The Frontstretch: 2008 Season Preview : How Can NASCAR Stop The Bleeding? by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday February 4, 2008

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2008 Season Preview : How Can NASCAR Stop The Bleeding?

Frontstretch Staff · Monday February 4, 2008

 

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines! Hard to believe that command to start the 2008 Sprint Cup season is just 5 days away … and counting.

But as fans anxiously anticipate the end of another offseason, it’s time to get the blood racing and your mind fixated on another year of NASCAR. For the third straight year at Frontstretch, your favorite writers previewed the upcoming 2008 season, providing a look into the good, the bad, and the ugly expected to face the sport throughout the next nine months. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading over the last week as we’ve enjoyed giving you food for thought heading into the coming year…

So, without further ado, here’s the sixth and last part of our preview. Miss any of the first five parts? No need to worry; click the links below to catch up.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

Today’s Season Preview Topic: After a year of declining TV Ratings and empty seats in the stands, NASCAR is going to work hard this season to win back the fans. What’s the most important thing they need to do in order to stop the bleeding?

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: (Mondays / Bowles-Eye View)

The challenge is daunting, but the sport needs to stop the march towards the Formula One-style setup of only ultra-rich multi-car teams. NASCAR has had a history based around the fact that even the most hardscrabble independent team and driver can succeed. Just look at Alan Kulwicki’s owner/driver championship from 1992; but now, that attitude crumbles in the face of gigantic race teams turned mini-corporations in Hendrick, Roush, and Gibbs. It’s not that those car owners are bad people; to the contrary, someone like Hendrick is looked at as one of the most benevolent, genuine people ever to enter the racing business. But the way in which they utilize technology, engineers, and the exorbitant amount of money they’re throwing up on the board goes against much of what made this sport popular in the first place.

There needs to be a way in which single-car operations can not just survive, but thrive, an environment where the underdog can make it on the same playing field as the favorites (click here for more on the role of the underdog). And while you’re at it, allow drivers to speak their minds; the concept of rivalry is disappearing just as much with them as it is with teams.

In the end, that’s why names like Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Long are some of the most important to NASCAR’s future. Montoya’s attitude of “he tells it like it is” keeps the landscape somewhat politically incorrect, and Long still tries to make a name for himself in a culture where the ultimate underdog is all but stuffed out. If NASCAR can go back to embracing both those ideals, and work on cutting down the four-car superteam phenomenon, it’s a start …

But far easier said than done.

Kim DeHaven, Senior Editor (Tuesdays / Numbers Game)

There is nothing NASCAR can do to bring back fans that have already lost interest; however, they can work to keep the ones they have. A good start would be to drop the ridiculous Top 35 rule and eliminate the antiquated process of awarding provisionals — simply let the fastest 43 race each week. The next step is to reduce ticket prices in order to make the race weekends affordable once again. By bringing our children, NASCAR is almost assured an audience in the future — at least until they are old enough to disagree with the politics of the sport. And they need to quit taking race dates away from our short tracks. Although this hasn’t happened in a few seasons now, it is sure to rear its ugly head again soon enough. Remember this, NASCAR; if you alienate and outprice too many fans, you can’t sell all those fancy Speedway seats.

Toni Montgomery, Senior Editor: (Fridays / Rick Crawford Driver Diary Coordinator)

Here's a random thought — the empty seats at the track might be less a product of what NASCAR is putting out and more a product of the economy being down. Tickets, fuel, hotels, meals all cost a small fortune, and they’re slowly rising while the amount of money people have to spend shrinks — so many of those empty seats might be a result of people who just can't afford to go anymore. That's not to say the product has no bearing… I just don't feel like that is the main part of it. As for the TV ratings, that's a different story. Broadcasts over the last several years have been bland, unexciting, and they feel watered down. I know some of it is a product of the racing — you can only polish it so much. But some of it is the broadcast, because people will tell you the same race that was boring on TV was exciting in person. Televised broadcasts are too corporate, too contrived, too made for TV — some of which is the broadcast, and some of which is NASCAR. Come to think of it, the TV may be what affects the attendance — and if I've lost interest on TV, I'm less likely to pay soaring sums of money to go in person. I challenge anyone to watch any race from 10 years ago and any race from today side-by-side and tell me they don't see the difference.

Amy Henderson, Assistant Editor: (Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)

Even if we're stuck with the Chase, NASCAR needs to find some semblance of their roots — get rid of the Top 35 rule, then move Darlington back to its rightful status as a jewel of the circuit and a Labor Day Weekend fixture. If NASCAR wants to stop the bleeding, they need to start listening to what their fans really want… and that's not gimmicks and theatrics.

Matt Taliaferro, Assistant Editor: (Thursdays / Fanning The Flames)

Want to see yourself in print this Thursday?Click here to email Matt your questions for Fanning The Flames this season – our weekly Fan Q & A column!

