- The plate package
One thing that has been lacking at Daytona and Talladega with the current package is what once made plate racing entertaining: the lead being the last place a driver wanted to be taking the white flag. The ability for one line to catch and pass the other has diminished, and that’s hurt the excitement—the leader has too much control over the field at the end of the race, and the top and middle lines at both restrictor plate tracks don’t seem to work as well as they once did. It shouldn’t take wholesale changes to the cars to get there.
Though the cars are far different from what they were circa 2000, the plate package then wasn’t a huge diversion from what you see today. The roof spoiler and wicker bill package made for tight pack racing, sometimes with surprisingly few crashes as the cars were more stable in the air. While drivers are currently able to gain ground in the pack, gaining 15 spots and going to the lead in a few laps is no longer a reality … and plate racing would be much better if it were.
- SAFER Barriers
Many tracks, Talladega among them, have done a credible job of making sure that more surfaces have SAFER barriers. There’s really no reason not to have them mandated on every surface facing the racing surface at every oval track on the circuit. And NASCAR should be helping by reducing sanctioning fees to tracks for a set number of years after installation is complete. Talladega showed how far the sport has come in safety, but one hit on an unprotected wall and it will be painfully clear how far it still has to go.
- The XFINITY Series championship
When NASCAR polled fans about adding a Chase to the XFINITY and Truck Series, the question included one thing the final deal didn’t: limiting Cup drivers’ participation. You have to wonder if many fans chose the lesser of two evils and checked the Chase box, believing that the Cup drivers would be limited in more than just a single race (the finale at Homestead). Now, nine races into 2016 and the “win and you’re in” Chase format is becoming a bit of a joke, with exactly two drivers qualified via wins in the series. At this race, how many of the final 12 title contenders will have a win? Four? Five?
The whole reason for the Chase in the first place was to discourage title runs like the one Matt Kenseth had in the Cup Series in 2003, where he won just one race en route to the championship. There was an uproar in 2014 when Ryan Newman came within a point of winning the Cup title without a win. So, why suddenly put the format in place in a series where regulars don’t win regularly? It’s less of an issue in Trucks, but for the XFINITY show, it’s definitely a concern.
NASCAR’s reasoning for not releasing its rule book to the general public is that the car specs are proprietary. Fair enough. But why not make some sections available online, including those that outline behavior standards, inspection, qualifying and race procedures, and other things that would give fans a clearer picture of what’s being policed and how without giving away trade secrets. While publishing penalties and levels of infraction was a good step, it still means little without fans knowing what the rules are and what infractions equal which penalties. It shouldn’t appear that the rules are written in pencil, a complaint fans have had for many years.
- The bottom line
While the fans would see little immediate impact, reining in the cost of competition would, in time, only improve the on-track product. Yes, every sport has haves and have nots, but costs in NASCAR have spiraled out of control in the last 15 years. In the late 90’s, touted by many as some of the sport’s best years, a team could be competitive in the Cup Series for $10-15 million a season. Then, a few huge corporate sponsors came along and dropped double that into a couple of teams. That was great for those teams, who prospered and won, but not so great for the sport overall. Longtime sponsors pulled out of the sport because they could no longer field a competitive car with the budget they had allocated. Longtime teams went out of business as a result.
Teams with full sponsorship aren’t able to compete with the powerhouses any longer. And it hurts the sport, because it’s hard for fans to pull for the underdog if the underdog rarely has a fighting chance of success. NASCAR needs to take care to nurture future investors, who won’t get involved if there’s no return on their investment, and to make their investment worthwhile by making some level of success a financial possibility.
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