NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: What Is NASCAR’s Silliest Rule?

Welcome to Friday Faceoff, our weekly NASCAR roundtable where the Frontstretch experts give their take on major storylines surrounding the sport. Here’s a few major questions we’re trying to answer heading into Sonoma.

1) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting married. Kasey Kahne is becoming a dad. Here’s one thing we don’t hear about anymore: young drivers who are 20-something and single. Does that hurt NASCAR with the 18-34 crowd, causing a disconnect? Or are these growing families a good sell for NASCAR’s wholesome image?

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: NASCAR has a wholesome image? When did that happen? Why didn’t I get the memo? Those of us who follow the sport know better but the public perception of stock car racing and its fans is that it’s still a bunch of dentally challenged, brew-swigging rednecks sitting in the cheap seats waiting to see the wrecks. As for the drivers, well, there’s a reason they’re called personal lives: they’re personal. From where I sit I don’t give a fig if a driver goes out and clubs baby seals Monday to Saturday, as long as he can drive the wheels off a racecar on Sunday. Mi amigo fue mordido por un burro una vez. Él dijo que esto realmente dolió.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I don’t think it affects the sport one way or the other. For years, drivers broke into the sport at an older age than is typical now, and the lack of single, young, good-looking drivers didn’t hurt things. Some drivers have gotten married (some more than once), had families, or whatever, and the sport has gone on. As long as they’re doing their jobs on the track, that’s what fans should care about.

Joseph Wolkin, Senior Writer: I don’t think that hurts NASCAR at all. If anything, it takes away some of the stereotypes from the sport. Drivers are well-educated, and they really want to have their lives together at a decent age. Having more families in NASCAR will provide something that other sports don’t have, and that’s the family aspect from the athletes. You see it in baseball more than anywhere else, and if NASCAR can catch up to that, things should go well.

Aaron Bearden, Associate Editor: Man, Earnhardt Jr. is in his 40s and Kahne’s been in the Sprint Cup Series for over a decade now. I don’t think these off-track changes from veteran drivers have much effect on the casual fan’s view of the sport. These sorts of things have always happened, they just seem to be more publicized now. Most people will forget or stop caring within a month.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I think it’s good to see this baby boom as, from a cultural perspective, the traditional family dynamic in America is changing. Junior is rather old-fashioned in that he’s getting married before siring children. Such emerging families just might appeal to the young adult audience NASCAR needs to insure its future.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: I doubt it hurts NASCAR. It’s one thing to want to attract the 18-34 crowd to NASCAR, but what do you want them to do? Like the on-track product, or fawn over the younger drivers like teenage girls in the 1990s who would buy Tiger Beat to kiss pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas? I think I’d prefer the former. Some of the relationships in NASCAR are way more public than others (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick are on one end, while Kahne and his girlfriend Sam Sheets are on the other). Heck, by 34, most people are married and starting to have kids. I’m 30 and a number of my friends are married or currently pregnant. It’s a fact of life.

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: A few points. One: If the racing on the track was good enough, we wouldn’t be talking about fatherhood for drivers or who’s going to crash Dale Jr.’s wedding. Last I checked, the highest-rated NBA Finals since 1998 had little to no mention of whether LeBron James’s wife was pregnant. Too much other stuff to talk about. That said, I’ve talked at length about how the majority of NASCAR drivers are 30 or older. Makes it hard to connect with an 18-34 crowd who isn’t always thinking marriage, kids or settling down yet. The other reality is that the white picket fence life of family, kids and the American Dream can also be, well, boring from a marketing perspective (and that’s coming from a family-oriented guy). The Kardashians might be crazy but unique also sells on television. Look at the ratings.

Family is fun, but 100% family and kids? It makes the 43-car field a little too generic, a word that’s been one of NASCAR’s biggest problems for about a decade now.

2) NASCAR is introducing rain tires into the Cup Series for road courses this year, although the chances they are getting used at Sonoma are nil. Is this shift in thinking a trend the sanctioning body should be applying to oval tracks as well? Can you ever see NASCAR racing in the rain on ovals?

