The Frontstretch: Change is Both Necessary and Evil in Today's NASCAR by Amy Henderson -- Thursday February 21, 2008

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Change is Both Necessary and Evil in Today's NASCAR

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday February 21, 2008


The winds of change have blown strong in NASCAR lately, and, judging by the uneasy grumblings, race fans don't take kindly to change. The character of the sport has changed dramatically over the last decade, and many people are unhappy with the speed, or the degree of the alterations. And, in some areas, NASCAR went too far.

But some change is necessary for the health of the sport.

Changes like the now-current racecar were needed. While the car doesn't go as far as perhaps it could have, it does make the drivers…well, drive. It's harder to pass with, which many people seem to think is boring, but, well, have you seen races from the early days? The cars were so strung out, it was not unheard of to have a lone car on the lead lap. The racing is closer now, with the margins of victory with the current car so far much smaller than it's predecessor. It's a good car. It's safer. It's not perfect, but it was a change that was coming. The nay-sayers will say there is little brand identity, but in reality, the cars look more like a street car than the distorted, off-center cars that were retired after the 2007 season. Times change, cars change, and NASCAR had to keep up with that, as well as do what they could to emphasize the drivers instead of the setups in their cars. It was time.

NASCAR has come under fire for many of the recent changes instituted, but according to Amy Henderson, going full time with the CoT body style was a welcomed change.

Although it was a small change, perhaps the most welcome change that came over the offseason was a no-brainer, really. NASCAR was long overdue in making the move to donate money generated from infraction-related fines to charity. Previously, fine money went into the point fund-and indirectly back to the teams that got fined in the first place. Call me crazy, but what incentive was THAT to follow the rules? Now, the money goes to charity. While that probably won't deter much "creative engineering," it will make a difference to children, families, and animals through the NASCAR Foundation and their affiliated charities. I applaud NASCAR for taking this step.

Certainly not all of NASCAR's recent changes were so positive. The Top 35 rule, meant to prevent short fields and overused provisional starting spots, has backfired. Now, instead of the same half dozen guys taking a provisional every week, you have the same 35 guys taking a provisional every week. It has made qualifying, if it can even still be called qualifying with all but a handful of cars already in the field, a grotesquely distorted sham of what it is supposed to be. The best system? That was two changes ago. The old two-round system, with a handful of provisionals for those that truly needed them, was by far the best way to determine the starting grid.

While markets and demographics do change, the schedule "tweaks" over the years have been more negative than positive. While southern California is a market that should have live racing…that population has done nothing to show that they deserve two races a season. If you put all the people at both races together, they might fill the track for one race. Provided that it's not all the same people at both races. If that's the case, it's even worse. California deserves one race; Two is questionable. The accompanying move of the Labor Day weekend race from the home it occupied for five decades to the apathetic California masses was possibly the worst decision NASCAR has made in 60 years of competition. And it would be so easy to fix…if only someone would man up and admit it was a colossal mistake.

Change is inevitable in any sport, and NASCAR has been right to move ahead with the times. This isn't 1982 anymore. But this isn't the NFL either, and no matter how much NASCAR would love to cash in on that comparison and attract the fan base the NFL has managed over the last 30 years, the way to do that is to choose changes carefully-keep up with the Joneses but don't try to fix what was never broken. Balancing tradition-real tradition, not some contrived notion that advertisers try to sell-with progress was what made NASCAR grow and flourish for its first 50 years. Best not to change that formula.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Kevin in SoCal
02/22/2008 03:22 AM

Make Kentucky the 2nd race, move Darlington back to Labor Day, and make CA a night race before Mother’s Day. Everyone is happy that way.

02/22/2008 06:48 AM

The new car is fine, but everyone doesn’t pull just for the driver,they also support the MANUFACTURER AS WELL. Nascar was founded on competition between manfacturers and it is missing now. I don’t think Nascar should tell one manufacturer he can have new heads or intake manifold if the others can’t do the same, after all we still have a MANUFACTURERS CHAMPIONSHIP which GM loves to brag on.

Mark R
02/22/2008 08:06 AM

You said something interesting….“if only someone would man up and admit it was a colossal mistake.” There in lies the problem… first we need someone in that position to be man enough to man up. Brian France’s biggest problem is just that. He simple is not man enough to admit he made a mistake. I think he truly believed that all he lays hand to shall turn to gold….well in a way it does….(their gold) If he would just pull his head from his butt, look around and listen, I think he would figure out what needs to be done, un-done, and fixed. I think that will happen when the gold supply begins to wane…and the way its going, let’s hope that won’t be long from now.

