Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Things NASCAR Fans Deserve to See

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.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Oftentimes, there is more racing going on throughout the field than the television broadcast would lead you to believe. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

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.

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kb

The emphasis on the title is a journey Amy, as in results every week. If you beat the other 40 or so competitors week in and out then there you go, your deserved winner at the end of the season. The fans know that it doesn’t matter how you kick ass or not for 26 weeks or you get super hot the next 10 races..it doesn’t count. Every starts and ends with the welfare playoff systems. Nascar puts this false emphasis as you people do writing the narrative that Nascar dictates. You cannot avoid it at the races via the broadcast or the writing of the event the next day. You people and Nascar are the worst at that fantasy promotion. You stated in this article the obvious, not earth shattering come to Jesus moment, but you will continue your reporting as always. Problem noted, move along nothing to see here.

Tyler

I agree about the networks showing racing. I’ve been catching up on the Formula One races from this year recently and one thing the Sky broadcast at least is good about is showing battles for position even if the leader is long gone. It’s not uncommon for them to show battles between cars that aren’t even in points-paying spots.

Russ

They also emphasize the different strategies the teams are on, and why. Particularly since the teams have to run each of the tire compounds at some point during the race. Also isn’t it amazing what a great job 3 guys who aren’t within a 1000 miles of the race can do announcing it.

DoninAjax

6. Teams have to change 4 tires during a “competition caution,” aka TV time-out with plenty of commercials. You’d think with all the caution commercials they could go a bit longer between breaks…fat chance. Gotta give DW a chance to think of a few more pertinent things to say about the “product” on the track.

Reasons for a competition caution:
it rained since the last race at the track
it’s sunny
it’s cloudy

Fed Up

Good presentation Amy from a fan’s viewpoint. Unfortunately, NA$CAR is not worried about the fan. They
have the money from the networks and it is all about the advertising revenue. If the camera doesn’t
show someone’s logo or ad it is not part of the program. Thank goodness for other sports that aren’t
controlled by the marketing “geniusry” of Brain Farce and his minions.

Steve Cosentino

I would add the following to #3. Show as much green flag racing as possible. Who thinks we want to watch cars do 55 and get tires/fuel on EVERY pit stop? In baseball the commercials are between innings. Can you imagine Fox MLB saying “Well that’s strike 2 to the hitter with two outs and the bases loaded….we’ll be back to watch 7th inning stretch after this break”? If anything bad happens i the pits they can show it later. But to leave green flag racing so we can watch pit stops is just plain stupid.

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