Race Weekend Central

2014 Season Preview: Is There A Thing As Too Much Change For NASCAR?

New playoff system. New qualifying procedure. New attitude. As NASCAR heads towards Daytona in 2014, all around the sport are focused on the positive, looking for the perfect season to recapture a nation currently preoccupied with other sports, along with the Olympics in Sochi.
Can they do it? As Speedweeks dawn, both NASCAR’s Sprint Unlimited and the 56th Daytona 500 usher in a long list of questions along with them, the answers to which could define the sport for not just this year but the next NASCAR television contract. That means it’s time to get the blood pumping and start 2014 analysis, bringing Frontstretch back to your list of daily internet favorites. This week, we’ll get you thinking each day on one of five big questions facing stock car racing; as we try and find the answers, staff members you know and love will come at you with our usual blend of facts, opinion, and a little sense of humor.
Today’s Season Preview Topic: NASCAR made sweeping changes to not only the Chase, but also to the qualifying format and the penalty system for rules infractions. Were all the changes necessary, or is that too much change for race fans to understand and digest all at once?
Matt Stallknecht, Assistant Editor: Change is a complicated matter. On one level, NASCAR needs to change if it wants to survive in an ever-changing professional sports landscape. It just has to. There’s no way around it. I hate to break this to the “old school” fans out there, but NASCAR would likely be in very dire straits right now if it remained unchanged over the course of a decade.
NASCAR’s problem over the past few years was never change itself, but the way in which they implemented changes too abruptly and too heavily at the same time. When you throw so many changes at a fan base at once, it can be overwhelming, and I think NASCAR needs to work on implementing such changes in a more understated and gradual manner. That being said, I agree with many of the changes NASCAR has made over the years, including the ones announced for 2014. NASCAR is in decent shape right now, but if the sport has any hope of keeping the attention of American sports fans (especially those of the ADD generation), it absolutely must continue to adapt to the tastes of an ever-changing sports fan. These current changes reflect that.

NASCAR’s new penalty system aims at transparency. But are fans too cynical to trust the sanctioning body?
NASCAR’s new penalty system aims at transparency. But are fans too cynical to trust the sanctioning body?

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: When referring to the Chase, some might say it’s change for the sake of change. But NASCAR’s qualifying and penalty procedures were in need of some major retuning. Qualifying had gotten (gasp!) so boring, especially with no real DNQs most weeks — along with all major names assured a spot in the field — that only a handful of fans were showing up at the track for those Friday, single-car runs. Changing the system also allows those same tracks an opportunity to bring in more revenue. Yeah, it may only be a couple thousand more fans who attend but that’s better than nothing. Group qualifying, over a longer time period also adds more pressure to the crews, makes it more television-friendly while changing nothing about NASCAR’s top 36 plus provisional system. (The fastest speeds, after all will still set the lineup).
As for penalties, well, NASCAR needed to get rid of John Middlebrook for the sake of credibility (former ties with GM). That alone was grounds for making major adjustments to the penalty system. I do admit this P1-P6 ladder of consequences, assigned to specific violations still needs to be flushed out. But for the first time ever, we’ll have a failed inspection and have an idea of what type of punishment the team will get based on what went wrong. It was one of NASCAR’s biggest problems, especially throughout the last decade; football, by comparison doesn’t make you wait two days in suspense when there’s an offensive holding penalty.
Now, stock car racing won’t make you wait, either. That is going to be a very, very good thing for this sport, making the amount of change, in my mind, totally justifiable.
Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: This is a strictly “made for TV/revenue” change at its finest! Qualifying has never been a big “problem” with the fans. Having said that, and after understanding how they are going to do it, I’m not as opposed to the idea as it will perhaps make things a bit more equal for some lesser teams and add a bit of excitement. It could be fun.
Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: Were too many changes made heading into 2014? The short answer is yes, especially given that some of them are convoluted and difficult to understand: A Chase meant to reward winning but in which the driver with the most wins could be eliminated from contention before Homestead, a qualifying format in which the fastest lap doesn’t guarantee a pole, and a system that outlines levels of penalties but does not provide fans with a list of which infractions qualify for each level (though it is in the rule book). That’s a lot to ask a casual fan to spend time digesting all at once. Can they understand it? Of course. Will they all want to take the time to sort it all out? Enjoying a sport shouldn’t take research. The qualifying and penalty changes are good ones, but combined with a complicated Chase format, it’s a lot all at once.
Kevin Rutherford, Assistant Editor: On paper, the new qualifying system seems like a breath of fresh air and one of the more high-intensity formats NASCAR could manage short of cramming each weekend full of heat races (like the Daytona 500, for instance). Penalty-wise, it can be harrowing trying to wrap one’s head around what the new system entails, especially given the vagueness of certain aspects. What infractions earn each penalty? Could this change from instance to instance?. However, it’s nice to see the sanctions laid out fairly clearly in terms of point and dollar amounts. Fingers crossed that after a few penalties are handed out, this system will be fairly easy to comprehend, as well as an all-around improvement.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Editor: The change in qualifying wasn’t really needed, but it makes the process relevant, more interesting, and expedites the entire process. Where it was a positive shift is qualifying can sometimes be seen as a barrier to entry for new teams, particularly if it ends up raining and they go off the NASCAR rulebook (owner points) to set the field. My only concern is that there are still no bonus points for winning the pole. Under NASCAR’s new systems, you will really have to fight and claw to win it. Teams and drivers should be rewarded for that, giving further incentive to “go for the top spot.”
As far as penalties for rules infractions, there is still a gray area open to interpretation. NASCAR still defines what is a rules infraction and they ultimately make the final call (unless it goes to that review board). Who knows what really goes on behind the scenes considering that NASCAR passes the final judgment?
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: The penalty system changes are probably the best move that NASCAR made in the offseason. Having set penalties for individual infractions will go a long way towards NASCAR gaining the respect of race fans, crewmembers and teams alike. However, NASCAR still has the power to go over the bounds of the flow chart if something really ridiculous happens. Also, it only refers to infractions with the race cars themselves. Anything else will continue to be determined on a case-to-case basis (they officially classify those cases as “Behavioral Issues”).
In regards to the new qualifying procedure, it’s likely similar to what Richard Petty thought about the pit rules that were introduced at the beginning of 1991 (and then scrapped roughly six weeks later). It is more likely to work on bigger tracks. On shorter tracks, it might be an issue to find clean track. In addition, if saving time is the primary concern, NASCAR isn’t getting that time saving with short tracks with the knockout qualifying. Sessions at short tracks will take roughly as long this season as they did with single-car qualifying. The single-car sessions should have been kept for short tracks. The one thing that could kill the format is the insistence of NASCAR to restrict teams to one set of tires for the whole qualifying session. Fans may see a lot if downtime, with no action on the track, because of it.