Kurt Smith
02/22/2008 08:20 AM

I could deal with all of the other changes were it not for the Chase. I think the Chase is the most ludicrous playoff system in sports and it has no peer in racing, despite what its supporters say about the Hooters Pro Cup.

To just give drivers points to make it more interesting is all gimmick and against the very idea of competition.

The car would be better if they just did away with the air dam so that it’s no longer a snow plow.

Brian France Sucks
02/22/2008 09:58 AM

What’s Gillian Zucker’s excuse gonna be this year? Everybody in line for Paris Hilton’s autograph? California barely deserves 1 race, and definitely not 2. Problem is that the France morons at I$C own Fontana, so we’re stuck with 2 boring races/ year. Also, Amy, you’re going out on a limb saying that the CoT provides closer racing. For 1, there are less passes for the lead than in recent years, and 2 NA$CAR throws cautions for invisible debris to tighten up the race w/ 15 to go now, so the finishes are going to be closer, but not because of the CoT. Brian from SoCal had the right fix for the schedule. Give someone else the fall date (like Darlington/Southern 500). Another boring race at California w/ contrived appearances by lame-o stars this week. BORING

Kevin in SoCal
02/22/2008 01:06 PM

I’m Kevin from SoCal, not Brian. Any why doesnt CA deserve a race? Its the same track as Michigan and no one complains about that one. I dont want to have to drive 5 hours to Las Vegas, 6 hours to Phoenix, or 8 hours to Infineon to watch. Nobody had a problem with CA until they got the Labor Day date. That’s what this issue is about.
And to Kurt who hates the Chase, I guess you loved it in 2003 when Matt Kenseth ran away with the title, which created the Chase? And you also loved Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards running away with the Busch titles? I didnt. I love the closer points and the thrill of anyone being able to win the title. But I would rather see it as 5 drivers and 5 races. That would be even closer.

02/22/2008 02:42 PM

“The nay-sayers will say there is little brand identity, but in reality, the cars look more like a street car than the distorted, off-center cars that were retired after the 2007 season.”

Amy, My wife and I own a stock, street legal 2006 Chevrolet Impala. It is a four door, front wheel drive, V6 powered sedan. The “Tank of Tomorrow” Jimmie, Jeff, and Junior drive looks NOTHING like the Impala my wife drives every day. The same for the “Dodge Avenger”, “Ford Fusion”, and “Toyota Camry”. The only thing the CORN (Car Of Right Now) looks like is a generic “ricer” Honda the teenagers and twenty-somethings roar around in on the streets of subdivision that we live in.

Now, I’ve followed NASCAR long enough to know that stock cars have been moving away from “stock” drivetrains and sheetmetal since the 1980’s. But unless NASCAR stands for “National Association Of Spec Car Auto Racing”, the new car doesn’t fly with me.

Kevin in SoCal
02/22/2008 04:27 PM

The wing is designed that way to allow air to flow under it and hit the front end of the car behind it. That is supposed to eliminate the “aero-push” of the car in back and allow it to get a good run and pass the car in front of it. Yes the wings are ugly but they do serve a purpose. What do you suggest they do instead?

02/22/2008 09:33 PM

Kevin There is a big difference between Fontana and Michigan. The first is Michigan has been on the schedule since 1969 when Na$car was not thought very highly of and it sells out with almost double the attendance as California. If I recall right they got their first date without one being taken from another speedway so of course nobody complained. But to take away the Southern 500 to give it to a city that most people unlike yourself really don’t care it’s a shame. I’ve been to Darlington 18 times for race weekend’s and I live 550 miles and an 8 hr ride from there and I’ll be there in May. Also I have friends in San Diego who go to Fontana and offered me a free ticket and a place to stay and I would not waste my time in California going to that race. I’m not trying to bust on you if they had 120,000 people like you in the stands nobody could complain except to fix the track.

Kurt Smith
02/25/2008 07:13 AM

As a matter of fact Kevin, I didn’t have any problem whatsoever with the way Matt Kenseth won the title in 2003. It was a heck of a lot better than seeing Jeff Gordon being robbed of 300 points just because NASCAR wanted casual fans to watch.

If you like more drivers being able to win the title, maybe we should make the Chase 5 races and have 25 drivers in it. That’s the same exact principle carried a step further.

When Kenseth won the title there were no disputes whether he deserved it or not. He out top-tenned everyone and was consistent for 36 races, rather than getting hot for 10. And by the way, the finale in 2003 where Bill Elliott blew a tire on the last lap to give Bobby Labonte the win was better than any season finale I’ve seen since.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.