The Frontstretch: Frontstretch Year in Review: Biggest Nextel Cup Challenge Heading into 2006 by Frontstretch Staff -- Saturday January 7, 2006

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Dear guys ‘n’ gals,

It’s that time again! A new year brings with it a chance to start with a clean slate, not only in life but in the NASCAR realm as the 2006 season is now but a month or so away.

But before we open the book on 2006, it’s time to write the final chapters in the 2005 NASCAR season that was. Join us over the next seven days as our Frontstretch Staff gives their take on some of the best and worst moments of the year, as well as the biggest challenges facing the sport as we head into a new season. And here’s the best part: we’ve left space underneath for you to add your own opinions! As always, we’d love to hear your own take on what should be remembered about NASCAR in 2005.

Today’s question uses the problems of the past to tackle the issues of the future. After an up-and-down season of 2005 in which many successes were mixed in with several on and off-the-track concerns, NASCAR heads into 2006 with its usual momentum, but seems to have a number of obstacles looming on the horizon. In order for NASCAR to sustain its growth, it’s going to have to continue to change and adapt over the long-term in the way the sport always has.

And with that concept in mind, we asked our staff what would be the biggest challenge facing the sport as we head toward the coming year. It’s a broad question, and every answer led in a different direction…read below and see if anyone’s thoughts matched up with yours.

What is the Biggest Challenge Facing Nextel Cup as we Head Towards 2006?

Kim DeHaven, FS Assistant Editor: Convincing fans that Mark Martin REALLY is retiring!
No, seriously…staying connected to the “old timers.” In trying to become the number one sport in America, NASCAR is alienating its long time fans with too much glitz, glimmer, and gimmicks. They must find a way to attract a younger, wealthier demographic while maintaining enough of a balance to keep fans that helped grow the sport into what it is today.

Tom Bowles, FS Assistant Editor/ Bowles-Eye View Columnist: To me, the challenge in 2006 will be to keep the racing on the track exciting in the wake of a rules package that had mixed reviews in its first year. It’s obvious that this soft tire/spoiler package is on borrowed time, as the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow in 2007 will completely change around NASCAR’s rules and handling package entirely. Not surprisingly, little change to the existing rules was made in the offseason due to Toyota’s pending entrance to Nextel Cup in ‘07 and work continuing on that CoT. But if the cars of today continue to stink it up with a single-file show, NASCAR may regret the numbers of fans that leave before the right changes to these cars begin to occur.

Amy Henderson, FS That’s History Columnist: The biggest challenge for 2006 will be finding a balance between racing, safety, and its own credibility. The tire compound used in 2005 will be back, and while it did effect the handling and result in some exciting racing, it was also the cause of far too many caution periods (boring!) and some hard crashes (dangerous!). The number of debris cautions, especially during the Chase, also raised some real credibility questions. Casey Mears found a screw in turn four at Homestead, and the seemingly arbitrary cautions (and lack thereof when there is visible debris or a blown engine) was fodder for even the most skeptical of fans to wonder if the outcome of some of these races was being tweaked. NASCAR desperately needs to regain credibility in 2006, or the ride will get even bumpier down the road.

Jeff Meyer, FS Voices Columnist: For NASCAR not to totally alienate the fans that made it what it is. Personally, I think we have seen the peak of the growth in regards to all the marketing hype. Perhaps then we can start to get back to what it should be about"¦RACING, not MARKETING! (I will NOT hold my breath though!)

Toni Heffelfinger, FS Second Fiddle Columnist: Keeping it affordable. I mean that for not only the teams, which is an ongoing challenge, but the fans as well. It doesn’t seem like NASCAR thinks much about it in this new era, but a day at the races for a family of four shouldn’t take a year of saving up to accomplish…

Becca Gladden, FS If I Ruled the World Columnist: Keeping the Chase exciting. NASCAR introduced the new championship format two years ago, but seven of the original ten Chase drivers repeated in the second year. If the same core group of drivers continues to make the Chase year after year to the exclusion of others, the format runs the risk of quickly becoming monotonous.

Mike Neff, FS Columnist: The biggest challenge for NASCAR is to regain their credibility in decisionmaking in 2006. Too often their decisions seem to be random, inconsistent, and downright capricious. With the Ford Fusion coming into the series, Dodge’s efforts to replace their vacuum cleaner of a nose, and the never ending changes in tires, the governing body needs to be very clear, concise, consistent, and logical in their decisions next year to level the playing field. I would personally like for them to do a little more explaining of their reasoning behind their decisions, too, but let’s take baby steps.

As popular as Nextel Cup has become, they’re not the only stock car series making waves in the world of NASCAR. Part VI of our seven-part series on Sunday takes a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Busch Series during 2005.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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Charlie D.
01/07/2006 05:35 AM
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Don’t get me started!

Cheryl
01/10/2006 06:31 AM
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Great comments, guys! After reading your thoughts, I’m really glad to hear that so many other smart people realize the issues NASCAR created in 2005 with their credibility and their continuing alienation of their core fans. Keep up the good work!

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
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If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.