NASCAR HAD ITS equivalent of the Final Four on Sunday — the event leading into "the event."

Only in this case, nobody watched. I mean, nobody.

That's not to say nobody cared. It's just that nobody watched.

OK, somebody watched. According to the raters, 50,849 of the approximately 7.2 million people in the Bay Area — fewer than 1 in every 100 — were tuned into Channel 11 Sunday afternoon as Jimmie Johnson zoomed closer to the Nextel Cup championship.

There's something wrong with that.

Actually, there are many things wrong. And here's how I'd go about correcting those errors in time for this week's finale of the NASCAR championship series:

- Schedule the finale in primetime. Sunday's Ford 400 in Miami is scheduled to go green just after noon — at which point the Raiders faithful will be engulfed in a winnable game at Minnesota, and Niners fans will be settling in for a duel with the rival Rams. To have a chance in this market, the race must start at 5 p.m.

- Move Sunday night's Patriots-Bills game to Saturday night. This would have two benefits: 1) It would open the primetime slot on NBC's Sunday schedule; and 2) It would provide a heckuva lot better lead-in than a Notre Dame football game.

- Change the name of the race. I'm sorry, but "Ford 400" just doesn't say "Super Bowl" to me. For crying out loud, there already was a UAW-Ford 500 race six weeks ago. Want a big reason why 7.15 million people here weren't watching this past weekend's penultimate race? It took longer to say "Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil" than for the No. 48 to take the lead.

- Give Johnson's competition a chance. It sounds as if the Chase leader will have to blow a tire on the way to the track to lose his 86-point lead over Jeff Gordon. NASCAR tweaked its scoring system this year, and it needs to do it again. Only bigger. Each race should be more about winning and less about not wanting to pass your teammate for fear of sending him spinning.

Bowling on the big screen

In case you're wondering ... yes, presuming you have ESPN, you will be able to see Cal's less-than-glamorous bowl game next month. Yep, even if just 15,000 people make the trek across the bridge to witness the seventh-place ACC team in the rain three days after Christmas.

ESPN has that game — the Emerald Bowl — and two of the other three most likely destinations for the bumbling Bears: the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22 and the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31.

At this point, the best the Bears can aspire to be is a Sun Bowler on Dec. 31. CBS gets that one.

Worst thing I heard all week

"It's over." That's what Jeff Gordon had to say about the Nextel Cup competition on the eve of the "Junk Car Jamboree" (aka Ford 400). Gotta say: I'm even less excited about watching now that I know it's a boat race.

Three you gotta see

- Spurs at Mavericks (Thursday, 5 p.m., TNT): Very little matters in the NBA regular season, but the battle for early supremacy in the West is an exception to that rule.

- College football: Oregon at Arizona (Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN): Let's see how the Ducks respond to being No. 2.

- Auto racing: Ford 400 (Sunday, noon, NBC): These guys need all the publicity they can get.

Scanning the airwaves

Got the Big Ten Network on your cable system? That's your ticket to the Stanford-Northwestern game Thursday night (6 p.m.) ... With FSN juggling the Warriors (vs. Pistons) and Sharks (vs. Stars), and with the Conference USA Network still in the dream stages, Cal's opener Wednesday against Southern Mississippi is a radio-only (KYCY-1550 AM) affair.

Dave Del Grande accepts media-related comments via e-mail at dave@bayareanewsgroup.com.