Richmond offered us one of the best short track races we have seen there in ages. So why were the stands half full? And is it fixable in the short-term?
Mark Howell: Richmond was, indeed, one of the better short track races we’ve seen in recent memory. The low attendance issue is endemic of a larger, overall cultural problem. I hear it from students (and adults) all the time: automobiles simply mean less to people today than they did back when old-school NASCAR was a more viable sport. Teenagers don’t get licenses as quickly as us old-timers did (got mine first thing on the morning of my 16th birthday), and there’s little need to go to a race when so much is covered through TV and social media. On top of that, Fords and Chevrolets on American highways are being outnumbered by Hondas, Kias and other non-NASCAR makes. If there’s no relevant connection, why spend the time, energy and money to go see a race?
Michael Massie: As a Richmond native and someone who has gone to races at RIR since I was 10 years old, I could write an entire book about why the track has gone from over 100,000 people in the seats to 30,000. The people and the government of Richmond has always sucked when it comes to sports because they are not supportive. It is one of the biggest cities in the country without a major league sports team. It struggles to keep a single-A baseball team. Additionally, Richmond has had a huge influx of international people in the past 20 years, which is a group that NASCAR has struggled to connect with. Meanwhile, soccer, the number one sport in the rest of the world, has taken off due to the international presence. Basically, the people that have been coming to the Richmond races for the past 20-plus years are not from Richmond, but the surrounding areas. Now, NASCAR has Richmond, Martinsville [Speedway] and Bristol [Motor Speedway] so close together on the schedule that people are forced to choose which one they will go to instead of all three.
Vito Pugliese: My initial reaction would be, “Eh it was pretty hot out…” but in retrospect, the problem is the same one that has plagued the sport the last few years: a dwindling core fan base, a generation with zero interest in conflict or competition, coupled with a lack of urgency to attend an event, based on a number of factors that the sport has perpetuated upon itself, namely over-saturation. It’s a pretty big time commitment to go to a race and a bit of a gamble with the weather.
With the expense of tickets, travel and lodging, if you’re part of this shrinking demographic that likes cars and racing and hasn’t fled for the hills with constantly changing points formats and a disappointing product (though not for a lack of effort in fixing it), you’re going to have sparsely attended events. On the other hand, I see it as a boon for the real race fan. I never liked going to a track on a hot, humid day and being jammed into a seat next to somebody, with their sweat and beer spilling on me.
Is Joey Logano now in Kyle Busch’s head? Is the 2015 Cup champ just hitting a bump in the road lately or does he need another sit-down by Joe Gibbs or someone else?
Massie: Kyle Busch will be fine. Regardless of his mistakes and tire problems, he has been up front, competing for wins this season. If anything, he is the only Joe Gibbs Racing car that has looked good consistently. The year he won the championship, he was not even competing at this point in the season, so he already a leg up, pun intended, on that season. I look for him to win before the All-Star break or just after.
Pugliese: Who isn’t in Busch’s head? If it’s not one perceived injustice or slight, it’s another. The issue on Sunday with clipping the commitment tape didn’t have anything to do with Logano, it had more to do with a poorly laid out and identified arbitrarily placed commitment line. His entire car as on the apron of the racetrack; it wasn’t like he was trying to fake anybody out, clip the grass or narrowly miss the end of pit wall. NASCAR needs to do a better job of this and stop with the gotcha games. It ruins racing and is another example of over-policing and rules for the sake of rules.
Amy Henderson: Busch has always been his own worst enemy in terms of letting things get to him. Is Logano in his head? Maybe, but more importantly, Busch is in his own head. It’s happened to him before with similar results. If he doesn’t find a win before the All-Star Race, hopefully he can use that non-points event to regroup. All it’ll take is a good week or two and he’ll be fine. It’s not like he’s forgotten how to drive.
Howell: Logano is getting into everyone’s head right now. Busch is currently struggling from a myriad of woes, with pure-and-simple bad luck sitting atop the dung heap. The sport is at one of its periodic crossroads when we see a change among multiple drivers who possess the talent and potential for winning races and titles. Busch used to be the gutsy kid with a heavy right foot. Now he’s surrounded by several youngsters with the ability to beat him at his own game. Logano is one, but not the only one, of Busch’s present problems. The best person to solve those problems is Busch himself.
