NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Items on NASCAR’s Needs List

Welcome to the Frontstretch Five! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy has five things that should be at the top of NASCAR’s list of must-haves for the 2015 season

Realistic expectations

Not only does the sanctioning body need to think long and hard about what it wants in the racing, it also needs to represent what it does have accordingly. The expectation of a Game 7 moment is unrealistic and in the end, harmful to the sport’s image. Not every game seven has that moment, let alone every game. And sometimes the most memorable moment of them all comes in a weekday game in April when not many people are watching. NASCAR – and its fans – need to accept this as a fact and stop trying to sell the sport as something it can never be.

What that means for NASCAR is that not every finish is going to be decided by .001 seconds between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the other driver of their choice. Sometimes someone is going to stink up the show. Sometimes the best race is the one for 15th place between AJ Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr. When drivers have something to prove, they often prove how tough they can be. NASCAR and its television partners need to make sure fans know that. Fans from the old days know that not every race has a close finish. They remember races that had two cars on the lead lap at the end and those separated by half a circuit. New fans don’t know that because NASCAR tries to sell to them that there will be nail-biting action every lap and the finish will be a razor-thin margin. They need to be sold the other storylines, too, and the possibility that sometimes, a driver is going to dominate. It’s NASCAR’s job, through its TV partners and the media, to do that.

A renewed faith in the fanbase

At the same time, though, NASCAR needs to have a little faith in the fan base to be knowledgeable enough about the sport to know what they want. The fans it wants to keep, who will bring in future generations of fans, do know, and NASCAR isn’t listening. Sure it has the fan council, but one look at the questions asked in the surveys is all it takes to see that they are slanted to get the answers NASCAR wants to hear.

There will always be fans who jump on the bandwagon because something is the cool thing to do. There were a huge number of people doing just that a decade ago, and while some of them stuck around, many did not. They were never going to and NASCAR’s mistake was to resort to gimmicks to try and lure them into staying longer. Not only did it not work in the end, but it gave many of those newer fans who came during the boom those unrealistic expectations of something the sport quite simply is not. Over time, it has hurt the sport more than it has helped, because the old guard don’t like the gimmicks while the new fans expect more and more of them. It becomes an unsustainable cycle, and it’s one that could be broken by figuring out what’s really necessary, not merely what’s going to be a quick fix.

An unexpected success story

What better to draw the right kind of attention to the sport than an old-fashioned rags-to-riches story? I’ve said it often, but it bears repeating: NASCAR’s small teams have some great stories to tell, some great people. Any one of them having a strong season or even a great run now and then is only good for the sport. For that to happen, though, the media need to be on board. Fans need to hear the stories and feel like they know the people so that when that success comes, they know the how , the why and the who.

A few drivers are making it happen in 2015. Truex Jr. and his single-car Furniture Row Racing team have been in the top 10 at the end of the day every week. That’s no longer just good luck, it’s a good team and driver making the most of each and every week. Allmendinger and Casey Mears are also in position to make a Chase bid if the stars align right. In a sport where fans often complain about the same drivers winning too much and the wealthy teams dominating, a few underdogs in the mix should give them a new view.

Something for fans to cheer about

In the same vein as the underdog angle, the sport could use some good old-fashioned optimism for a few of its most popular drivers. 2015 is Jeff Gordon‘s swan song; when it’s over, one of the greatest ever to climb into a stock car will walk away. The tributes are moving, but one last championship run would make people take notice. Ditto Tony Stewart, who has been to hell and back over the last two seasons and for whom one of the wins that were once so commonplace would mean so much to.

Fans need a reason to delve into the history of the sport, and there’s nothing like seeing one of the greatest ever doing it all just one more time, or watching another great driver stage a comeback. While there’s nothing NASCAR can (or should) do about the on-track performance of the sport’s veterans, it should be making sure that fans know those drivers are as relevant as ever, as hungry as ever. Fans need to care for the feel-good stories to have their best impact.

