The Frontstretch: If It's Not About The Race, You're Doing It Wrong by Amy Henderson -- Friday September 27, 2013

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If It's Not About The Race, You're Doing It Wrong

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday September 27, 2013


It really should be simple. What’s coming from most race fans these days is that what they want is simple: good racing. And that’s followed by many saying that’s not what they’re getting on a weekly basis.

But when you take a closer look at the sport, it’s suddenly not so simple. It’s not just one person or one group responsible, though everyone loves to point fingers. There’s no one cause, no tidy solution. The responsibility for changes that have come to the sport in the last 15 or so years is shared, and it’s shared by a lot of people. And that’s both part of the problem with NASCAR’s backslide and part of the solution.

NASCAR, the television crews and, to some extent the teams have made it all about the Chase these days — not individual races.

Looking closer, what’s detracting from the pure racing that fans would like to see (and is often seen in smaller series and at local tracks around the country)? What roles do the sanctioning body, the media bringing you the races, and even the race teams play in breaking—and fixing—the sport?


NASCAR takes a lot of criticism for a lot of things, including some that’s overblown. Their biggest mistake in recent years is in putting too much emphasis on the championship and not enough on each individual week of the season. Sure, the championship is a great accomplishment for a race team, and certainly every fan wants to see his or her favorite hold that distinction each year, but it shouldn’t overshadow the weekly show.

No race fan buys a ticket to see a championship, but they do buy one to see a race.

That’s where the Chase has really hurt the sport. The fans want to see a race each week where NASCAR has made it into a contest of who will get in and then a ten-race determination of a winner. Think of a 500-mile race. A lot of the time, there isn’t a lot of action early as teams figure out what they’ll do to be there when it counts and then make a run at it. In essence, with their emphasis on the championship, they’ve made much of the season a strategy session for getting into the Chase and then making a title run that teams see little value in racing hard for the win every weekend.

NASCAR doesn’t need playoffs the way stick-and-ball sports do for one simple reason: it isn’t a stick-and-ball sport. It’s not just two teams going at it at a time, it’s 43. What works for that kind of game doesn’t work for this one, and it never will. The championship battles in NASCAR’s other national series are close and compelling without a Chase. And even in those stick-and-ball sports, there are regular-season games that have little to no impact on the postseason which are memorable simply because they were great contests. NASCAR needs to get back to that.

The other mistake that NASCAR has made was to tighten up the rules to the point where no team is allowed to do anything to build a better car than its competitors. To a degree, a level playing field is needed, and nobody would argue that, but as long as a few teams have five times and more the resources of others, it’s not going to be leveled by tightening the rules more and more. All that does is make it so that nobody can think outside a very small box.

Nobody’s saying that NASCAR should not crack down on blatant cheating, but what the current atmosphere does is give a false sense of suspicion about every little thing. And NASCAR adds to that suspicion by not handling the same things in the same way. If one team has a minor issue with a part of the car that they have worked on and is told to fix it and come back through inspection, and another is given a points deduction, that’s giving the wrong message to teams and fans. It tells teams that if they try anything they think might be legal and it isn’t, they’ll be able to fix it, when sometimes they will and sometimes they’ll be slapped with a big penalty. And it’s giving fans the impression that some teams are treated differently than others. If one of the teams’ issue was bigger than the others and that was the reason for the discrepancy, that’s another story, but if NASCAR doesn’t explain exactly what the violations were and how they differed, how is a fan to know?

Plus, if a couple of teams can come up with something to make their cars racy, others will counteract with something else and it lends an element of interest to the show—what will they come up with next? How can this guy beat that one? That was once a big part of the sport…but not anymore.

NASCAR needs to put the sport more in the hands of the race teams and make each race count more. I’ve written in the past that all the champion should receive is a nice trophy and a trip to Vegas for the team, and I stand by that. If the point fund money was all reallocated to race purses, and the championship was a nice perk, the racing would improve.

To be fair, NASCAR is reportedly working on a package to change the way air flows around and under the cars in an attempt to reduce aerodynamic dependency that’s made passing much harder than it used to be. The sanctioning body is trying to improve the racing, or at least one aspect of it, and they aren’t the only ones responsible for overhyping the championship, either.


The people behind the weekly NASCAR broadcasts are also part of the problem. The voices in the booth and the producers telling them what to talk about need to gain a little perspective. The Chase talk starts in February and only intensifies. Sometimes the voices are so busy talking about the Chase—who’s in, who’s out, what might this do to someone Chase chances—that the on-track action is barely a side show.

That’s a problem.

For one thing, there is plenty going on in most races that doesn’t have Chase implications but is still impactful and exciting. It’s at it’s very worst now, during the Chase, when a driver not in the title hunt practically has to do backflips with his car to get more than a passing mention, even if he’s going door to door with the Chasers. Eventually, sponsors are going to realize that they’re not getting much for their money in the final ten races if their driver missed the Chase. Someday, one of them is going to have and exercise a clause in the contract that allows them to pull their money for the final ten races if the team misses the show…and then others will follow suit.

