The Frontstretch: NASCAR's Changes: For the Fans, or Racing In the Wrong Direction? by Amy Henderson -- Friday August 20, 2010

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NASCAR's Changes: For the Fans, or Racing In the Wrong Direction?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday August 20, 2010

 

Earlier this year, I looked at some of the goings-on in NASCAR and put a grade on some of the changes NASCAR made, as well as some other things going on in the sport. Well, the times, they have kept right on a-changin’, as the sanctioning body strives to stop the bleeding as ratings and attendance have plummeted in recent years. There have been changes to the schedule, changes to the rules, and more proposed changes to the Chase.

All of this begs the question: Are these changes really what the fans want?

Perhaps some of them are, and the ideas behind them certainly are. While NASCAR has been often maligned in recent years, often rightfully so, you have to give the sanctioning body credit for making some kind of attempt to fix what they have broken. But have they done it? Are the changes over the lat few years really in the best interest of the fans? Let’s take a closer look at what NASCAR has done and is considering.

Earlier, I gave the multiple green-white-checkered attempts a grade of D, and I haven’t changed my mind. The GWC rule was instituted in response to fan complaints of races finishing under the yellow flag, so hand it to NASCAR for rectifying it. The problem is, if cautions breed cautions, multiple restart attempts often lead to carnage. The entertainment value is questionable and the damage done to millions of dollars worth of equipment is a complete waste. The bottom line: You can have too much of a good thing.

I didn’t grade the other recent restart rule since it didn’t happen this year, but I do think that double file restarts are good for the sport. It’s a time-tested rule on short tracks everywhere, and that’s a plus for a sport which desperately needs to get in touch with its roots. It certainly has the potential to cause trouble-but so did the old rule, and face it, it’s better to get taken out racing for position than by a car you are up on by five laps. One is racing, the other is insult to injury. This one was on the mark with what many fans were asking for, and it’s overall been good. Sure a few drivers have complained about the hard racing, but as long as it doesn’t turn dirty, isn’t that what the sport is all about?

The other product of the new restart rule is the wave-around rule. There have been a lot of complaints about how the rule plays out, but really, what else could NASCAR do? Racing back to the caution was banned several years ago after Dale Jarrett found himself a sitting duck in the middle of the racing groove before the start-finish line, and from a safety standpoint, that was the right thing to do. Drivers could still attempt to get their lap back on the restart, so there was a chance for it to happen. With that option gone, NASCAR had to give them an option, and the wave-around was the best one.

While it’s not ideal and fans certainly didn’t ask for it, it rarely has much impact on the actual outcome of a race-usually those cars are a lap down for a reason. And if they aren’t and get a good finish out of playing the pit strategy (and there certainly is a risk to it), more power to them-it’s no different than any team using pit strategy to win. That’s part of the game, and the rule is a necessary evil to go with the positive restart rule.

The Chicagoland Speedway has had trouble in recent years drawing a crowd, but they still scored one of the most significant races of the season, a move that while beneficial for ISC may not be so for race fans.

The most recently released change is the first major revamp of the schedule in several years. It needed to happen, and many, many fans wanted it to happen. Unfortunately, it happened all wrong. The things that fans wanted from the schedule, like a better selection of racetracks, a nod to history, and an eye on the weather didn’t happen. Atlanta for Kentucky was probably SMI’s best option, but it’s still a bit of a downgrade in the racing from NASCAR’s fastest track. While fans have been asking NASCAR to dump the second Fontana race pretty much since NASCAR gave Fontana a second race, when it happened, it was a lateral move-the racing at Kansas isn’t much more stimulating.

