The Frontstretch 5: Things NASCAR Fans Deserve

1. Authentic racing

Why did the recent race at Martinsville Speedway have people talking?  Because it was uncontrived. Say what you want about stages; if they change the way you ultimately watch a race, you might be looking for something that’s really not there. Even with the stages, what went down was created completely by the competitors and not by NASCAR.  And it was great.

The flip side is that races allowed to play out at intermediate tracks without any interference are rarely as exciting, and people complain about the boring finishes.  Those happen sometimes, and if the racing is to be real and not manipulated, fans need to accept that authentic doesn’t always mean exciting.

Still, it can be done, especially by adding more short track races to a schedule that’s long overdue for a major overhaul that has nothing to do with who owns what track.  It can’t happen for four years, but NASCAR should be serving notice now that it doesn’t owe Bruton Smith or sister entity International Speedway Corporation a set number of races and the way to get more races is to have them at different tracks. Nope, that doesn’t mean bringing back Rockingham or North Wilkesboro, because we need to be realistic. But it could mean races that don’t need anything but the green and checkered flags, with a yellow or a few for an actual cause.

2. Transparent, consistent rules

To give credit where it’s due, NASCAR has improved this area greatly, but there’s still work to be done. It’s not that fans need to read and understand every spec about the cars, but the rules need to be easy to interpret as far as what happens when they’re broken.  Penalties should feel like they fit the infraction, which is where there has been a disconnect. Fans don’t necessarily see the need for crew chief suspensions for a couple of missing lugnuts.

But if NASCAR suspends one crew chief for missing nuts, it has to penalize them all.  Same goes for parking drivers, even drivers in the playoffs, for damage repair or red flag violations.  It’s not fair to rail about NASCAR not following policy one week and then the next turn around and say it’s unfair when they follow it to the letter the following week.

The simple solution is for NASCAR to tweak a few things, like the lugnut rules, though I’m not convinced those rules should change, because it’s a safety issue, and the tightening outside the box if that’s all the team is doing.  If that’s not going to be a penalty, and it hasn’t for a year or so, then it shouldn’t be in the rulebook as a penalty.  Clarify it, then abide by it.  The parking? All good.  Those were on the teams to start with, and a playoff team shouldn’t be making that kind of mistake. We need consistency, but we also need to accept consistency.

3. Room to breathe

While we’re on the subject of rules, I’ll be the first to say I completely understand why NASCAR has tightened down on so many things.  It’s in the interest of parity and of fairness.  The sanctioning body’s one job above all else is to be fair, and things like mandated gears and shocks do help teams that can’t afford endless parts and people to specialize in them at least stay in the game.

But in the interest of the best possible racing, which is something fans deserve and teams want as well, giving teams more areas to work in while finding other ways to create parity through equalizing costs instead of cars is something NASCAR should be pursuing. Cars should fit the templates and other measurements, the engines should be within all tolerances at all times, and from there, find ways for the people on the teams to make their cars better, and for everyone else to figure out how to catch up.  Yes, if someone gets too far ahead, NASCAR needs to determine why and whether they need to make a change, but I suspect that if the cars were a bit more unique to team and driver you’d see some different faces in the competitive hunt, and that’s only good.

4. The value of people

When push comes to shove, fans are right that they pay a lot of bills for NASCAR and teams by buying sponsors’ products.  It’s not quite as simple as that because there are a lot of corporate dollars in the game as well, and like it or not, the game wouldn’t be there without them.

But fans’ loyalty should be rewarded, and they should feel like someone is listening to their concerns.

That doesn’t mean nothing should ever change in the sport, but change for change’s sake hasn’t kept the old-school fans around or attracted droves of new ones.  Sports are unique in that fans usually introduce the next generation of fans to them.  I suppose some people just decide to watch a race or a game on TV and become instant diehards, but looking to attract the majority of the fanbase that way isn’t going to be very successful.  In other words, if dad loves the Red Sox, he’ll bring his sons and daughters to a game at Fenway, and perhaps the magic will take hold.  If the experience is a good one, chances are it will take a tight, lasting hold, and one day it will be a three-generation outing.

It feels like that’s where NASCAR made a crucial judgment error.  Instead of making dad want to bring the kids, they went straight to the kids and dad felt alienated and left out.  Fans need to feel heard.  That doesn’t mean everyone gets everything they want, but every once in a while, taking a step back and realizing that nothing was broken enough for the fixes it’s been given is important.  If fans are vocally against something a dozen years later, it’s likely because that thing isn’t working.  And it’s OK to admit that, and change it to what fans really want to see, and pay for.

