors.
You get what you earn.
And here, 30 races into the 36-race season, that gives us an interesting point of view:
The man with the best overall performance so far this season is.....Greg Biffle.
Yet under this chase playoff format he appears well out of the title hunt.
The man with the best overall performance so far this season. Toast.
Best Average Finish
(over all 30 races)
Greg Biffle 10.133
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10.333
Brad Keselowski 10.5
Jimmie Johnson 10.667
Matt Kenseth 11.200
Martin Truex Jr. 11.300
Clint Bowyer 11.533
Kevin Harvick 11.933
Denny Hamlin 12.233
Tony Stewart 13.467
Kasey Kahne 13.600
Jeff Gordon 14.300
To make it simpler to visualize perhaps, multiple by the 30 races run:
Greg Biffle 304 points
Dale Earnhardt Jr 310
Brad Keselowski 315
Jimmie Johnson 320
Matt Kenseth 336
Martin Truex Jr. 339
Clint Bowyer 346
Kevin Harvick 358
Denny Hamlin 367
Tony Stewart 404
Kasey Kahne 408
Jeff Gordon 429
For what it's worth....
Jeff Gordon: not the most consistent finishing average this season....but he's still got a shot at the title (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Meanwhile NBC's Brian Williams, who has covered a number of NASCAR races himself, put it all into national perspective on the Nightly News Monday evening:
He introduced the Talladega video clip of the devastating 25-car last-lap crash with that "bloodthirsty" quote from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and pointing out that Dale Earnhardt Sr. himself was killed at one of stock car racing's two restrictor plate tracks.
Now how will NASCAR executives respond?
So far there has been no particular response, either from the sanctioning body or drivers.
However NASCAR officials are pointing to their "aggressive testing" of the 2013 cars, which drivers said, after last week's Talladega test, do "drive differently."
At this point it should be noted that last season's two-car drafts -- which NASCAR has essentially outlawed -- were a much safer form of racing at the sport's two flat-out tracks.
Of course it should be pointed out that Dale Jr. didn't like last season's two-car drafts, saying he wanted to be more in charge of his own destiny, rather than have to rely on a 'partner' out on the track.
Wonder how much control he had over his destiny Sunday afternoon....
Tough track, tough men (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Junior wanted the rules changed last year...and now he wants the rules changed again.
The real problem here, of course, is nothing new -- Daytona and Talladega are 1960s race tracks, dinosaurs in this super-aero age of racing.
Too much banking, and both are now amazingly smooth, so drivers run flat-out all the way around.
In big, big packs.
Throw in those 'shootout' restarts, and it's a recipe for carnage.
So what to do?
Maybe some speed bumps down in turn one, to bring some handling back in the game?
The two-car drafting was intriguing, with drivers pairing up and using an amazing closing rate to launch passes from half a lap back. The key was the Daytona repave, which took that bumpy track and made it stunningly smooth.
However television couldn't quite figure out how to use cameras effectively in covering that unexpected form of racing. And NASCAR executives decided they didn't like it a bit, and officials began tweaking engine cooling rules to force drivers to stop two-car drafting.
NASCAR's tweaks didn't set well with drivers, who last fall at Talladega complained they were spending more time watching their temperature gauges than trying to race the competition.
This season opened at Daytona with a huge pack-crash in the Saturday Nationwide race...and when the 500 itself finally got going, Jimmie Johnson was knocked out in a first-lap crash, and then in the final moments another big crash....
At Talladega in May a big crash in the final miles of the 500...just after Eric McClure's violent Nationwide crash the day before.
At Daytona in July 15 drivers crashed on the last lap....
It is really amazing that drivers haven't been very seriously injured in any of these melees.
The other half of Sunday's Talladega dilemma was in the grandstands. Or rather who wasn't in the grandstands.
The race day crowd, once 190,000 at the sport's biggest track, not so long ago, was officially listed at 88,000 this past Sunday. That's even down considerably from this spring's relatively small 108,000.
Jeff Gordon, who may have provided the best story of the day by slipping back into championship contention, said he couldn't understand why the stands weren't packed, as violent and thrilling as the racing is.
And that should be a major issue for the people running this sport, the continuing loss of fans and viewers.
Meanwhile, on the Angela Cope front....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)