Justin Allgaier was confused at the end of the NASCAR XFINITY Series race about the overtime rule and how it was officiated. Did the sport get it right?
Matteo Marcheschi: The confusion about with the discrepancy between the lights and the flag didn’t need to happen because that caution didn’t need to come out in the first place. Ryan Reed’s hit wasn’t that hard, and there wasn’t visible debris on the track. The root of the problem, though, is the overtime rule itself. NASCAR never needed to implement it in the first place. The green-white-checkered rule was fine, and NASCAR hardly ever needed more than one try to finish the race.
What kills me about finishing under yellow is NASCAR’s incompetence in terms of giving the fans what they want: a green flag finish. NASCAR seems to be fearful that suddenly a late race restart is dangerous and should avoid them at all costs. It’s almost as if they forgot racing is dangerous in the first place. There should be no circumstance where the race finishes under yellow.
Henderson: The problem I have with the overtime rule is that the line is different at every track. It should be uniform — say, the midpoint of turns 3 and 4 on ovals and the exit of the final turn on road courses — so there’s no guesswork. The rule isn’t necessary; the old three attempts at a green flag finish was fine. I think it’s a stretch to say it cost Justin Allgaier the victory — the caution cost him the victory, most likely, but the rule alone? Anything could have happened under the old rules too.
Howell: Does any sport ever get officiating of its rules 100 percent right 100 percent of the time? NASCAR has been all over the map recently with its changes in inspection procedures, restarts and pit road regulations. Overtime rules should be added to the mix. Not to say that Allgaier was robbed of a victory, but winning drivers/teams are most often the ones who devote large chunks of time and energy to creatively interpreting the rule book. Unfortunately, given the large number of rule changes we’ve been seeing over recent years, such interpretation has become a full-time job.
Massie: NASCAR has always been extremely inconsistent with its calls for cautions at the end of races. At this point, if I am a driver going for a win in overtime and I see the caution flag fly, I am not lifting. I am going to keep going at full speed until either I win the race or plow into whatever mayhem awaits on the track.
Until NASCAR starts getting more consistent with its calls, that is the only way for a driver to ensure they will win a race in overtime. Also, NASCAR’s overtime line is a complete failure. If there is a wreck on the restart, it is likely going to happen when the middle of the pack reaches Turn 1. By the time the middle of the pack reaches Turn 1, the leaders are normally at the overtime line.
Travis Pastrana announced his return to NASCAR in the Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway later this year. Can Pastrana attract other drivers from outside the NASCAR realm to try the sport and bring their fans with them?
Massie: As long as Cup is as exclusive as the charter system makes it be, we will not see any more high profile outsiders come into the sport. Part of the joy of NASCAR yesteryear was that anyone could show up to race with any team. Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt would never have been able to win the Daytona 500 in today’s NASCAR because they would not have been able to get in good equipment. It would be cool to see the No. 88 turn into an All-Star car next year with guys like Lewis Hamilton or Graham Rahal taking turns in it throughout the season. That is highly unlikely to happen, though.
Marcheschi: Pastrana is the type of driver Monster Energy wants in the sport, but he’s not going to be a big influence because he won’t be in a top ride. Why would anyone follow in Pastrana’s footsteps? He spent over a season in the XFINITY Series and never even scored a top-five finish in a Roush Fenway Racing ride. I can’t see anyone with influence in the racing world watching him running 15th in a middle-tier truck and saying, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do next.” A big team and a big star will need to team up if they want to bring other big-name drivers and their fans to the sport.
Pugliese: Well, he didn’t the first time. I don’t think this try will be much different, nor do I feel that is his goal this time. What hurt Pastrana his first go-round was trying to do too much, too soon. He needed a year or two in ARCA or Trucks to get acclimated to the environment, the processes and how four wheels behave on asphalt.
If NASCAR is looking to attract new fans, it would help to combine double header days with XFINITY and Trucks, or with the IndyCar Series. The MMA fights they’ve talked about before races are interesting, but you used to be able to see that in the parking lot or infield between an Earnhardt fan and a guy with a Ford hat, the prize being what’s left of a case of Busch Light.
Henderson: Yeah… no.