5. A legit champ

It kind of falls in the same basket as No. 4, but if fans are still adding up points under a system that hasn’t been used in the sport in almost 15 years to see who they think should be the champion, there might be something wrong with the system in place.

To be fair to NASCAR, if Martin Truex Jr. had clinched the title in Texas last weekend as some of those number-crunchers claim he would, there would be those fans who would complain about how boring that was, and that’s counterproductive.

But if the championship feels cheap and easy, that isn’t a good look for a sport that wants so badly to be considered an equal with other major sports.  Having the same system as those sports doesn’t accomplish that; NASCAR isn’t played one-on-one like football.

It’s also not fair to the drivers who have championships under the playoff system.  It’s not Jimmie Johnson’s fault NASCAR put in place the format that he made work to the tune of seven titles.  It’s not Kyle Busch’s fault that the sanctioning body allowed him to race for one after missing a third of the season.  But because of those rules, their accomplishments seem hollow and undeserved.  Even in sports with single-elimination playoffs, like football, it’s rare to hear such large numbers of fans saying a team didn’t earn a Super Bowl berth.  But it’s loud and clear in NASCAR, and that’s not doing anyone any favors.

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

Regardless of who is at fault with the playoffs and Brian’s luv of it. Fact is Jimmie has no business being up with the “greats”, and the KYLE deal was, is and always will be a joke. I am sure he sleeps well at night, thinking he really did EARN it, but he did not. Old system P22. Fact. Jimmie P7 last year and he got the title with a whopping 10 laps courtesy of Cousin Carl, come on! No shame on Jimmie either when they were saying he was the next best thing since Jesus Christ. He lapped it up, literally 10 laps or less and P7 overall! He was crowned the KING FOR YEAR and got the HOMESTEAD CUP! Good racket when NASCAR wants something in your favor!

The fact that the NASCAR media hypes these “accomplishments” and plays along with Brian…frustrates the hell of out people. We know common sense when we see it, and bullshit when we see it. And Brian is shoveling the manure hugely as well as the ass kissers in the media. Unbearable, all of it. I keep my fingers crossed, but then I do about a lot of things.

This playoff garbage especially the one race amounts to anything Brian wants it to be. You can stop the aero parade and make these guys get on the grass and play musical chairs and the last one in the seat is the winner of the Homestead Cup! That’s how much “meaning” this Cup has become. Rather shameful. ZERO respect! Brian has diluted, dumbed down so many things, NASCAR is shallow mirror of it’s former self, and sadly until new leadership is at the helm…it will go down, down, down.

Brian

KB,
I am not so sure new leadership, which is needed, would be able to save NASCAR as it was once known at this point. It would take a huge commitment from all involved and just not sure those “dad” fans would come back.
So many of these points are valid and right on target it makes one wonder how the sponsors have not pressured Brian fart into going back to something resembling the old system. There has to be a better way of doing the Championship and Brain Fart is not the one who should be deciding it. He is a marketing fool, and not a true racer which is what is lost on so many.

kb

I agree, Brian has zero interest in the love of the sport. I do believe Brian hates racing, but loves the dollars it affords him. Brian believes and is obsessed with gimmicks and the garbage of marketing, not racing, which is the exact opposite of the dwindling fan base.

DoninAjax

And the exact opposite of the family members he inherited the business from. Third generation! Brian’s ego keeps getting in the way.

kb

Yes Don, you are correct. A very true and correct point I forgot to mention. It shows..they loved racing, ate it, drank it, slept it…for profit of course, but they obviously loved it..this clown…the dreaded 3rd gen…fulfills that urban legend as truth!

Moparjeff

Good article Amy. It is increasingly clear that the track schedule needs an overhaul with new tracks added and more variety added. Ditto for your points about the chase/playoffs and points system. This years points system might make the ‘regular season’ more important, but it does so in a way that seems contrived and impossible to understand without a calculator and sheet of scratch paper. However, the chase/playoffs are a huge part of the waning interest in the sport. You make a great point that going on 15 years and people are still saying the chase/playoffs are hurting the sport.

If NASCAR were a legit sanctioning body, it would have dumped the chase long ago, added new tracks on a regular basis, and published its rule book every year since day one. However, NASCAR is clearly more interested in enriching the France family and France loyalists than it is in overseeing a legitimate motorsport league.

