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Drivers will have to win it to be in it

Your gearhead nightmare of the day: your favorite driver is, say, Dale Jarrett, and as the season turns to the stretch run, he is 12th in the points standings.

Jarrett would have no chance of winning the points title, under either the new scoring format or the old. But now you are watching the races, to check out your favorite driver, and you don't see him.

Ever.

NBC, though, is sounding the alarm clock right there.

While the decision this week to change the NASCAR championship format has proven to be unpopular with many, NBC remains committed to the same inclusive coverage it touts as its calling card.

NASCAR is a territorial sport. Fans have their favorite, and want to see little else. Blind devotion to one driver or one team is much of the reason for the sport's passionate following.

The racing teams aren't much different, worrying about coverage of their nonplayoff drivers as well.

"A lot of teams are complaining (they're) not going to be mentioned because we're not in the top 10 in the points," NBC analyst Benny Parsons said. "That's absurd. We always cover the race. You want to get talked about, then just win."

Parsons is right _ the race is the thing. That's how NBC sees it, and despite fears that it will exhibit tunnel vision once the top 10 drivers are defined, it's going to be: the top drivers in the race will get the majority of the coverage, followed by the top 10 in the points standings.

That's as it should be. Jeff Gordon runs 38th in a race, better wait for NBC's excellent "Through the Field" segments to catch a glimpse of the No. 24 car. Viewers still will get their doses of "Where's Junior" updates if he's not in the mix, but those moments should be more infrequent.

Same goes for Fox, though on a smaller scale. It too will perform the same juggling act, worrying about covering those drivers with a chance to get in that top 10 as the deadline nears.

Face it, the race among the top 10 in the points standings will be the underlying issue in every NASCAR broadcast this season. Viewers will be informed where they are in the race, and afterward what the implications were of their finish.

An example: Jarrett wins the Checker Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix, the third-to-last race of the year. But Ryan Newman finishes sixth, and as a result skips from No. 3 in the overall points standings to No. 1. Does NBC give that story line some love, at the expense of Jarrett, or where Junior finished, or where Gordon came in?

Probably.

It will be interesting to see how NBC handles the final races. It will be expected to peel away the layers of drama, as well as bring the race to viewers. The key to whether you enjoy broadcasts this year is this: does that take away from them or add to them?

"I think it's going to be something to see how it shakes down," Parsons said. "The attraction is still the racing, but the plot is the championship."

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