A deserving champion

There’s a bit of a divide here among fans. Some will say that whoever wins under the current rules is deserving, and there is validity to that because the rules are the same for everyone. But it is hard to crown a season champion who was not the best all season in a sport like auto racing, and when the best all season wasn’t even allowed to compete for the title under the current rules, that makes it all the harder. Auto racing isn’t the kind of sport where a single race should decide anything. That might create excitement, but it takes away from the sport, too, because there are just too many variables in a single race to make it a legitimate way of determining a champion. It works in other sports because there are two teams on the field who directly determine each other’s fate. Would the Super Bowl be a good way to determine a champion if the entire rest of the league was on the field at the same time, trying to win it for themselves and hindering the actual contenders? Of course not.

A separate points system is not the answer. That’s just not what this sport is. The best thing for NASCAR would be for the driver who scores the most points (or at least the most wins if they’re not the same person) to also win the title. The system attracted some casual fans last year, but will they stick around if the system doesn’t look legit? That’s a question whose answer will become apparent in the coming months.

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DoninAjax

NASCAR needs a real race car.

GOODREAR (I saw it on the back of a race car) needs a tire that gives up during a run and not one for Johnson.

I want to see Jimmie Johnson in the 47 car to show if he’s as good a driver as he thinks he is.

NASCAR needs to say goodbye to Brian and his brilliant ideas.

NASCAR needs the impossible.

PeterInPickering

NASCAR needs a car that doesn’t rely on downforce. They need to get rid of as much downforce as possible and go back to mechanical grip from the tires. Then there will be passing. Until then we’re stuck with aero-push parades.

salb

Unfortunately, Nascar has forgotten what got them to the peak popularity they once had. Resorting to sillier and sillier gimmicks, trying to force a square peg into a round hole, just isn’t going to work. The whole ‘one race champion’ scenario is so wrong…and the powers that be don’t even know it. I don’t hold out much hope for Nascar at this rate. Maybe the bright spot is that, after running the series into the ground, it will return to what it used to be…a regional series that doesn’t take $20 million just to start a car.

russ

All valid points, but just think about this. Look at our lives now compared to back in Nascar’s glory days. Back then, on Sunday morning you either went to church or didn’t, had lunch and tuned into the race. There weren’t too many other things going on. Far from that now. The internet and digital communications have given us more options than we can imagine.
When was the last time you watched a race without doing something else at the same time?

Bill B

Not to mention when I was young, most stores/malls were closed on Sundays.
Of course TV only had 6 channels and NASCAR wasn’t broadcast regularly on any of them so I’m not sure how NASCAR today could be compared with the “glory days”. Unless you define the glory days as that brief time between every race being broadcast on some cable channel and the beginning of the internet/digital age. That period would probably be 1988 to 1998.

Bill B

BTW, I watch races without doing anything else more than I don’t.

russ

Back then, gawd I’m old, you listened to the race on the radio. Talked about glued to the tube, radio is worse.

Dennis

Back in my day, we listened to it on the telegraph… and we liked it! Now, where is Ma’s old gray bonnet with the blue ribbon on it?

russ

you can order it from Amazon.

Bill B

I agree with all these points. Especially that last one.

With regards to the under-dog teams, that’s one of the things I miss about the old qualifying method. Each driver got a moment in the spotlight. The announcers were forced to talk about their situation and the fans learned something. Now the qualifying is just like the races. Only the big name teams get mentioned/followed.

GinaV24

all good points, but NASCAR isn’t listening to anyone but its own internal voices and they all nod their heads yes to whatever dumb idea Brian comes up with every time.

I agree with salb and doninajax’s comments, too. Russ, I have no problem multi-tasking and if the racing were GOOD – it doesn’t even have to be GREAT – I’d make time to watch. NASCAR’s management and the tv partners have made it so I have to multi-task in order to follow the race and get the information about MY driver and I follow one who has a pretty decent fan base and so gets coverage most races, a lot of fans drivers don’t.

It ticks me off because darn it I really used to enjoy this sport, but gimmicks doesn’t get it done. Decent racing would draw more fans, but then there is the “chase” that throws a wrench in all of it.