Brett Poirier

Amy, I would argue that No. 4 on this list should be No. 1 or No. 2. NASCAR’s leadership, starting with Brian France, couldn’t be any more disconnected from the fanbase and it shows with each decision that NASCAR makes. Brian France makes Roger Goodell look good. Since France has taken over, the sport’s leadership has chased the almighty dollar over everything else and NASCAR has been on a downward trajectory ever since in TV ratings, attendance, overall popularity and sponsorship dollars (even though they did increase for a little while under Brian, I would attribute that more to the sport’s surge that came before he took over). Everything else you listed that could improve the sport is linked to No. 4. The racing won’t get better (No. 1) because the tracks on the schedule won’t change because of money. The champion won’t be legitimate (No. 5) until the sport starts listening to its fans and the rules won’t be consistent (No. 3) until the same leaders who are too ignorant to listen to their fans, start making smarter decisions. So, it looks like we better enjoy the racing we have.

DoninAjax

Maybe a better word might be tolerate the “racing” or Brian’s product. Or “accept” it won’r get better?

wildcatsfan2016

Agree with you, Brett. I’d put #4 at the top of the list, not as far down the list as Amy has it. Overall a good article that hits on a great number of issues that the fans have, indeed, been complaining about for many years now.

NASCAR has become so convoluted as far as rules go and so annoying in many ways that watching/following the “sport” as it currently exists just isn’t fun. I started watching racing because I enjoyed it. Now, I don’t so I’m one of those “casual” fans that BZF was so interested in trying to wrangle. The problem is – he did it at the expense of the regular every day fans and so lost of both counts.

Brett Poirier

Noted, Amy. You definitely hit on the major issues. It’s just frustrating because these have been the major issues for the last decade-plus and will continue to be while the current leadership is in charge.

SmarterThanYo

“Even in sports with single-elimination playoffs, like football, it’s rare to hear such large numbers of fans saying a team didn’t earn a Super Bowl berth.” Perhaps that says more about NASCAR fans than it does about the Championship system. Based on sites like Frontstretch, the majority of “race fans” say they never attend or watch races because they don’t like the playoff system, the rules, the tracks, the drivers, the manufacturers, the prices, the starting times, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There has likely never been a more dedicated group of whiners in the history of sport than today’s NASCAR “fans.”

Sure, there are baseball fans who have never accepted the designated hitter and football fans who believe the rules coddle the Million Dollar franchise quarterbacks, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying their sport. But NASCAR fans are caught in such a time warp, encouraged by media types like the FS writers, that they erroneously believe everything was absolutely perfect in some glorious past (which never existed) and that everything now is hell is on earth.

Furthermore, NASCAR and other non-team sports have always had trouble determining a season champion and whatever system they use will always be arbitrary. However, in those other sports, the fans accept the lack of a perfect way to determine a champion and focus instead on the winners of golf and tennis tournaments, especially The Majors in each sport. The Langford points system was a mess which put no value whatsoever on winning races and deserved to die. Perhaps tweaking the points system without adding a Chase or Playoff system would have ben a better way to go, but it would have still left the end of the season as a tedious march to irrelevance and would give Amy and her cohorts nothing to bitch about.

Mike

“that doesn’t mean bringing back Rockingham or North Wilkesboro”

Ummm, yes it does. Anyhow:

Get rid of these altogether:

New Hampshire
Chicago
Kansas
Kentucky
California
Indianapolis
Charlotte – all stars

Get rid of one each from:

Charlotte
Pocono
Dover
Las Vegas
Texas

Add:
North Wilkesboro
Rockingham
Iowa
Road America
IRP

I hate plate racing, but, admit I’m probably in a small minority so keep Daytona, Talladega as is. Decouple Busch/Trucks from Cup except for Daytona, Charlotte, Darlington, Iowa, and pick a road course. And, for God’s sake scrap the idiocy known as the chase.

It’s my fantasy…the sky is always blue. ‘tater.

JJ

Think about all the short tracks around America! Nashville, South Boston, Gresham.. and that’s just off the top of my head in the south east. With those along with yours, could you imagine the racing that would go on? Even if we had half the tracks that have been listed would be better than we have now. Something needs to change or I’m afraid NASCAR will be history.

Mike

SoBo, Nashville, Anderson, Indiana, Montgomery, Alabama, heck even Pikes Peak, Colorado. It’s enough to make an old southern redneck (albeit an educated one) flush with excitement.

paltex

Sponsors have better things to do than watch a nascar race on Sunday. They are disconnected.

I have not watched a NFL game this year and dont intend to watch any games and GUESS WHAT, I now find other things to do on Sunday and prob. the same will happen with nascar. Not entertaining and to top it all off,
we have talented drivers like Kenseth that can’t get a top notch ride where a low-do talent driver will get a ride
because a sponsor likes the way they smile or is a rich dad.

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