CHARLOTTE, N.C. The creation of a 10-race ''Chase for the Championship'' has created a division on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series circuit. On one side are the fans, drivers and car owners. On the other are television and the racetracks.
NASCAR announced Tuesday it would promote the top 10 drivers and anyone within 400 points of the lead after 26 races to a 10-race shootout to decide the championship. An overwhelming majority of drivers were against any changes.
''The thing that is important to me is that, at the end of the day, if and when I win a championship, how is that going to be compared to championships my father won?'' Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ''Is it the same? Is it better? Is it not as good?''
Television thinks it's better. By essentially starting the season over as Major League Baseball moves closer to its playoffs and the World Series and the National Football League kicks off its regular season, NBC hopes to lure casual sports fans to NASCAR.
''It's bold, and it's imaginative, and I think it makes a lot of sense,'' NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said.
Ed Clark, the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, said he supported the new plan because it would erase the practice of leaders racing for points at the end of the year instead of victories. His boss, O. Bruton Smith, who owns Atlanta and four other tracks on the Nextel schedule, agreed, saying he also was tired of hearing drivers talk about points, not victories.
At the same time, race teams argue the plan will cheapen the integrity of the championship, especially since the standings will be rewritten after 26 races with only five points basically one finishing position separating each of the shootout qualifiers.
''We're not crowning a season's champion any more,'' said team owner Ray Evernham. ''Now we're crowning a 10-race champion.''
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