Do the changes advocated by NASCAR’s three leading men have what it takes to turn the sport around?
Do the changes advocated by NASCAR’s three leading men have what it takes to turn the sport around?

The fans will probably understand the new rules better once they see them in action. The key with the penalty format is if NASCAR sticks with it. The qualifying changes weren’t really necessary in terms of racing, but not everyone has the desire to watch single-car laps for three hours straight.
Mike Neff, Senior Writer/Short Track Coordinator: Qualifying can be a very tedious activity to watch and Formula 1 has shown that the “knock-out” qualifying procedure works and stirs interest. That change is going to help bring in a handful of extra fans for qualifying at the tracks and will definitely pique interest on television annd the radio. As for the penalties, it makes things much more black and white, which is a good thing. In the end it is the enforcement of the rules rather than the penalty process that will encourage or discourage the fans.
Mike Mehedin, Senior Writer/Marketing Assistant: NASCAR needed a large overhaul to bring back the sport to the prominence they once had. The changes they made were to the right areas. There has always been issues with the penalty system and how rules infractions are assessed. A simpler system and more visibility is what the sport needs.
Brett Poirier, Senior Writer: The qualifying changes and the more structured penalty system were long overdue. I commend NASCAR for making these changes (unlike another big one). Single-car qualifying was a snooze-fest, while I can’t take my eyes off of Formula One’s qualifying sessions. The one downside (or maybe upside depending on how you look at) is NASCAR drivers will start whining like Formula One drivers when someone disrupts their air or gets within a straightaway of them. The structured penalty system was also a no-brainer, as in the way NASCAR was doing it before — flying by the seat of their pants.
Summer Bedgood, Senior Editor: Again, I think fans who are resistant to these changes are only resistant because it’s change. I think these were all changes that needed to be made. There was no transparency with the penalty system, first of all, and there absolutely needs to be. It was really frustrating to hear that NASCAR released penalties against teams and they were different for previously similar infractions. It felt like they were just randomly generating penalties, and explanations were vague. Now, this will give everyone a chart to follow so that we understand where NASCAR is coming from.
Qualifying has needed change for years. It’s terribly boring to watch and had virtually no meaning. I still don’t think NASCAR went far enough—I would love to see heat races or a format similar to the Duels—but NASCAR’s new system is at least a step in the right direction.
It’s not too much to digest, either. NASCAR needed an overhaul in all of these areas and I think they have made the right moves.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Expect confusion as NASCAR embarks on its new qualifying format. This style of qualifying is pretty “old-school” for those who follow Formula One and other forms of road racing, but the procedure will need several months to catch on amongst NASCAR Nation. The party who will benefit most from this format is the television media; it will be quicker and probably cheaper (and likely less dull) to broadcast qualifying given this “group” approach to individual performances.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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