Besides, the voices aren’t giving fans much credit. Fans understand that the whole race is important, every position is important, and they don’t all choose to follow the same few drivers that the networks focus on week after week. Fans are smarter than that, more loyal than that. It makes the TV networks look uninformed and worse, biased, when they focus on a select few drivers all race, every race and ignore the action that’s going on.

Plus, one reason that fans complain about boring racing is that the networks don’t show the actual racing if it’s not in the top few spots or involving one of the drivers they wish to overpublicize. Racers race just as hard for fifteenth place as fifth, and if the battle for fifteenth is a great one, the broadcast is doing a great disservice in not showing it, especially if they are showing the leader running alone.
It’s television that’s responsible for bringing the show to the fans at home every week. And they’re doing a lousy job of portraying what’s actually happening in a professional manner. It’s irresponsible not to show actual racing when it’s going on, and it’s equally unprofessional broadcasting to hype the Chase over the race when it’s months away and there’s action on the track.

Simply put TV isn’t bringing fans at home complete race coverage. They’re bringing them overblown Chase coverage almost from the drop of the green in Daytona. They’re missing the point. And it’s a huge problem for the sport that NASCAR doesn’t seem interested in correcting.

Race Teams

It’s hard to heap too much blame on the teams because they are playing the game under the rules they’ve been given. But it’s also hard to swallow when some of them are so worried about a Chase spot that they settle for a “good points day” rather than take a risk that could get them a win…but could also end their day in the wall.

Teams used to take those risks to win, because winning races in itself was their focus. Even before the Chase, teams were thinking points over wins, and that hurts the quality of the individual races. Drivers ride around at the back at Daytona and Talladega because they’re afraid to get caught in a crash and finish 41st because of the points hit. That’s not why the people in the stands bought a ticket.

The solution is simple, though actually making it come to fruition would be complex because of the sheer number of minds that would have to be changed before it could happen. But what needs to happen here is that everyone—NASCAR, the media, and the race teams—need to come to the track each and every weekend believing that this is the biggest, most important race of the year and winning it is the most important thing that anyone can do. TV needs to do their part and show the battles in the pack, because they’re racing just as hard and against the odds for the win. Every race needs to be its own entity, and winning it should be everyone’s top priority.

Fans don’t buy tickets to see one step toward the Chase or the championship. They don’t watch broadcasts to see a few drivers ride around avoiding risks. They don’t follow a driver and root for a good points day. This is what everyone in the sport needs to remember. It needs to be about the race. This race, right here, right now. And everything else will sort itself out.

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09/27/2013 08:02 AM


09/27/2013 08:52 AM

Ah, another Chase critic with the ‘simple’ cure of getting rid of the Chase and all will be well in NASCAR.

Well, if you misdiagnose the problem, you’re going to screw up the cure.

People do come (and watch) racing to watch racing… and crashing. Unfortunately, from the perspective of trying to get these people to pay attention, there isn’t enough racing and crashing. Contrary to what you write, the whole race is NOT important, every position is NOT important. There is way too much of every race where there is little if any real racing (defined as side by side or one car trying to get side by side). Except for the two or sometimes three drivers with a chance to win, there’s no real hard racing back in the field, the drivers simply don’t have enough incentive to risk their car to turn a 22nd place car into a 21st place car. Too many drivers pace themselves through 90 percent of the laps ‘saving’ themselves for the end. Do you think fans like watching the likes of Mark Martin pulling over to let ‘faster’ cars drive by? I think they’d rather see him fight to hold his position. There is very little ‘excitement’, in terms of ‘oooh, look at that, I don’t think he’s going to make it’. The exciting finish at the Glen last year was less than a minute out of a three hour race. Talledega ‘excitement’ takes up less than three or four minutes of a four hour race. Jeez, that’s worse than soccer in terms of having nothing happen worth watching.

If you want fans in the seats, you’ve got to give them what they want to see. Give them a race that has people fighting for every position on every lap. Give them cars that aren’t built so good that 90% of them make it to the end of every race (not counting the start and parks). Build some suspense into the event.

Or you can keep moaning about the Chase.

09/27/2013 10:12 AM

Tom, I don’t think the chase is the only problem, but it is most certainly the biggest and the thing that can be fixed the quickest. Ditching the chase is still #1 on most fans’ list of demands for a good reason.

The most recent change to the points systems was a good step forward, but there is room for improvement. I see no reason to award points for 30th on back. This would weed out backmarkers and cars patched together just to eek out 1 more finishing position and becoming a rolling chicane.

The financial incentives should also be removed so as to encourage the start-&-parkers to move back to the soon-to-be-ex-Nationwide series and help resusitate that circuit.

