1. This air wrench deal
There is a myriad of issues NASCAR fans have been vocal about as of late, and not all of them are easy fixes. Some should be exceedingly easy, even if that means admitting mistakes were made, while others are complicated.
There are a few changes that could be made either immediately or in the near future, though, that could have a major impact on the sport, or in some cases, a small impact that would have a positive long-term gain.
The NASCAR-mandated pit guns have been the subject of a lot of talk this season. While there have been issues with the particular guns NASCAR has issued, the actual rule has merit. Races should be won and lost on pit road because of the crewmen going over the wall and the crew chief’s strategy calls, not because some teams have so much extra money and time they can devote money and man hours to souping up the tools they use.
So what’s the fix? How about this simple solution: teams can purchase whatever brand of factory air wrench they want, as long as the same model is available to the public. But, they must turn the wrenches over to NASCAR, still brand-new and sealed in the box. NASCAR will give them to the teams no more than 30 minutes before the race and they must be returned immediately afterward, unaltered, kind of like impounding cars. NASCAR keeps them until the next week.
The numbers could remain the same: one wrench and one backup per crewman, with a third available if one malfunctions and is traded in. If a team wants to replace a wrench at any point during the season, they can, by giving NASCAR the new-in-box sealed replacement and relegating the old gun to practice or shop use. It’s easy, it puts the decision in teams’ hands, but it doesn’t give big teams an even bigger advantage than they already have.
2. The need for attrition
The durability of race cars is a concept the teams really focus on, but it also takes away from the races in some ways. There is little suspense surrounding teams and whether they’ll make it to the end. Cautions for mechanical failures have become rare, hence why NASCAR has resorted to phantom debris cautions. Races should have cautions because they keep the field more competitive, but they should be authentic.
The fix here actually kills two birds with one stone: let the teams choose their gear ratios and suspensions. Teams used to be able to do just that, and it led to a couple of things. One, some were able to find speed that others couldn’t, which led to better racing because the cars weren’t so equal that they had trouble passing on another. Two, it provided some uncertainty.
Yes, certain gear ratios produced more speed, but generally, those came with more risk of engine or transmission failure. That dominant car risked not being there at the end, and if it wasn’t, it also produced a caution which set other strategies into motion.
Allowing teams room to work on cars and make meaningful decisions and changes during the course of a race weekend could have a major positive impact on the racing. Teams should be able to make their cars faster. Racing should come down to cars, not air wrenches anyway.
This one ties into the above a bit but is still its own issue. While it is entirely the teams’ responsibility to bring legal cars, the process is so tight and technical now that it can come down to the way in which the team rolls the car through. That’s a bit much.
Inspection worked fine in the pre-Car of Tomorrow days when there were several separate templates and measurements were done by hand. Did it possibly leave room for some creative engineering? Maybe, but there has been creative engineering since the beginning of time — and it’s still happening, just in other areas.
It doesn’t seem like the number of major incidents has changed much over the years. A grey area isn’t a bad thing if the black-and-white areas are policed consistently.
In addition to simplifying the process, though, I’d like to see at least the top 10 cars inspected more closely after the race… and finishes, including wins, taken away if they can’t pass. Let them work, but keep them honest.
4. The interlopers
Cup drivers in lower series continue to rankle fans, and with good reason: the number of starts is limited, but the results haven’t changed much. The Cup guys too often steal the thunder from the series contenders, and a lot of fans don’t appreciate that. More importantly to the health of those series, the sponsors don’t like it either if the regulars they back get ignored during a broadcast because the booth can’t seem to help going on and on about the Cup guys.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 7, 2018
On the other hand, there is value to having some bigger names in the race, and the youngsters can benefit from racing the more experienced drivers. The problem is, they’re rarely racing them because the Cup guys are in such dominant equipment.
Years ago, those lower series races often attracted some local teams to race a few each year, and sometimes a Cup driver would race a couple of times for a smaller team to help them attract a sponsor for those races. It was actually fun to see who might enter, particularly at stand-alone events.
The solution? How about the Cup drivers can run a limited number of races, as they can now, but they cannot run for their Cup owner or any team that’s affiliated with that owner. That means no chassis, engine or pit crew help from the Cup team or one of its satellites. It would mean the drivers have more of a chance to actually race with the more experienced drivers and not just watch them run away into the sunset with the trophy.
This solution could help new teams enter the sport and secure some sponsorship dollars. If the drivers really just want to race as they say, shouldn’t they jump at the chance to really prove their mettle?
5. Cold-weather racing… and some other stuff
Yeah, we have to address the schedule in the near future. Not only is there a growing push from fans to add short tracks in favor of the cookie cutters, there’s a definite need to rethink some races, because of cold, unpredictable spring weather.
Starting in Daytona is tradition, and it makes sense. The West Coast swing works as well as can be expected. But Atlanta and Martinsville are often well and truly screwed.
The schedule can’t be fully addressed for another three years as the current tracks all have agreements in place with NASCAR, but a revamp is in order. Possibly the first thing that needs to happen is paring the slate back to 30 or 31 races. Less is, after all, sometimes more, and less supply can equal more demand, something NASCAR could use.
Yes, it’s been tradition to begin in February, but after the excitement of Daytona, the reality of freezing your lugnuts off in the stands sets in. Atlanta is arguably the best of the 1.5-milers right now due to its old surface, and Martinsville is the best of them all, but it’s still not fun to be chilled to the bone for hours on end, no matter how good the race is.
So, why not start this thing a month later? Move the All-Star race to a Wednesday night and rotate it between Charlotte, Martinsville and Bristol. Martinsville in late April has a lot more appeal than it does in March.
While we’re at it, every race cut from the schedule must come from an oval 1.5 miles or longer, preserving the short tracks and Darlington while trimming the fat from the tracks that produce the worst racing. Pretty much everyone wins here, including, in the end, the track owners who lose money on companion events and bad weather gambles.
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.