Bowles: I can’t see Cup drivers racing in the rain, on road courses OR on ovals. Remember the Montreal debacle in the then-Nationwide Series a few years back? Sacre bleu! Realistically, it will only happen in Cup once a year (Watkins Glen) so I’m fine with the road-course rule. But anything more than a one-time affair? Cover your eyes; it won’t be pretty.

Bearden: Look, I love rain racing. It adds an interesting spin to things in IndyCar, and it made for some exciting shows when the Xfinity Series threw on wets at Montreal and Road America. However, these cars are WAY too heavy to run wets on an oval. It’d be a crapshoot. For goodness’ sake, IndyCar doesn’t even run wets on ovals.

Howell: What happened to the idea we saw years ago when we used to talk about Cup teams carrying brake lights, wiper blades and rain tires for use when rainy days threatened races? I recall trying these pieces in the Xfinity Series many years ago at a limited level, but maybe age has blurred my thinking. If rain delays hurt TV coverage and fan attitudes, maybe trying rain gear on ovals is worth a try. We’re already changing the aero package; what do we have to lose?

Henderson: Absolutely not. You don’t see any series running ovals in the rain and there’s a reason for that: safety. Not only would the racing suffer greatly (it does on wet tracks with rain tires, too), but the risk of serious injury, or worse, is just too great. Rain tires were never meant to be used on ovals. Driving on banking, in the rain, at the speeds they run, would be disastrous.

McLaughlin: Simply stated, that’s never going to happen. Oval tracks tend to be banked. Even slight banking means running not stationary water on the track surface. An oval track race in the rain would be the biggest farce in the sport’s history since the 2008 Brickyard. El agricultor fue enfurecido. Él mató al burro.

Allaway: Anyone who wants to know what a NASCAR race in the rain would be like at a superspeedway needs to look at the 2003 Grand Prix of Brazil from Interlagos – in particular, the multiple incidents at the bottom of the hill where a river ran across the track. That is more or less what you would get. That’s not going to work. Also, that race was a wreckfest.

Wolkin: Definitely not. Putting rain tires on oval tracks would be uglier than watching the Mets collapse again. It just won’t happen. There’s a big difference between a road course and an oval, especially with the steep banking at the majority of NASCAR tracks. I mean, maybe it could happen at a track like Loudon, but that would just be NASCAR doing something that’s rather gimmicky, and the sanctioning body is better than that.

3) NASCAR’s pit road closed rule (red vs. green light) came under scrutiny this week in the Xfinity Series, but it’s not the only one that irks people inside the garage. What do you think is the silliest rule NASCAR has right now?

Henderson: There are a lot of rules that I’d like to see change, but top of the list is still the Chase. It cheapens the championship when unearned points are handed out like candy after Richmond, and that’s not what the sport is about. It’s also changed how teams approach races, depending on whether they “need” a win or not. Fans also see less of the actual race on a broadcast as the TV networks get caught up in a few contenders and incessant talk of who’s in and who’s out starting in Daytona, before the first raced is even on the books. It’s time to admit this is not a stick-and-ball sport and was never meant to be one.

Allaway: Probably NASCAR’s insistence on continuing with group qualifying at tracks longer than Gateway in the Camping World Truck Series. Every week, it’s the same stupidity. If you don’t have a draft, you’re darn near last in the round. It’s looney tunes. NASCAR needs to kill that and just go back to single-truck qualifying. Drives me nuts. The format is to blame for darn near half the drivers in the final round each week failing to put up a time because of the draft.

Bowles: The way cars get their lap back. I’ll get screamed at for safety reasons but I miss the old racing back to the yellow. At the very least, put the lapped cars back on the inside so people have to fight for their lap back the hard way. Magically earning five laps back through rules, as Kyle Busch did years ago at Watkins Glen, is ridiculous and makes a farce of the show.

Howell: The silliest Cup rule is the qualifying process. It may not be good for TV, but it’s even worse for establishing starting grids. Call me antiquated, but I like the way we used to do qualifying.

