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NASCAR wants 'Game 7' moments

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Nov. 19, 2010

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Despite the closest Sprint Cup Series championship battle since the Chase for the Cup format was created in 2004, NASCAR Chairman Brian France seems inclined to make changes.

Going into Sunday’s season finale Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Denny Hamlin holds a 15-point lead over Jimmie Johnson. Kevin Harvick trails Hamlin by 46 points.

“What’s really clear to me, is when you put drivers in a position where there’s a lot on the line, and they just can’t have a good position, and they actually have got to go out and win or lead laps or compete high, they do it,” France said.

“So, that tells us that the more we can do, to have incentives – an incentive‑basis and decide this championship, that puts it all on the line more often, that’s what we need to be thinking about.”

France has said repeatedly this season he wants more “Game 7” moments in the Cup series that rival dramatic down-to-the-wire moments in other sports.

“They have incredible big moments where the best teams have to elevate their performance. And that’s what excites us as fans,” France said.

“That’s what excites our fan base, and it excites casual sports fans who are going to look to this sport one day to enjoy as much as we do. If there’s a plan for us to accomplish that, we will consider it over the winter.”

France also addressed the issue of the Cup series’ slumping TV ratings, which have taken a big spiral downward particularly since the start of the Chase despite the close championship battle.

France suggested the move of most Chase races from ABC to ESPN this season may have contributed to the decline as well as the change in start times. NASCAR made the change of start times, however, because it said it was responding to what fans wanted.

“We are starting this race two hours earlier than we did last year. That’s a lot,” he said. “And homes in use obviously goes up later on in the afternoon and on into the evening.”

Ratings in the Chase have been down double digits in eight of the nine Chase races so far. The only race that had a smaller decline was the October race at Charlotte, which was run on ABC (same as last year) and at night.

Shortening races is also an option NASCAR will consider in its Cup and Nationwide series.

“We are looking at shortening races as we go along. We shortened California this time around (and) we think that made for a very good event,” France said.

“So on the margins we’ll look at when that makes sense to shorten certain races that we think will get a better competitive product on the track.”

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