1. More tire wear
The tires Goodyear has presented the Cup Series with this season have been, by and large, a huge step in the right direction. But there is still room for improvement as tires still last through much of a fuel run. There should be a real strategy play here between racing as hard as you can while the tires are fresh or conserving them.
Think the old days at Darlington or Rockingham, when drivers would be begging for tires after 20 or 25 laps. Teams had to decide whether to short pit before the fuel ran dry, to put on fresh rubber, or hold out and hope the caution flew for someone other than them albeit while running slower lap times. That tire strategy added a lot of drama to the racing. While we don’t want to see tires popping left and right, the more they wear, the more it forces teams to make decisions. Ultimately, this leads to better racing.
2. Bigger penalties
One thing NASCAR has done right this season is to take a harder line on in-race infractions. Not only has the sanctioning body kept its word on lug nut violations, but they have also enforced pit road, restart rules and body alterations more often and more consistently than they have before. I’m in favor of a harder line on body alterations, though, such as the one we saw Brad Keselowski busted for last weekend in Pocono.
If leaving a lug nut off a wheel is an automatic crew chief suspension, altering the car’s body to gain a competitive advantage during a race certainly should be as well. At the very least, teams caught altering the body should have to fix the car under the green flag to NASCAR’s satisfaction. In additions, teams losing a lap due to any penalty should not be eligible for a free pass or wave-around for the rest of the event. NASCAR seems to be pointed in the right direction, but if they want the rules to have teeth, it needs to bite the teams that break them.
3. Broadcasts that actually show racing
You’ve heard this point a lot from me this season, but it bears repeating until the television partners make a change. In order for fans to enjoy the racing from their homes, the broadcast has to show the racing more like the fans at the track experience it. Sitting in the stands, few fans have their eyes locked on the leader. They may be following their favorite driver for most of the race, whether he’s leading or not, but the eye is naturally drawn to racing action, and any battle for position can be an exciting one.
By not showing more of the racing through the field, the networks are doing fans no favors. In the end, that hurts the sport because people don’t want to watch the same handful of cars for the majority of a three-hour race if there isn’t any actual racing going on. Sure, the leaders and the most popular drivers are going to get a large portion of the show, but they shouldn’t overshadow what’s actually compelling at any given time. If there is a heated battle for 10th and little action up front, show the heated battle, not some guy widening a two-second lead. Fans at home should see at least some of what the fans at the track are treated to throughout the day.
4. Bottoms up
NASCAR’s attempts to take away downforce and tighten up the action on the track should be applauded. While the racing isn’t perfect, give credit where it’s due – it’s a heck of a lot better than a year ago. But one area that should be explored is putting races more in teams’ and drivers’ hands by raising the cars up off the ground a few inches.
Air flowing under the cars creates lift and reduces downforce, making them harder to drive and less dependent on clean air. Returning to a valence rather than the splitter also makes sense. Too often, teams’ days have ended because the splitter dug in on what would otherwise have been a minor spin in the grass. The more difficult the cars are to drive, in general, the better the racing will be, and the ride height is an area that should be explored.
5. A reason to forget about points
Winning a championship in any sport is a huge accomplishment, both for the winning team and the individual to be proud of. But winning a title should not be the only goal. Seldom in sports is so much emphasis put on the title as it is in NASCAR.
You don’t see teams in any other major sport clinching a playoff spot a month into the regular season and then experimenting for six months. There needs to be greater incentive to lead laps and take risks to win every week. Otherwise, the individual races will never be the focus of teams. The Chase, which was supposed to put more emphasis on winning races, has had the opposite effect in practice as teams who’ve clinched their spots don’t need to take the risks or try to win.
It’s a disservice to their fans, but you really can’t place the fault on them since they are just doing what they need to do to win the title. Whether it’s redistributing the season point fund to race purses and making them all worth a bigger payout than a championship or smaller changes like re-instituting the bonus for leading at halfway — or any manner of ideas in between– it’s time to make the individual races the focus for teams and fans for most of the season.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.