NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Do Fans Belong in the Garage?

A fan was injured after being struck by Kyle Busch’s car when Busch pulled into the garage with terminal damage at Bristol.  The fan placed the blame on Busch, but was it the driver’s fault?  And could the incident spell the end to some of the access fans have enjoyed?

Sean Fesko, Staff Writer: This isn’t Kyle Busch’s fault one iota. The fan who got hit was not paying attention to her surroundings, and rule number one in the garage area is to stay out of the way. This is something she should have known being the wife of a late-model racer, as she also should have known there’s no such thing as a safe place while the track is hot. I’m glad she wasn’t injured, but if she was the fault had to be placed squarely on her. Will it spell the end to hot passes? Perhaps. They are so hard to get nowadays that NASCAR just might make the screening process a little more stringent instead of doing away with them altogether.

Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: NASCAR provides more access to the drivers and teams than any other major sport, sometimes to the series’ detriment. The incident during Sunday’s Food City 500 was thankfully minor, but it brought to light a risk NASCAR’s been taking for many years now. It’s largely on the fan for being unaware of her surroundings and being where she shouldn’t have been, though she can’t be expected to be completely aware of all 43 cars at all times, either, especially in the tight Bristol infield. With this joining the close call from spins at Pocono Raceway just last summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see NASCAR limit the amount of hot passes given to fans, and for more strictly enforced guidelines to pop up in future weeks.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Tony Stewart spearheaded a move to get the fans kicked out of the garage area years ago, citing oddly enough his claustrophobia. That move backfired on NASCAR as fans felt slighted and it deprived them of what for many was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get up close and personal with the sport. Getting a garage pass, except perhaps as a part of group led about like sheep, has never been easy. How long has this controversy been swirling? This particular fan seems to be posturing toward a lawsuit. That’s a problem with American society, not NASCAR racing.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Totally not Busch’s fault—cars have the right of way in the garage, and where she was standing, it’s unlikely he could even see her with the safety equipment.  I do think that perhaps there are too many people in the garage at a lot of races — I’ve seen crews struggling to get their equipment to their pit boxes because of the throngs of fans in their way, so maybe there need to be more pit tours and fewer free-range fans in the garages, because people being hindered in doing their jobs is a problem.  Frankly, I’m surprised that more people aren’t hit, but regardless, it’s their fault if they do, 100 percent of the time.

Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: If you are a fan in the garage area, it is your responsibility to be aware of your surroundings.  The personnel who work in the garage area are doing just that — working.  Fans are more than welcome to observe, but they must be aware of what’s going on.  I hope that this incident does not limit fan access to the garage.  NASCAR needs to be promoting the things that separate stock car racing from other sports, and fan access is one of those things.  Incidents like this one have happened before.  The only reason why it’s a big deal now is because Kyle Busch is involved.

Several of NASCAR’s smaller teams flexed some muscle at Bristol, including the No. 83 of Matt DiBenedetto and the No 15 of Clint Bowyer, who both scored top 10s, and The No. 38 of Landon Cassill, who led 20 laps and was also headed for a top 10 before contact with Ty Dillon.  Are strong performances by these unsung teams important to the overall success of NASCAR as a whole?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Performances like those we saw last weekend from drivers like Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill and Matt DiBenedetto are proof positive that NASCAR is becoming a sport of competitive depth. I’m crediting it to the new low downforce aero package and new tires from Goodyear. These changes have been great equalizers and responsible for better runs from more teams. This is a great improvement from what we’ve seen in years past.

Gable: Absolutely.  Not only is parity at the front of the pack good for the sport, but fans especially love underdog stories.  The overwhelming emotion DiBenedetto displayed is what makes fans root for drivers, and it reminds us that everybody in the field is working as hard as they can to run well.  It is far more common to see these upsets at the biggest and smallest tracks, but they are really special when they happen.

(Photo: Matthew T Hacker/NKP)
Landon Cassill and Trevor Bayne were two of many underdogs that surprised the field at Bristol. (Photo: Matthew T Hacker/NKP)

Dustin Albino, Contributor: Who doesn’t like an underdog story? I love it. Don’t get used to it, but we’ve seen this season that short tracks have evened the playing field out to a degree. Yes, one of the big four teams still won, but it’s always good to see underfunded teams that usually struggle up toward the top of the leaderboard. It makes it interesting, and plus it puts them on television, which is further marketing the sport if a fan had never paid attention to that driver before.