The Chase will start in Chicago next year, replacing Fontana’s slot, but again, it’s a nearly lateral move-opening the Chase with a snoozefest isn’t exactly the way to make fans sit up and take notice (but it does bring the early Chase excitement back to ISC and the France family coffers). Finally, NASCAR had the perfect opportunity to restore what was once its oldest and most prestigious race to its rightful date-and they didn’t do it. Fans have been asking for the real Southern 500 to make a return for years-why waste the opportunity? Bottom line here, the revamped schedule is more about appeasing Bruton Smith and lining the France pockets than about the racing or the fans. Bummer.

There are also a few changes on the horizon, and while the details haven’t been released yet, it seems as though at least some of them are coming. First up are changes to the Chase format. This one is a no-brainer on listening to the fans. If NASCAR was doing that, they’d dump the Chase altogether, as simple as that.

But rather than gain a measure of respect by admitting a mistake, the sanctioning body appears to be considering digging themselves deeper into Chase Hell-talk of eliminations and even more teams invoke images of the bloated spectacle that the NBA has become in recent years, and it’s not pretty. Too many teams who don’t need to be there can only serve to muddy the sport’s integrity. And the problem with eliminations is that in NASCAR, unlike other sports, you don’t always make your own luck. To deny a driver the chance to come back from a wreck not of his making just smacks of desperation on NASCAR’s part to manipulate the outcome. Chase changes aren’t being considered for the fans-they’re being considered to cover Brian France’s arrogance and his colossal mistake in instituting the Chase in the first place. Any time you call into question the legitimacy of the sport’s championship, it’s just not a good thing.

The sanctioning body desperately needs to make some serious alterations in the Nationwide Series. There have been two big ones bounced around, and while one of them is necessary to save the series, the other is a mistake not worth repeating. Limiting Cup drivers’ participation in NNS races is absolutely needed. Cup guys have run in that series forever, but over the last decade, they’ve gotten so greedy that the series championship has become a joke to the series veterans and completely out of reach of the actual Nationwide teams. If they are forced to go back to running a few races, it’s good for the series. The young drivers gain experience racing their future competition, but the championship is left to the ones who are committed to the series, not Cup championship also-rans looking to stroke their egos.

The possibility of a Nationwide Chase, on the other hand, completely misses the boat. Fans don’t like the Chase in Sprint Cup, why should anyone think it’s any better in the Nationwide Series? On the bright side, it seems as though Cup regulars would be shut out of the playoff points, and it would give the up-and-coming racers a lesson in points racing. The problem is, points racing has hurt the Cup Series, and drivers in Nationwide need to learn how to race to win, not to stroke their way through a season.

Giving credit where it’s due, NASCAR has made some changes in the best interest of the fans. Standardized, earlier start times are the best thing NASCAR has done in a long time, though it wouldn’t have been necessary if the sanctioning body hadn’t been greedy for TV money in the first place. *The ‘boys have at it’ mentality has been entertaining at times (and downright ugly at others) and goes to the heart of racing-its roots, and the days that the boys always had at it.

But overall, have the changes really been for the race fans? The answer to that is a resounding “sort of.” And sort of is not the kind of resonance a major sport and its sanctioning body should have with its core fans. Long-time fans fear that NASCAR is racing toward the point of no return…and without the right changes being made from the sport’s front office, those fans could end up being right on the money.

Contact Amy Henderson

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Sue Rarick
08/20/2010 08:30 AM
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Here is a hint Brian… If we wanted to watch a stick and ball game we would watch a stick and ball game. My BF and I couldn’t even tell you who won the NBA, NFL or baeball championships. We don’t care.

I have been following Motor racing (cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.) since the 1950’s. The chase is a joke and no matter what he does, the people who are into stick and ball sports as well as Nascar will continue to switch over to those sports in the fall. By October even I am pretty tired of Nascar. You want to make a positive move. Stick to just points and cut the number of races so that you crown a champion sometime in September. It’s a time of year before the World series and the other sports are just getting started and the excitement has yet to sink in for those sports followers.

j22pa
08/20/2010 08:50 AM
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Wave-around…i think that needs fixed..cause now a GOOD car all day..gets a late race flat..or even just bumped out of the groove…now they finish 27th..instead of 12th…if only 12 cars were on lead lap…therefore, i think driver will be more Cautious! late in the race..and the result is less competitive racing…15+ cars a lap down..should not be given a lap back…(with that in mind..i have no ideas on how to fix it:)

DoninAjax
08/20/2010 09:09 AM
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Bottom line here, the revamped schedule is more about appeasing Bruton Smith and lining the France pockets than about the racing or the fans.