Restoring some tradtional race dates and cutting down on the number of cookie-cutter races will also bring back hardcore fans. It may not be economically viable to revive old racetracks like North Wilkesboro, but it would be nice to see more short tracks on the schedule. Moving a race from Kansas to Iowa would be a nice move.

Bill B
09/27/2013 10:21 AM

Prior to the chase I never liked the idea of awarding the championship to the driver with the most wins after 36 races but lately I’ve been thinking that is the fix to points racing.
No chase, no points, just go for the wins. Nothing else matters.

This would also solve the problem of drivers being hurt and missing a couple of races. They would still be at a disadvantage overall but if they’d have more of a chance than they do now if they miss a couple of races.

09/27/2013 11:04 AM

A good column. You hinted at opening up some more innovation, and that’s badly needed in the engine and transmission area. If I’m remembering correctly, gearing is set from on high, and teams have little or no say in it. I seem to recall teams ten years ago hitting 10,000 rpm and some would blow up and some would take leads of a straightaway or more. That was fun to watch… teams would push mechanical limits and risk failure. There needs to be more of that.

Unfortunately, this points system is a huge step in the wrong direction. Obviously the Chase is no good (this is not a sport in which a playoff makes sense), but the one-point-per-position is even worse, since it rewards a pass for a top 5 position no more than one for 42nd. The opposite should be the case, where passes for good positions are worth more points. Perhaps if the back half of the field was given nearly the same amount of points, a DNF wouldn’t be so much worse than running mid-pack. IndyCar seems to have a points system that works pretty well.

Of course, if every race is about the championship, it means no race is “must watch” on its own. The tracks realize this, too, or they wouldn’t have all of us in the stands shout “this is more than a race, this is Talladega!” before the start of the race.

Which takes us to predictability. I’m not going to go to a race unless I think it’s going to be exciting and unpredictable. That isn’t going to happen if I know the leader can’t be passed due to aerodynamics, blown engines aren’t going to happen from drivers pushing too hard, and long green flag runs without a lead change will bring out a caution from the tower.

09/27/2013 11:50 AM

Amy, this is an excellent piece but you left out some things.

One is the tires. Complaints about the tires have been around for years. It seems Goodyear can’t or won’t come up with a compromise tire with a compound good for a fuel run.

Another is the chassis. NASCAR won’t give the teams the ability to adjust the car the way they want. Every team should be able to make the adjustments they need using the parts available to everyone.

Aerodynamically they need to increase the drag on the body. NASCAR might be looking into it but they probably won’t go far enough.

The TV networks need to get producers that know how to show a “race” like F1 does. They show cars racing for position and keep the in-car camera on for more than five seconds. The announcers shouldn’t have to sound like they’re following a script.

And NASCAR has to let the race play out and not throw expected cautions to help any team.

09/27/2013 11:50 AM

The Chase, the virtually spec series cars, the banning of any innovation, the huge amounts of money, TV commentators whose antics set your teeth on edge, a chief executive with the vision and intelligence of a newt; it goes on and on.

09/27/2013 01:01 PM

I think this article hit a lot of the issues square on. NASCAR needs to stop trying to be like the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL. I think one of the big reasons for the growth of the sport in the 1990s was that NASCAR was different from what the traditional sports were offering. In NASCAR there are no work stoppages, the drivers are better role models and more fan friendly, the experience at the track is nicer for fans, faith and family are core values for the sport, etc. NASCAR needs to remember that and stop always trying to emulate the NFL.

09/27/2013 02:36 PM

Wow! An entire column I agree with. I think that’s a first.

Well done & well said.

09/27/2013 04:41 PM

As a former season ticket holder to Bristol, I can, from personal experience, tell you that racing at Bristol changed dramatically as soon as they invented ‘the chase’. Repaving the track may have been the final straw, but everyone got racing very politely as soon as the chase happened. And no, I’m no longer a season ticket holder there. When I found myself fighting to stay awake for the final 200 laps, I knew it just wasn’t Bristol anymore.

09/27/2013 07:08 PM


09/27/2013 10:37 PM

OMG, we agree!! I have been screaming these points for years. So for those who think we are whining about the Chase, it is with good reason and makes me think these are new fans, because it seems like they don’t remember or know racing BC (before Chase), there Nascar surived before it and will after it.

09/27/2013 10:38 PM

WOW, somebody who really gets it. I can’t tell you how sick I am hearing “we had a good points day” and it’s the 2nd or 3rd race of the year. If I buy tickets and attend a race in April I expect to see a race, not just a high speed parade. Unfortunately racing is no longer an important part of the race. There used to be a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the stands when you attended a race and that is just withering away. My challenge to the powers that be, go sit in the cheap seats(there are plenty available) and tell me if you think that this is a quality product.


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.