Over the past few years, NASCAR has entered into an era they’ve never really ever had to deal with before: stagnation. Since it’s inception sixty years ago, it has grown, sometimes with leaps and bounds, and sometimes will small baby steps… but it had never faltered. However, they are dealing with lower ratings and ticket sales, mostly due to unexciting racing and drivers who lack the personality of their predecessors.
Today, all the NASCAR drivers and owners will be in a mandatory meeting with the NASCAR officials to discuss what they can do to make the sport better. They want to know about what would make the races more exciting for the fans so that they’ll buy more tickets and keep the channel tuned to the race, but more importantly, make a new generation of fans. I thought I would run down a list of the issues in the sport today and give my perspective from twenty years of being a fan of the sport.
One of the more recent things NASCAR has been looking at is the double-file restarts. When the races begin, the cars that qualified in an odd number position are on the inside and the even numbers are on the outside. The best cars slice and dice until they get settled. However, any cautions during the race go back to green with the leaders on the outside and the lapped cars on the inside. This means that later in races when there are many lapped cars, the ones behind the leader actually have twice as many cars ahead of them. Once they get settled, a car that started in fifth could be tenth in line. In order to contend for the lead the car must fight not only cars for position, but those lapped cars who are fighting to stay ahead of the other lapped cars and hopefully pass the leader. By the time he deals with the lapped cars, the leader is off and has a huge lead.
Switching to double-file restarts for the leaders would remove the problem with the lapped cars. All the leaders would be bunched up together and would be comparable in strength. Instead of dealing with only one lapped car to the inside, the leader would have a pack of hungry wolves nipping at his heels. Imagine how exciting that would be after four-tire pit stops? I could also see it help the racing at tracks where it is hard to pass since drivers wouldn’t have to waste their stuff on lapped cars. The lapped cars would still race amongst themselves for the free pass.
NASCAR does one day of qualifying now, and if you don’t make the race, that’s it. There is no other chance. Before the change to one day qualifying, there used to be a second round of qualifying the next day. Cars who wrecked or who thought they could better their time could try again. The catch was that the best you could be positioned was 26th place. The advantage of a scheduled second day of qualifying was that if the first day was rained out, everyone went on day two and the field was set. Only if the second session was rained out would the field be set by owners points. Since there is only one scheduled qualifying session now, if it gets rained out, the field is set by the owners points with no second shot at it. This would fine, except that now races aren’t the top 40 drivers on speed and three or four drivers with provisionals. The top 35 in owners points are guaranteed a starting spot with the rest of the field required to make it on time. This goes against the thought that the best teams make the race and those that didn’t cut it go home. If the session is rained out now, the entire field is set by points and those who are outside of the top 43 starters go home even if they had the fastest car (as did happen to Boris Said at the Pepsi 400 in 2007).
I would love to see NASCAR go back to the days when the fastest cars made the race, regardless of where they were in the points. If they want to give the top teams some kind of cushion, then make it the top 38-40 spots on speed and the rest based on points, starting from the top and go down until you’ve filled the 43rd spot.
Another possible change would be to switch up where the go-or-go-homers qualify. Currently, they all qualify in a big bunch right at the end of the session so that track conditions are very similar. However, as we saw in ’07, if the session is rained out most of them would be screwed and have no shot at all to make the race. I think a simple change would be to make them qualify at the beginning of the session. If the session is later rained out, set the field by the top 35, but set the rest of the field by the qualifying of the go-or-go-homers.
The first suggestion would be the most fair, and the best in the spirit of racing. The second suggestion is more likely to happen given the current state of NASCAR wanting to protect it’s top teams and their sponsors. Either change would make the system more fair and put the best cars in the race.
This is less a concept that would make the racing better, and more of a preventative measure. The last thing NASCAR needs is dozens of fans killed when a car or parts of a car leaves the racing surface and goes into the stands. The Carl Edwards incident a month ago was a warning of what could happen if the worst situations happen at just the worst moments. With the example incident, Carl Edwards was turned by Brad Keselowski because of the yellow-line rule (which I’ll be talking about) and when the car was sideways, it started to go airborne. Usually at this point the roof flaps will deploy, sending the car back to the ground, but in this case, the car was hit by Ryan Newman’s car at full speed, sending it flying into the catch fence. The only thing keeping the car from going into the stands was the steel-cable reinforced chain link fence. I think NASCAR needs to mandate that all tracks, if they want to remain NASCAR sanctioned, need to have a minimum fence height and SAFER barrier walls on all walls where cars could possibly go, both inside and outside.
I say this is a preventative measure because if fans were to get killed at a race, NASCAR would be a huge target for the mainstream media and not in a good way. Ticket sales would suffer and though it might give a small short term bump in the ratings (lookey-loos) it would probably take some time to build up the image of the sport again.
Come back tomorrow for part two of the series!
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