1. All these seats
In the late 1990s, as NASCAR became a more common water cooler topic, tracks added seats upon seats … seats that they’re regretting to the point of removing a lot of them. Sometimes, less is more, and the building boom was all about the moment instead of considering that most fads come to an end. And when they do, there’s an awful lot of room left on the bandwagon. The thing about supply and demand is, in order to sustain demand, you need to curb the supply a bit.
Sparse crowds don’t make anyone look good, but sometimes those crowds aren’t as sparse as they look. If you fill up half of a 100,000-seat venue, you have a heck of a crowd, a bigger audience than many other sports venues can even hold. But it looks empty, and that in itself produces apathy.
If the track looks poorly attended, even with more than 50,000 in attendance, interest in going isn’t exactly piqued. If a track sells out, though, people tend to look at the packed stands and think, “man, I wish I was there.” There’s no denying that the crowds have shrunk significantly; that’s not all due to the size of the grandstand. But the lack of foresight in building them so big contributes to the overall perception of the sport.
2. Later, dude
NASCAR tried moving to later start times previously, and it didn’t work. Fans didn’t like races starting at 3 pm, and most were moved back to earlier times a few years back, though not as early as they once were. So doing it again for 2017 makes little sense.
Sure, the networks want races closer to primetime, but when you factor in things like travel time for fans to get home and the unpredictability of the weather, especially at tracks where there are no lights, it seems unlikely that the move will attract more fans than it will anger into possibly doing something else on Sunday.
3. How’d you get down there?
Take a look at the front ends of Cup cars from the 1980s and earlier, and you’ll see a whole lot more air below the front bumper. It’s a stark contrast to today’s race cars, with the splitter that rides so close to the asphalt that little air passes by. Drivers like the closed-off front end because it adds downforce by eliminating lift from airflow under the car, making the cars both faster and easier to drive.
That seems like a good thing until you consider that the splitter – and to a slightly lesser extent, the low-hanging valence that came before it – contributes to the aerodynamic dependence that makes passing difficult and clean air king. While NASCAR has made big strides in the right direction, raising the front end of the cars seems like it would be worth experimenting with to see if it can be done safely. If it can’t, then at least a return to the valence without the splitter blade could make a difference in what fans see on track.
4. That’ll weed ‘em out…
This one’s a little hard to write, because it goes against a lot of what I say all the time: driving for a small team is not an indicator of lack of talent on a driver’s part. Far from it. But it’s safe to say that when NASCAR created the new and, debatably, improved Chase, nobody really expected a team in Chris Buescher’s position to be contenders.
Buescher is 31st in points right now, but just a handful behind 30th and Chase eligibility. Buescher is an outstanding talent, and a nice kid to boot, and the Front Row Motorsports teams work as hard as anyone in the garage. They’ve proven that they can do more with less than just about anyone.
But there’s something about a 30th-place driver being in title contention, even if it’s likely he’ll be weeded out early, just doesn’t sit right. The championship needs to be about excellence, not just on one day, but throughout an entire season. While the 30th-place cutoff makes it easy for a driver who misses races for injury to still contend (and some feel that they shouldn’t be able to either), it also makes it easy for a driver who, while undeniably impressive, is not championship caliber overall to get in.
And as much as everyone loves an underdog, it’s a bit difficult to accept one in the Chase over teams who performed better on a week to week basis.
5. Here, have a cookie
On paper, it certainly makes sense to have multi-purpose race tracks that can easily host a variety of racing series. The problem is, cars don’t race on paper, and the tracks that were designed for both stock cars and open-wheel racers don’t often produce great races from both sides. Only its aged pavement has allowed Auto Club Speedway to become an exception, but for years, it was no different from most of the other 1.5 to 2-mile tracks on the circuit.
NASCAR’s mistake was adding so many of these tracks to the schedule to begin with, instead of telling would-be track owners that if they wanted to be included on the Cup schedule, they needed to come up with something different. Now, in the age of track owners filing lawsuits to get their way, it’s harder to get the cookie-cutters off the schedule, in part because there are few tracks with the infrastructure to replace them. That’s because nobody built them, and the ones that were on the schedule were not kept up to date.
If NASCAR had said something to the tune of “Want another race? Build another short track,” to both Bruton Smith and the planners at sister company International Speedway Corp., fans would be getting a more exciting product in the end.
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