There are a handful of changes that need to be made, but when I hear Tony Stewart say something to the effect of, "I'm keeping my mouth shut so I don't get in trouble," I cringe. Fans of any sport love (and hate) personality. Without it, the game is slighted. I hope drivers are allowed to once again show emotion without the fear of penalty.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud)

While not directly under NASCAR’s control, the most important thing it can do to stop the bleeding is to stop the bleating that dominates today’s race broadcasts on FOX, TNT, and ESPN/ABC. While some races still draw big crowds, even the largest events are seen on TV by many more fans than are actually in attendance at the track. For better or worse, fans’ perceptions of the sport are formed based on the race broadcasts. I’ll give you that the broadcasters can’t make the bad races much fun to watch but they have proven their ability to make even somewhat interesting races unbearable to the viewers. My prescription to fix the race broadcasts is simple: the networks need less people saying less, letting the cameras work to convey the action on track to the viewers without telling them what they are seeing. If you strip away the talking heads and most of the gadgetry and get back to the basics, you’ll have real racing for real fans, real quick.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: (Thursdays / Voices From The Heartland)

"A year?" Hello! Try the last 3 yrs! NASCAR needs to stop being about blatantly making the France family more money and get back to being about the racing. Brian France is realizing his vision to capture the “casual fan,” but today's casual fan WAS yesterday's hardcore fan. High prices, endless France rhetoric, and total disregard for tradition has totally turned people off. Get Brian out of the chair and let Uncle Jim run the show and maybe, just maybe, the bleeding will be stopped. Even then, with the economy the way it is, I don't foresee many families spending their proposed government "rebate" checks on a trip to the NASCAR track this summer. The government would have to at least double the amount of the check for it to be of any use — especially at an ISC venue.

Mike Neff, Senior Writer: (Thursdays / Picks ‘N’ Pans)

The most important thing NASCAR can do to win back the fans is forget about trying to “grow” the sport through the philosophy of trying to make every nickel possible. NASCAR needs to help the promoters make some ticket prices more affordable for families. They need to make it easier for broadcasters to cut down on the amount of commercials, so that there is more action, too; going to the split screen like the IRL should be looked at as an option for the future. Also, they need to increase the payouts in the Craftsman and Nationwide series as incentive for some more people to start up some teams and compete in those divisions…both could be looking at short fields this year.

Tommy Thompson, Senior Writer: (Wednesdays / Thompson In Turn 5)

Popular writer Tommy Thompson couldn’t look into the crystal ball this year – he was too busy having a ball of his own getting married! Congratulations on your marriage, Tommy, from all the Frontstretch Staff … to the fans, Tommy sends his regards and looks forward to returning to the fold on Wednesday!

Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch Truck Series Expert: (Fridays / Tearing Apart The Trucks)

It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing when it comes to fixing the things NASCAR has messed up. They’ve completely abandoned quite a few of the traditions that made the sport what it is today. From moving the Labor Day race from Darlington to the Chase system to the Car of Tomorrow and more, the fans that have defected have quite a few reasons to stay away. The biggest thing that comes to mind, though ,is the Car of Tomorrow. The drivers have said how hard the car is to handle and how easily it changes from loose to tight in an instant. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was one of the first drivers to cry out against the CoT when NASCAR first implemented it. “I’ll be just trying to keep it off the fence. I think it’ll be hard not to hit the wall,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “The way these things get tight, it’ll be hard and slow, real slow. Very, very frustrating. Really, really, really frustrating.”

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: (Tuesdays / Voice Of Vito)

The horse may already be out of the barn on this one, but the powers that be in Daytona will (hopefully) do what they need to before it's too late. NASCAR gained notoriety because it was underground and not exactly mainstream. One thing is that races need to start on time around noon EST, and NASCAR is taking steps this season to help remedy that. But what really needs to be addressed is the poor television coverage. Fox's coverage is probably the best, and that's not saying a whole lot. ESPN was a major disappointment for longtime fans who remember that the tiny cable network rose to prominence thanks to NASCAR … and vice versa. However, a poor product on the track will never be able to be marketed — no matter how much you try and shove it down everyone's throat.

Mike Lovecchio, Senior Writer: (Tuesdays / Who’s Hot And Who’s Not)

The fans that left aren't coming back. Fans can no longer associate their street cars with the cars on the track, and with more and with more driver changes happening, even some of the current diehard fans can't tell who's in what car. NASCAR has already put itself in a major hole that's going to take more than a year to get out of. It was a good start to make consistent start times this year. The bottom line is good racing will draw fans once again — it's that simple.

Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch NASCAR Rookie Expert: (Mondays / Rookie Report)

To my pleasant surprise, NASCAR is already on the right track. First off, making minimal changes for 2008 is a big step in the right direction. Hardcore fans are traditionalists and do not accept the "new season - new rules" environment that has existed over the past few years. Setting earlier start times for some races is a good move, too, as most fans are not crazy about having the checkered flag coinciding with dinner time.