Jason Schultz, Contributor: Absolutely. Small teams performing well always provides a compelling storyline to the race and shows what smaller teams are capable of. Short tracks definitely provide a better opportunity for these teams to perform well and this is an aspect of the sport NASCAR should take into consideration when crafting the next race track agreement in five years. This will not only produce better racing throughout the season but also further even the playing field.

After several teams once again had problems with loose wheels last week, is it time for NASCAR to revisit the decision to let teams police that aspect of pit stops themselves?

Fesko: No. The whole idea behind the self-policing is that it works. Did you see teams stay out when their tires were chattering? Ninety-nine percent of the time, no. If teams want to scrimp in order to save time, they fully know the risks involved. With an ill-handling car and the threat of a massive penalty should they lose a wheel, teams won’t take those chances, not if they’re in the middle of a Chase battle or attempting to qualify on points. NASCAR should stay out of it.

Bearden: I don’t honestly understand what necessitated this rule change to begin with, save for lack of officials on pit road to police it. The rules will likely stay as they are until a driver loses a wheel and pounds the wall at 190 mph on a superspeedway, but with all of the moves toward safety in the sport, it seems foolish that such a policy continues to exist. It feels like the NFL allowing a play to head onto the field with half of a helmet. It may be fair for each player, but we shouldn’t be surprised when the risk leads to a concussion.

McLaughlin: Let the teams do as they please. If they mess up, it costs them and their drivers. Until tires are coming off the cars and potentially getting sent over the fence putting fans in danger, leave it be. One would hope the 43 best drivers in the world would be able to feel a tire ready to separate from the car well before that happened.

Henderson: NASCAR never should have stopped in the first place.  The only reason it did is because it didn’t want to have to pay officials to be in the pits during races when its video system can police everything but the lug nuts. If teams can save a half second under green by not securing al; the nuts, they won’t do it unless it’s mandated, regardless of the safety issue.  I heard one team on the radio as they kept the driver on track knowing they only had three nuts tight on one wheel and despite the driver complaining of a vibration.  Nothing happened that time, but letting that kind of thing continue until someone does get hurt flies in the face of everything the sport has done to improve safety.

Howell: Teams will only self-regulate or self-police so far. If the topic of loose wheels/missed lugs is an issue of widespread concern, NASCAR will be required to step in and officiate pit stops more strictly — which means we’d likely see officials roaming pit boxes once again. Teams going with four lug nuts (or less) have to realize that their driver will make an additional stop every time missed lugs create a vibration. Seems to me that hitting all five and not pitting once more to tighten wheels would be reason enough to hit all five in the first place.

The only short track races fans will see from next Sunday through the Chase are the night race at Bristol and the regular-season finale at Richmond. Should NASCAR spread their short-track races out to make them a more consistent fixture on the schedule? 

Bearden: NASCAR needs to have more short track races in general, but if it’s going to keep the current amount, then yes, a more spread out schedule would benefit them and the series greatly. A June or July short track showdown could lead to some drama and excitement during the hot, sometimes stale summer months.

Gable: Here’s a better idea: add more short tracks to the schedule.  They routinely hold the best races of the year.  There would be no need to worry about lengthy gaps between short track events if NASCAR undertook a much-needed revamping of the schedule.

Schultz: NASCAR should spread out the short tracks on the schedule and add more into the mix. The races at Martinsville and Bristol have proven fans love short track racing and it provides some of the best racing each season. Adding more events that produce this style of racing should be NASCAR’s goal when creating the next track agreement.

Fesko: NASCAR should spread them out, but with only six short-track races on the schedule it might be a good move to add another race or two. This obviously couldn’t happen until 2021 when the five-year agreement with the tracks has run out, but that gives the sport four years to figure out what to add and what to remove from the schedule. The starting point has to be Iowa. What would it replace, though? That’s the $64,000 question.

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