NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is a NASCAR Sale Good or Bad for the Sport?

It’s been reported that the France family is looking into selling NASCAR either completely or in part. Would this be a good or a bad thing for the sport?

Michael Finley: It depends. This sport needs new leadership desperately, somebody who can come in with new ideas on how to develop a new audience for racing with a brand new financial system than the current sponsor-driven one. At the same time, just look at how far the UFC has fallen ever since being bought out by a giant company that had never been involved in fighting before. I just hope the France family cares enough to leave the sport in the right hands going forward.

Vito Pugliese: On the surface, it appears bad. Between Monster dragging its feet for over a year only to finally say, “Nah, I’m good,” and the continued carping and moaning about ratings and not-packed-to-the-gills-grandstands (really, what’s so attractive about having a stranger rubbing their fat, sweaty arm on you on a 90-degree day?), it is fodder for fans who have been saying for a near-decade now that NASCAR is dying. On the other hand, rudderless leadership at the ownership level for several years now has put NASCAR and its officials (and the teams/drivers/sponsors) in scramble mode to try to get back on the right path. Fresh perspectives, perhaps a smaller schedule (please) and new venues might be just what is needed to revitalize our sport.

Christian Koelle:  Interesting that the Monster deal is coming to an end following next season and now we’re hearing rumors that the sport could be up for sale. A lot of ways could come out of this in a long run, including a split like IndyCar did a while back. It’s also possible that much of the sport could step back and reevaluate what is going on, and that could result in some good things in the future — anything from new tracks in new markets (Northwest) to returns to old tracks like Rockingham Speedway.

Amy Henderson: It completely depends on who’s buying.  If it’s someone (or a group of someones) who actually understands and cares about the sport and the fans, it could be good.  But if it’s someone from the stick-and-ball world, I fear they’d cave to even more gimmicks, and that’s the last thing the sport needs. I hate a lot of the things Major League Baseball has done to speed up the games. If I pay for a ticket, I don’t want it sped up; I want it to last forever. Whoever buys would do well to look at ways to scale back that make sense — simplify, shorten the schedule, take a hard look at where they race and how the champion is determined.  I worry that whoever buys will do none of that.

In the event that new ownership takes over NASCAR, you are appointed czar of the sport. What are the first three things on your agenda to return NASCAR to the top tier of sports?

Pugliese: Five-point plan: 1) Reduce to the schedule from 36 to 30 races; scarcity helps build value. 2) Make the broadcast TV partners YouTube races and how they were called on CBS from 1983-1998; you don’t need 20 cameras, just four and a couple of in-cars positioned properly. 3) The Camping World Truck Series to go back to short tracks. These are NASCAR machines on half-mile tracks. SAFER barriers shouldn’t be a requirement. If they were, your local track would be a morgue every Saturday night. 4) Sonoma Raceway goes back to the Carousel Course. 5) Bias ply tires return. Yeah, I know, Goodyear only makes radial tires for street use. Well, nobody drives on 15-inch slicks daily either, so let’s get back to stagger, slip, sliding and sideways action.

Matt McLaughlin: 1) The stage format gets consigned to warehouse of ludicrous ideas where it will reside with the Car of Tomorrow, the caution clock, the backstretch restart line, etc. 2) Starting in 2019, the championship format reverts to a full-season (as in no playoffs) format with huge points bonuses for wins and substantial points bonuses for top-five finishes. Finishers below 20th place receive no points. 3) Starting in 2019, the three short tracks will be the only venues that host two races. Every race with the exception of the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 and the World 600 will have its race length cut back to two-thirds of the present distance. All races  with the exception of the Bristol Motor Speedway night race and those at tracks in the Pacific time zone will start at 1 p.m. ET. The Brickyard 400 is gone. If a satisfactory rules package that allows the cars to run unrestricted at speeds in the mid-180s at Daytona and Talladega can’t be devised, those tracks will exit the schedule in 2020. And the season will end by mid-September. 4) NASCAR will host a huge retirement party for Darrell Waltrip to celebrate his retirement from the booth. One award he’ll be given is a 20-foot-high plush Little Digger stuffed animal.

