There’s a lot to take in
If NASCAR’s announcement of numerous changes to race formats and points in its three national touring series didn’t give fans a lot to think about, nothing will. Beyond that, though, there will be some changes to the cars to reduce downforce in both NASCAR’s Cup and XFINITY series. Charters changed hands like trading cards.
It’s actually a good thing that there are still a few weeks before the engines roar to life at Daytona, because it gives a little time to sort through all the changes we’ve seen. Look, we’ll all figure it out. As far as the aero package and the other rules adjustments, there won’t be answers until at least a few races into the season on different tracks.
The news seems overwhelming now, but once the season starts, hopefully some of the worries will melt away.
Many fans will have a void to fill
Jeff Gordon’s fans got an extended goodbye when their driver filled in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last year, but he’s now said he’s done for good. Tony Stewart is done in NASCAR as a driver. Carl Edwards is gone, at least for now, and if reports of him seeking a political career play out, expect that to be permanent.
Their departures make it murky waters for NASCAR, especially when coupled with the competition changes. Will most of the fans without their drivers stay, or will they go? It’s likely that most will stick around and either choose another driver to back or watch the field. But with the sport in transition, by choice or not, it leads to a question mark that’s difficult to answer.
Money still talks…too loudly?
The elephant in the room is and probably has, for years, been the dollar sign…and the elephant is not leaving anytime soon. Racing is expensive—and money determines the vast majority of how well a team can compete.
All the teams have good people. All of them. The big teams just have more people, which allows for more attention to detail, less chance of an oversight. Drivers don’t get to the top levels of the sport without talent — but they don’t get there if they don’t have money, either on their own or from a sponsor. Sometimes money trumps talent, but usually, it will only get a driver so far if they can’t race at the level of their peers.
Still, it leaves a sour taste when money makes the decisions. That’s true at the team level (want proof—look at the surprising amount of backlash at Ty Dillon’s Cup ride, the John Wes Townley jokes, or anyone else who brings family money into the equation). It’s also true at the top — like it or not, TV rules the roost to a large extent. The reality is, the television package represents too much of NASCAR’s revenue to ignore. For fans, that means later start times and, ultimately, gimmicks like playoffs and made-for-TV cautions. It’s a bit of a paradox, in that ratings have declined, but something has to change to try and stop the bleeding. Going back to pre-playoff rules is no guarantee that the viewers would come back.
Keep it simple?
Are the new rules too complicated for the average viewer? They shouldn’t be, but they are made a bit less clear by terminology. Bonus points are replaced by “playoff points,” but the concept is the same. Perhaps renaming them was a mistake, because bonus points have been a part of the lexicon for a long time. Championship points are the same as always.
NASCAR appears to have changed its stance on keeping things as simple as possible, and that’s OK; fans can and will sort it out. There’s always a risk of becoming too convoluted, and NASCAR is close to the edge. Still, fans don’t necessarily want to have to do a lot of calculating to know how drivers will be seeded for the playoffs. NASCAR will need to be careful adding additional tweaks in the short-term.
For the better?
At the end of the day, the big question remains whether any change is beneficial. NASCAR’s adjustments have the potential to be, though they need to be mindful that the focus needs to now fall squarely on the cars, the schedule, and increasing the level of competition from that angle. Points and segments can only go so far in fixing what ails the sport.
Driver changes are tougher. Fans are incredibly loyal, and watching a favorite walk away isn’t like a player leaving their favorite football team. If those fans decide to shift their loyalty to a new driver, they’re absolutely in luck this year as there are many new faces bringing something new to the table. With people looking for someone to follow, it’s a great time for them to gain a following.
But it’s also not guaranteed.