Oh well, after November, I’ll be a casual fan and NASCAR’s foibles will be a source of amusement, rather than consternation.

david

WOW Amy. Good article! Thanks! Scheeze all the goat eggs complaining çause they didn’t get what THEY wanted. It seems to me FOX has been doing a much better job covering more battles deeper in the field. And no mention of whatshername at Phoenix! I have devoured NASCAR since before I straped a wobbly old Volkswagon to my butt and competed with the big dogs in my class on a dusty dirt track way back in the woods. Since the early 60’s maybe when I first learned how to turn the knob? Times change. Yeah there’s some things I don’t like about NASCAR but so what, its not my ball and my bat and my glove and my field. Seems some goat eggs can’t go with the flow. Yeah the feel good stories. How about that kid that got sponsored by annomous people on the Web last year? How about Childress’s comment about that bigger word than mayonaise, it should have made national headlines! Darn near died laughing, it made my Phoenix race even better. Ah rednecks, ya gotta luvim. I wonder what would happen if all the goat eggs complaining droped some encouragement or coins or both for David Gilliland or Josh Wise or Timmy Hill or BK Racing or TBR, any of the little guys? Maybe speak the words “I love you Calypso” the right way to Tony Stuart and release him from his bondage from his recent past to kick Happy’s backside big time. And Happy’s 3rd race, I still cry remembering it and the reason why he was in that car. Its not up to only NASCAR to make things right again. I wish the goat eggs would recognize their parts in their creation of what they perceive NASCAR racing to be today. But I’ll continue to enjoy it anyway. Keep up the good articles Amy. And thanks again. By the way, for those that don’t comprehend, goat eggs are those little oval black things goats toss around after they eat tin cans and stuff that unexpectedly show up squished between my toes.

GinaV24

I thought they were goat berries? If they are eggs, by golly those are some big goats.

paltex

All you hopefull people that think nascar is going to change, FORGET IT! Tracks covering their seats, the three stooges announcing the race, commercials it seems like every few minutes to pay for the huge amount of money paid to nascar and y’all think it is going to change? TV ratings drop, empty seats and you think they would recognise a problem (nascar)? Good luck on anything changing other than a few gimmicy
changes that don’t amount to anything. Am 75 years old and watched nascar from the beginning and now it seems that this is the slow burn end. SAD!

russ

They won’t change because they’re making money. So in their mind they’re doing it right. And who knows they may be right.

kb

***DISCLAIMER****To those who hate us, us being the ones that in the hope Nascar sees the error of their ways, and don’t bow down…STOP READING NOW!!!!!!!!!!!! We don’t like any Chase……

Amy Henderson leading the charge!!!! You had glimpse of greatness last year and some columns were to cherish..Where can this go??? Keep it up and don’t give up. It is very hard to have faith in a system where “business men” who don’t give a lick about racing tell you a one race shoot out is the way to crown a season long champ…never mind those pesky 35 other races…pay no attention..they mean nothing…NASCARS THINKING!!! I admit, I don’t like Kevin Harvick, haven’t since his first day in Cup, it has nothing to do with Dale Sr. and him winning the ONE race has nothing to do with my dislike. I said many months and columns ago I am glad my guy didn’t get this lame award based on that criteria, and they did Kevin Harvick no favors either. Remove all doubt..heck it isn’t even doubt…stats don’t like, wins don’t lie, point’s don’t like..top 5’s don’t lie, top 10’s don’t lie..isn’t there a system that someone can combine all those great attributes and show the world via POINTS the right driver won?????????????????????????? WITHOUT A LAME RESET, making a few equal when they/were not????????????????????????????????????????? Before Homestead Kevin was not the guy to beat..sorry..and I gotta say..Hamlin and Newman who didn’t see the front of the racetrack for pretty much all of 2014 all of a sudden are competing with Logano and Harvick and the rest of the field were field fillers???? Please. The farce had to go on…at all cost. Sell it, sell it, sell it!!!!!!!! But people with a brain are not buying.

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