Bearden: I’ll take the “March Madness from September through November” approach to the Chase, with an honorable mention to the “written warning, you miss practice” headaches. I may be a purist, but I know I’m not the only one that wishes NASCAR would leave the Final Four to the NCAA.

Wolkin: The only rule that I really don’t agree with is the Final Four to win the title. Just imagine how much criticism NASCAR would have had if Kevin Harvick didn’t win the championship last year. It still doesn’t settle well with my stomach, and there was nothing wrong with the old format. Yes, the eliminations create a sense of urgency, but at least award the regular season points leader, along with enabling drivers with wins to carry the bonus points over to each round instead of just the first one.

McLaughlin: I’d like to see them send the wave-around rule to the scrapyard. Yes, it gets a bit complicated when the leader has to restart behind a bunch of cars on the tail end of the lead lap. It was tough to explain to the new fans. Well, the new fans have gotten on their rocks and rolled. They decided they hated NASCAR racing and they hated us. They even stole our lawn gnomes on the way to the door. As I see it, with restarts providing most of the action in most races, having the dominant driver having to fight his way through a pack of drivers determined to stay on the lead lap would be great. Fenders would get bent. Tempers would get frayed. You know, it would almost be like stock car racing or something. Él dio a mi amigo la cola para la sopa. Esto era la sopa muy Buena.

4) A lot of drivers on the outside looking in are checking off Sonoma as their best chance of stealing a win and making the Chase. Which winless driver do you have an eye on this weekend and why?

McLaughlin: To date Jeff Gordon‘s retirement tour has gone over about like a Milli Vanilli reunion tour. My guess is that this week the former champion take the bit between his teeth and reasserts himself as a contender on the road courses, after which he’ll likely go out and club baby seals with stolen garden gnomes using the new Windows 10 marine mammal tracking app. No hay nada como un pedazo bueno de la cola.Wolkin: I really wouldn’t be surprised if Casey Mears brings Germain Racing its first win this weekend. He has been amazing at the road courses, and having the alliance with Richard Childress Racing has helped that team dramatically. Jamie McMurray might be a threat to win, along with Tony Stewart, who should start to heat up with the summer months. Jeff Gordon is still looking for his first win in his final year, and I think he’s going to be very strong this weekend. He’s been the runnerup at Sonoma in each of the last two seasons, and a win would give him the momentum that he needs to be a title contender. Oh, and don’t count out Clint Bowyer, who has seven top 10s in nine starts at the road course.

Howell: Of all the drivers with a shot at winning this weekend, my money is on Gordon. He’s been enjoying trips down memory lane out west and putting his career in perspective. One more win at Sonoma will put the emphasis on one more championship.

Allaway: I picked Busch to win this weekend, but he cannot make the Chase just by winning on Sunday. He has to win the race and continue to put up good results. Of those who are in the top 30 in points and can lock in with a win, I’m keeping my eye on AJ Allmendinger. After a hot start to the season, he’s cooled off significantly. He’s also about the only road course expert that’s still full-time in Sprint Cup after Marcos Ambrose went back to Australia (Note: I don’t count Sam Hornish Jr. as he was only ordinary on road courses in previous series). In Allmendinger’s case, he’s better at Watkins Glen, but road racing is his bread and butter. There’s a reason why Michael Shank considers Allmendinger to be a ringer at the Rolex 24 every year.

Henderson: There are a couple on the radar who might surprise. McMurray is actually a very good road racer, and his team has been right on the verge this season. Two others who could pull off an upset are the two RCR affiliates without wins, Allmendinger and Mears, both strong road racers. Of the pair, Mears is a bit better at Sonoma, with Allmendinger having the edge at Watkins Glen. Finally, as dismal as his season has been, Stewart is just too good at Sonoma to count out.

Bowles: I didn’t pick him officially in the Frontstretch pool but don’t you get the feeling Kyle Larson is waking up? He’s the type of driver with the talent to break out at anytime. Not the favorite at Sonoma, by any means but if he jumped out and won it wouldn’t surprise me.