Michael Massie: 1) I’d bring back the season-long points battle so the fans would see the champion as the rightful champion.  2) The rule book would open up. I’d let the crew chiefs and engineers be the geniuses that they are and find innovative ways to win. 3) It would go back to something closer to cars on the street. They would closer resemble Mustangs, Camrys and Camaros, would be less aero-dependent and splitters would be gone.

Finley: 1). Cut Indianapolis Motor Speedway and every second Cup date outside of Daytona International Speedway and the short tracks. Make overtures to buy the Lucas Oil Raceway Park oval from the NHRA and add a date for that to the Cup schedule along with a date at Iowa Speedway, Road America and Circuit of the Americas. 2) In year one of my reign, I’d hold a poll among fans as far as what playoff format they’d want to see, including every format used since 2004 as separate options and an option to just have a one-year-long, no-playoff-format championship. The poll winner would be the direction we’d go with for the next 10 years at least. 3) Figure out a new financial system, one that’s not as dependent on corporate sponsorship, while also cutting spending across the board and making the financial hurdle of starting a Cup team lower.

Koelle: I am a huge advocate of timed races. The charter system should be eliminated; yes, I understand the reason it was brought about, but was the old system really broken? Have the fastest 35 cars qualify for the race on time and the remaining spots filled by provisionals. I’d also take a good look at the schedule and how it’s laid out. Some tracks need movement, some races need changing.

Dover International Speedway XFINITY Series winner Justin Allgaier was slapped with a L1 penalty after the race, meaning his win will not count towards the playoffs. But in the record books, not only does he keep the win, but he also gets to keep the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus money. Should any sort of prize money or bonus be awarded a car found to be illegal after the race?

Koelle: You look at the way Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler were beating and banging at the end of the race on Saturday and something tells me that at least something on the car broke or something else happened to result in the failure. If we’re going to start being this picky about handing out things to cheating teams, we need to just stop everything and inspect the car thoroughly after the race and then declare the winner. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.

Henderson: Nothing should be awarded to a car found to be illegal after the race, most especially the win. But no, because that would confuse the fans, so it’s said.  Like, hey, race fans, you’re too dumb to understand that Billy Bob cheated, so we’re just going to let him win because thinking is hard.  Nope.  The first legal car to take the checkers should get the win and all the spoils. If anything, post-race inspection needs to be more thorough.

McLaughlin: “Legal” is like “pregnant”: You is or you ain’t. If a car is found to be illegal the driver and team should lose all points, prize money and bonuses. It’s funny how cars are never found out of spec in some way that might have slowed them down, only where there’s a slight advantage. Which is like being a little bit pregnant.

Massie: It’s not like he had a rocket strapped to his car that fired him up to 300 mph. We don’t know that it gave Allgaier that much of an advantage, and for that reason, the win and bonus money should remain his. At the end of the day, it was Allgaier driving the car, and he did a remarkable job holding off Sadler.

Finley: If you cheat enough to get an L1 penalty, you should have the win and all prize money stripped before any other fines or penalties.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway at the end of the month marks the unofficial end of what used to be called the opening stretch of the season. The summer stretch lasts from the first Pocono Raceway race to the Southern 500, and the rest of the season is the stretch drive (or now playoffs.) What event during the summer stretch are you most looking forward to?

McLaughlin: The Bristol night race might not be what it once was, but it’s still short track racing, and the potential for fireworks is still there. And of course the Southern 500 is my favorite race of the year.

Pugliese: Watkins Glen International. It’s the most beautiful place in the country not named Colorado or Wyoming, and an excuse for me to take a road trip to a friend of mine and watch a race. Selfish, yes, but I’m petty.

Massie:  The Southern 500 might just be my favorite night of the year. I love seeing all of the throwback schemes and appreciate that NBC goes all out with its own throwbacks during its coverage. Then, after all of the wonderful pageantry, we get to see 500 miles as one of the best tracks on the circuit. While there are a few tracks that should lose a date on the schedule, Darlington Raceway deserves a second.

