Long: Don’t get carried away with reward for NASCAR regular-season champ

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Have we gotten to a point in this participation-ribbon society that we have to make those who excel feel special?

Where’s the limit?

Now the talk — instead of being on the Chase — is about what should be done for the points leader at the end of NASCAR’s regular season.

Since NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials are looking at if to reward the regular-season champion, various ideas have been suggested.

It’s a nice thought to reward the best team after the first 26 races, but let’s not get carried away.

The points leader should not get a bye through the first round.

The points leader should not get the first pit stall in the opening round or throughout the Chase.

The points leader should not get a $1 million bonus.

What the points leader should get is a trophy and that’s it. Call it the Bill France Jr. Trophy or the Dale Earnhardt Trophy.

Don’t those in the sport say it’s all about the trophy? Then give them a trophy

Awarding the points leader with something as significant as a first-round bye is dangerous for the sport. It lessens a team’s incentive to take risks and go for the win. Instead, teams would be more likely to choose the safe route, eschewing a win for a top-five finish because of the value of a first-round bye.

That would herald the return of points racing — that awful phrase NASCAR Chairman Brian France sought to eliminate nearly a decade ago.

“Let me say one thing,’’ France said in 2007 in announcing additional bonus points for victories, “I don’t like, and no one likes, when a driver gets out of their car and says, ‘I’m happy to have had an eighth-place finish.’ No one in NASCAR thinks that’s a neat thing to hear.”

In 2011 when NASCAR changed its points system, France said: “You’ll see a steady march to making and featuring winning as more and more important part of this sport. It’s always important. Don’t misunderstand me, but we’re going to – with our policies and approach – we’re going to try to feature that.’’

When NASCAR announced the elimination format for the Chase in 2014, France said that “it’s going to make winning the most important thing by a wide margin.’’

So why would NASCAR go back on all that it has done? Why should, as Sprint Cup Drivers Council members Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick suggested Tuesday, there be a reward such as a first-round bye or cash for the most consistency during the first 26 races?

What NASCAR should do is reward the driver who has won the most races. Give that driver a first-round bye to put more emphasis on risk taking in the first 26 races. If there is a tie, don’t let points be the tiebreaker. Go with the most runner-up finishes, third-place finishes, etc. That way it rewards running at the front and trying to be in the lead.

For a sport that wants to focus on winning, don’t reward the fifth-place finisher.

Reward the winner.