The next steps in this process would include less commercials and eliminating fabricated "debris cautions" at the end of many races. During the ’90s when the sport took off, there were both sleepers and exciting finishes, but each event was allowed to play out on its own — not at the hands of NASCAR officials.

Nikki Krone, Senior Writer: (Fridays / David Starr Driver Diary Coordinator)

I think the biggest problem NASCAR has had — and I believe they kind of admitted it themselves — is the ever-changing rule book. It seems like every week, they are changing something “for the good of the sport,” but it just seems to mess things up. I think the bigger teams like Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs are pretty capable of adapting to the new rules quickly every week, but the smaller and more inexperienced teams NASCAR claims they are trying to help are probably hurt the most.

I think NASCAR needs to stop changing the rules so often; but at the same time, I think they need to sit down and get very specific on a few of the rules to make it clear for everyone. It seems that so many things have been such a judgment call the last few years, where one guy gets one penalty for something and another gets a different penalty for almost the same thing or even worse. If the fans don’t feel they can trust NASCAR, then they aren’t likely to want to spend their time and money supporting it.

S.D. Grady, Newsletter Contributor & Fan Columnist: (Tuesdays / Fan View)

Three things. Stop trying to dazzle us with multi-hour preshows full of nicely produced nothing; stop trying to appeal to the crisply pressed multitudes who have never changed their own oil; and stop trying to make this sport something it isn’t. It’s loud, occasionally rude, and unpredictable… show us the grease!

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Douglas
02/04/2008 07:48 AM
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What a great summation from all about what NA$CAR needs to do, or not do!

Currently NA$CAR is a very sick organization. And for the record, this will be the first 500 I will either not attend in person, or watch on TV! Heck, the starting field (at least most of it) has already been set and the cars have not turned one wheel in either official practice for, or ‘qualifying for” the 2008 500, how sick is that??

Ed
02/04/2008 08:35 AM
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I will not be watching Daytona or any races, except, maybe, Bristol. It’s pretty much over for me. I continue to read some about it out of habit, mainly, but that is beginning to go away. I only look at Jayski and Frontstretch headlines and rarely read the articles.

Dennis
02/04/2008 10:48 AM
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This is typical of Big Business. The 3rd generation makes changes to the business model that has brought success in an attempt to make their mark. It usually fails. Trying to compete with Football is foolish. Make your own niche, fill a void, don’t go head to head. As for TV coverage they need to make the TV experience more like the on track experience. More racing throughout the line, more angles, more engine noise, less DW noise. They talk just to hear themselves talk. NA$CAR needs to dance with the ones that brung ‘em. Stop moving away from the stock in Stockcar. Their success in the future is in keeping up with their past.

Travis Rassat
02/04/2008 12:15 PM
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Great article! There are a lot of good points being made here. To add to Nikki Krone’s point about the rules, I would suggest that NASCAR should put their rulebook on the web so we can all see it. I think it would do a lot to change the perception that NASCAR has an ever-changing rulebook that changes to benefit certain parties with the most money and/or influence. Having some integrity and eliminating the conspiracy theories is key to gaining respect and maintaining a healthy series.

And, as several people pointed out, ticket prices need to be affordable. Jimmie Johnson is listed as making over $7.6 million in 2007, yet the average family of four can’t afford to go to a race. I don’t even want to know what the profit margins for ISC and SMI are. It all seems just a bit out of balance.

Tracy Snell
02/04/2008 12:45 PM
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Let the fastest 43 race each week. Eliminate the race to the chase. I, as a fan, stop watching, if my driver isn’t in the race. That makes 33 sets of fans who stop watching, stop buying track tickets and stop buying merchandise. $imple math, here.

Brian France Sucks
02/04/2008 12:49 PM
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To fix NA$CAR:
1: Can Brian France
2: Darlington=Labor Day
3: Get rid of the IROC cars
4: Limit teams to no more than 3 car/driver combos/team
5: Get rid of 1 California and 1 Pocono date: Give those dates to Rockingham and Iowa Speedway
6: Start races at 12 or 1 EST, except for night races.
7: Can the Top 35, make it the top 20.
8: Eliminate the long, boring pre-race show and give us an extra 15 minutes post-race
9: No more stupid music acts and other sideshow crap: This is supposed to be racing
10: Produce a schedule that doesn’t appear to be the work of a brain-dead chimp or France family member.