Bearden: This one’s easy! It’s Ambrose… Err…. Juan Pablo Montoya!… Oh wait… Fine, I’ll just say this: Busch. Busch has been phenomenal on road courses in the past, and needs a win as bad as anyone in the field. I’d expect Rowdy to be up on the wheel this weekend.

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Bill B

I agree with all of you on question 3. What we can all agree on is that there are a lot of silly rules that need to go the way of the dinosaur.

So Matt, did you just get the Rosetta Stone software and are in the process of learning Spanish, or is that your way of embracing diversity, or are you just having fun and f-ing with us?

MPM

Just having a little fun (when this gig stops being fun I quit) and of course supporting cultural diversity. Es todo en la diversión buena mi amigo

GinaV24

Matt, yes, that’s what racing used to be about for me — fun. Sadly the fun has been sucked out of it by the gimmick king, Brian France.

Capt Spaulding

Since Matt has also been vocal in the comments section, he is brushing up on his Spanish, so he can attend the Frontstretch company picnic in “Mexican Incognito.”

GinaV24

I definitely agree that there are a lot of stupid rules in NASCAR these days and probably more than a few of them have contributed to the fans taking a hike from the sport.

As far as the drivers getting married and having kids, well, as Tom B pointed out, if the racing was actually worth talking about, it wouldn’t even be news. Do I think that Dale Jr’s engagement will matter to NASCAR fans? Not enough to bring them back to the track and tv if they have already left.

Bill B, just as an aside, I’ve decided that I’m not “clicking or commenting” on Matt S’s column this week. Last week since IMO he decided he wants to be a jerk toward the commenters, this week, I’m not going to bother reading his commentary.

MPM

Just for the record that is Matt S(talknecht) not Matt’s, correct? Fact is I didn’t even HAVE a column last week. And for the record I continue with that eternal fight to remain “not a wacko-doo”

For the rest of ya’ll, I introduce you to a brave new concept from the Kool-Aid bunch first championed by Jim Utter (formerly of the Charlotte Observer as of this weekend) The new argument is that NASCAR is very popular and everyone LOVES the Chase, except for a few grumbling old timers. But for whatever reason the Vocal Minority has taken over discussions of the sport on electronic media. The Grumble-fish thus cause a perception that the sport is in decline because the Happy Shiny People are just too content (and Kool-aid bloated) to bother posting.

Remember in grade school when they used to use those circle diagrams. For instance circle A is left-handed people and circle B is Deadheads. The two circles overlap in roughly the proportion you’d expect as there is nothing about being left handed that predisposes one to like the Greatest Band ever. (Well, maybe a little bit because left handed people like moi are “right-brained” and the right brain is the creative side of the brain so I do in fact know a lot of left-handed Deadheads. Right handed people typically have sock puppets on their hands as they ask “If the Dead are so great how come they never won an MTV Teen Choice Award like Taylor….but I digress.

In a bit of Utter foolishness Jim has used own take on circle graphs. There are the Grumble-Fish who aren’t pleased with the direction the sport is going. That’s the circle mid-page to the left. Then there are the Happy Shiny people who think this may in fact be the dandiest era in the sports history, so dandy in fact it might just be nifty. That’s the circle mid-page to the right. Obviously these two circles do not overlap. But now we’ll add a third circle that is people who post on electronic media. Logically that circle would overlap both of the other two circles in roughly a proportional fashion. That’s the circle dead center at top. But Utter’s hypothesis pushes the “post on electronic media circle down and to the left. Thus it’s the Grumble-fish that have taken over Twitter and other electronic media with their confounded negativity that causes a misimpression that most fans are unhappy with the state of the sport.

Oh, and for the record I can’t trust a guy who writes “Fantasy Picks” every week and never includes Heather Locklear or Marcia Brady.