Every decision always comes back to the $$$$.

Kevin
08/20/2010 10:38 AM
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I agree with j22pa on the wave-around rule so I won’t repeat those comments. As far as how to fix it, I propose giving that group of drivers half a lap back (meaning they would restart on the backstretch). That still accomplishes the original intent of the rule which was to let the leader be at the front of the field, but they also have to earn something because it would be easier for them to go back a lap down if they aren’t fast enough or have to pit soon.

Steve
08/20/2010 10:44 AM
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I’m very interested to see the attendance at the Chicago race next year. Chicago is a football town and whether the Bears are playing home or not, if they are playing the same day, that could really reak havoc on putting butts in seats in that place, considering the racing there is less than exciting. Should be interesting.

DoninAjax
08/20/2010 12:09 PM
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The wave around rule allowed the cars in front of the lead lap cars to get back behind the leaders. It is no different than the caution flag usually coming out right after the restart, especially if a Hendrick car was in the group, and allowing all the cars to catch up. It ends up being almost the same thing. Before the wave around, the leader could re-pass some of the cars.

Sal
08/20/2010 12:25 PM
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Spot on with your calls! You gave credit for the good (few as they are), and nailed BZF for his poor decisions. It seems that Nascar thinks that as long as they say they are doing something ‘for the fans’, it justifies every stupid decision they make. If ‘La Brian’ won’t acknowlege thae mistake he made with his ridiculous ‘chase’, not much else will matter. The media was constantly wondering why the fans weren’t in awe of JJ winning 4 titles in a row. I think it was because they were all won with the chase format. Somehow, it just isn’t as impressive to win a 10 race title as it is to win a 36 race championship. Hmm. with those numbers, he’s won 1 ‘real’ title, and has 6 races towrd his second!

DoninAjax
08/20/2010 12:32 PM
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Is there an absence of DW lately since he spoke the truth about the Chase?

jerseygirl
08/20/2010 01:24 PM
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Very nice summary and very true. NASCAR missed the chance to put Darlington back on Labor Day — make it a night race so its not as hard on the fans – I bet it would sell out.

the other changes on the schedule – basically they landed with a total thud from my perspective. Chicagoland to start the chase? I’m sure if you live in that area, it will be great news, for me from NJ, I’ll probably make it an off week and not bother to watch what comes across as very boring racing on TV.

It takes a much bigger man than Brainless is to admit a mistake and just kill the chase off as a bad idea. Nope, he’s going to “tweak” it again. I’m not interested now, if they go to some of the ideas that we’ve heard rumored, I’ll have even less. I already don’t think that the 4X 10 race champion is the same as the ones before that were over a full season schedule. JMO, but that’s how I feel — if you’re a Johnson fan, its great for the rest of us, not so much.

I didn’t mind one attempt at a G-W-C if it there was a legitimate reason. The multiple G-W-wreckers nonsense made me feel sick, especially when coupled with NASCAR’s obvious attempts to manufacture excitement.

I want racing, not gimmicks.

tom1194
08/20/2010 04:19 PM
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Amy – aren’t you afraid of being fined or blackballed for writing the truth which is something other than King Brian’s official state of nascar BS. Very detrimental to his purse and you must be punished.LOL

Kicks
08/20/2010 07:01 PM
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If Da Bears have a home game on Sunday afternoon next September 18 you could probably sit in just about any seat you wanted at Chicagoland because the place will be empty

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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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.