If they do half of these I might actually watch half the races this year. I’m with Ed; its starting to become a little much, and definitely isn’t like it was in the 80’s and early-mid 90’s.

jerry
02/04/2008 02:53 PM
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1. Earlier and “on time” starts. I hate tuning in for a 2pm race and still waiting for it to start 45 minutes later.
2.Have the announcers treat us like fans instead of idiots. We are here because we are fans. Basebase and football don’t explain every play like they are talking to someone who has never seen a game.
3.No victory for illegal cars. It sucks to see a car not pass post race inspection keep the win.
4.Making the chase should mean something. Take it back to the top ten.
5.Stop the bognus cautions that only serve to keep a name driver from going a lap down.
6.Let the “lucky dog” rule only be used by a driver one time per race. Drivers shouldn’t get 3 or 4 free passes in a race.
7.Make every race an impound race. Race it the way you qualify, and cut the top 35 to the top 25.

chris
02/04/2008 03:53 PM
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I think the sport would be better served by having, instead of the top-35 a second-chance qualifier. First qualifying session locks in the 1st 30 positions, the last 13 are locked induring a second qualifying run.

the biggest problem has got to be the coverage. Having the TV on mute, and listening to MRN in simulcast with the TV will show you everything that is wrong with the TV audio. MRN focuses on the action, wherever in the field the action might be (battle for 19th..whatever)…while the TV just parks on one of the first 5 cars and they talk about that driver’s trip to the grocery store last thursday.

Ron Johnson
02/04/2008 05:51 PM
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Let the fastest 43 cars start each week. Get rid of the COT cars, use the manufacturers cars and make them safe. Get rid of the chase and go back to the old points system.
Until then I will go to my non-NASCAR sanctioned local track.

dornier
02/04/2008 08:27 PM
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As a long time NASCAR fan I can barely watch TV coverage anymore, especially on FOX. I can’t stand DW and Larry Mac explaining every little detail, just shut up and let us watch the race. Ah, for the good old days of Bob Jenkins, BP, and Ned. Those races were a joy to watch and listen to. And why to we have to suffer through the “Hollywood Hotel” with Chris Meyers and Jeff Hammond? We don’t need 5 commentators to explain a race, it’s insulting to a race fan.
Get rid of the top 35 and let the fastest 43 race, drop the provisionals and past champion starting spots.
And, quit screwing with race locations. California doesn’t need two dates, put Labor Day back to Darlington.

falcon325
02/04/2008 09:06 PM
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There are many reasons fans have been turned off. There are specific things I don’t like, but they aren’t necessarily the same as those some other folks have mentioned.

But to me, the over-arching problem is the unbridled contempt that the France family has shown to the people who made them extremely wealthy. Big Bill and Bill Junior kept the rough edge from showing. The Brian just can’t contain himself.

Want to bring NA$CSR back? There needs to be one more change: a big “under new management” banner down in Daytona Beach.

Harry C. Risher
02/04/2008 09:40 PM
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Bottom line is Nascar’s Bosses are greedy and their “rules Controlled SHOWS” lack any credibility. Real FANS do not trust NASCAR and it’s Rules Controlled SHOWS because it bears little resemblance to the real racing from about 1969 back.Fans are smart and with the outrageous ticket prices and fuel costs there are many more entertaining and HONEST things to do. The Frances are BILLIONAIRES now, and will take Toyota’s big bucks for guaranteed wins and titles after years of favoring GM. GREED HAS NO HONESTY or CREDIBILITY$$$$ Nascar is and has been for decades and BIG FAKE,and the Public knows it-stay home!

Sterling Fan
02/05/2008 11:37 AM
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Wow. I thought I was the only one who thought this way. Ticket Prices, Start times, and Race reclocations are ridiculous. Ditch the Car of Tomorrow, The Top 35 Rule, and The Lucky Dog Rule- Race back to the line under caution. Those who think its too dangerous don’t need to be racing. There is a whole lot more danger out there. These are all the reasons I stopped watching IRL!

Albert T
02/06/2008 08:12 PM
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Nascar needs to remove the top 35 rule – “it’s simple, let the fastest cars race, period!” The idea that these 35 teams need protection is wrong since many of the single car or underfunded teams are the one’s which need the protection or at least a level playing field. Nascar will continue to lose fans if teams such as Morgan McClure (MMM) and others are not able to race. Why not try something like a “luxury fee or tax” similar to what is done in baseball or other sports. If teams spend more then a certain amount then a penalty is paid which is divided amongst the less funded or single car teams.

Mariettadawg
02/07/2008 07:54 AM
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Tell me this…who is really the one(s) being hurt when you turn off the TV on Sunday afternoons? It surely is not King Brian. He has his money. All of you who are picking up your toys and leaving the sport are not having the impact you intend because you are not impacting the person you intend. The drop in ratings is not causing a drop in revenue because all they are doing is running more advertising. This in turn is hurting the teams since so much more of the advertising budgets out there must go into commercials and not to the teams. Brian still gets his money. See what I mean here?

And besides…what terrible Lifetime “Television for Women” show are you watching instead?

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