JohnQ

When you’re wrong you’re wrong, might as well admit it. I love Jimmy Spencer tee shirt with the sleeves cut off NASCAR. I hate prissy fool prancing around a Toyota like he just accomplished something when he beats up on underfunded teams in second tier series NASCAR. Maybe the racing press is right. Perhaps I should join the majority of fans that have bailed out and look for something else to do.

Chris

I agree Matt. Recently I was taken aback by Jerry Jordan’s observation in his latest article that NASCAR’s new rule changes were perhaps in response to the negative comments made on electronic/social media. The reason that I was taken aback is that I’m not of the opinion that NASCAR takes into consideration any of the comments that are made on any of the racing sites/social media. Add to this that I pointed on one Matt S’s recent articles that if just about all of the 50 comments made on his article were not in support of the Chase, (Matt was the only one that supported it), then if I apply Jerry Jordan’s theory that NASCAR is making changes based on the minority of negative commentator’s then I fully expect that soon NASCAR will announce that the Chase is to be relegated to history. I have to admit that I am confused by this new tact that some of these writers are taking as it logically doesn’t make sense. I also pointed out that Frontstretch has about 3,000 followers so it would make sense that a majority of these people like the Chase and/or the direction that NASCAR is going yet I hardly ever see comments in support of the current state of NASCAR (if indeed what Jerry Jordan and others say is true regarding NASCAR being sensitive to negative comments). How does one reconcile this?

Bill B

If the grumbling fans are in the minority and the satisfied fans are in the majority, then why do ratings and attendance keep plummeting? You can throw out all kinds of ridiculous comments about those “bitter damn old fans” making a louder noise, but you can’t refute the numbers. NASCAR is bleeding fans and money even though the tv contracts don’t reflect that, YET (eventually they will).

I always thought Frontstretch might be the exception with respect to negative comments because I usually don’t read comments at the “company” websites (NASCAR.com and ESPN). In the last few months I have made an effort to wade through some of those websites and have realized that the disgruntled fan making negative comments is more prevalent than I thought. If we are a minority, we are a sizable one.

GinaV24

Logic? Ha, putting the words logic and NASCAR together is an oxymoron if I ever came across one.

Yes well the various media can continue to try and find a way to spin it so that it appears the “disgruntled” fans are in the minority, but as you said, if that is the case then why are the tracks removing seats, why is NASCAR building an amusement park at Daytona and why are the ratings continuing the fall (other than the idiocy of putting the races onto channels that a lot of people don’t get and expecting the fans to call their cable companies to demand it be added at whatever additional cost to their cable bills) ha, yeah, that won’t happen for this fan, I guarantee that.

I’m not sure what drove NASCAR to change its plans — whether it is the rapid bleeding out of the fan base or if maybe they actually listened (for a change) to the drivers.

GinaV24

Matt, you are correct about which Matt I am referring to — NOT you, but Matt Stalknecht.

I have been tired for some years with the radio guys, Kenny Wallace and his ilk on tv and other writers all telling the fans that WE don’t know anything and that our opinions don’t count. Last week’s column by Stalknecht and his responses to the comments because many of us didn’t just completely agree with him was over the top.

Capt Spaulding

Note how Matt S and Jerry J played it safe this week.

GinaV24

I never consider you a wacko-doo, Matt. There are a lot of others that I put into that category and with the NASCAR media as with politicians, it gets larger all the time. I stopped reading Jim Utter’s stuff when I realized that in my opinion it had become utter nonsense.

Overlapping circles indeed!

JohnQ

Picking the stupidest rule in NASCAR is like trying to determine the most beautiful woman in the world, just too many to choose from.

Bill B

LOL Gina. You have to really pay attention to that last initial.

GinaV24

LOL, yes I should have done a better job — I thought I put an “S” there because I certainly did not in any way mean to disparage Matt M and his writing.

Earner

Sure would love to see a rule that states: If Nascar has a mandatory competition caution (usually to evaluate tire wear on a fresh or unknown track situation) it should be mandatory that 4 tires are changed out for all drivers

Paul

Matt, agree 100% especially the wave around. Gave me a good laugh when I translated your Spanish quips! :D

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