Henderson: The races I look most forward to in summer are the two road courses and, of course, the Southern 500.  The road courses are interesting, usually produce good races and often showcase some different drivers than the usual.  Darlington is just such a special place, and the throwback weekend has made it really fun to attend.

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Bill B

Great questions and answers this week and a good overall read.
I will point out two things:

Matt cheated on the second question. His third “thing” is really five thingS (not that I disagree with any of them).

Finley has a good idea with polling the fans about the championship format however if you listed all the chase/playoff formats against the full season format, the full season format would win (which would be fine with me as that’s what I would want) because the vote for those that like a chase/playoff format would be split between all the different options. The fairest way to do it would be to ask “do you want the championship format to be based on a full season or some playoff/chase method?”. If the full season format won then that would be it. If the playoff/chase format won then there would need to be a second poll with all the various options.
As I said, my first choice would be a full season format where wins were heavily emphasized. However, if the playoff/chase format won then I think the best one so far it the current one. It heavily favors those that ran best during the entire season to make it to that final race. The playoff points and stage points (not to mention the final points given based on standings after 26 races) greatly increases the probability that the final four will be those that ran the best during the entire season (which is what should define a champion when there are 35-40 teams competing in every event). I’d get rid of the stages though and give those two playoff points to whoever led the most laps. I’d also change the requirement that playoff/chase eligible drivers need to be in the top 30 to the top 20 in points and change the number of seeds from 16 to 12 and eliminate 3 drivers in each round instead of 4. The final race would be the 3 drivers left standing plus the driver highest in points who was eliminated in one of the earlier rounds. With all that said, once again let me reiterate that I’d prefer a full season championship format.

As for the length of the season, I’d say 30 races is a good number. The 3 short tracks get two races, all others get one and the difference would be made up with tracks that aren’t on the schedule that could produce a good race (heavily weighted to tracks a mile or less and road courses) with no thought given to who owns the track. I can’t buy into shortening the races, personally I like the long races but I’d be willing to compromise on that (aiming for 3 to 3½ hour races would be a good). Get rid of the all-star race because it’s useless. Also get rid of the twins for the Daytona 500 until such a time where more than 45 teams show up for 40 places.

Andy

Good discussion….the new owner, if that happens, will never put a race back at Rockingham. To me, that would be like buying the Lowe’s franchise of stores and building new stores only in the middle of cornfields in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa…

I’m still not convinced a new owner, if that happens, can save this series. Millenials, and the generations that follow, are just not into the automobile the way baby boomers and gen Xers were, and good luck trying to pry them away from their phones, tablets, computers, and VR setups at home to watch cars run around these tracks. A monumental shift in societal attitude towards transportation someday may breathe life back into the sport of racing, but I wouldn’t spend millions (or billions) on a racing series hoping for this shift.

Russ

The one thing apparent from the discussion was that the writers don’t have the answer either. Truth be told everything they mentioned is a problem. But a little reality is in order. There arent going to be any new tracks built. Certainly nothing of the scale that would pay off the mortgage.

But the real question is what is for sale? Is it just the sanctioning body, Nascar? Or, are the tracks, i.e. ISC included?
The sensible answer both to a potential buyer as well as the Frances, is just the sanctioning body. That will leave the Frances free to develop the tracks as multi-purpose facilities used more than a couple of weeks a year. In which case a media company which needs content is the obvious choice. They could then tailor the races to fit their broadcast requirements. Everything else will fall in line from that.

SMIFF_TV

Five changes?

1 – Drop the “playoffs”, bring back the full season championship
2 – Fix the schedule by dropping both Kansas races, Indy, one Michigan race, one Chalotte race, and Chicagoland. Add ORP, Montreal and Iowa (lose 6 lame events, gain 3 great ones)
3 – Go back to the Latford points system, but add 25 more points for the winner and give no points after 25th
4 – Get rid of stage breaks, but add a 10 points bonus for leading at halfway
5 – Tell the broadcasters if they can’t properly cover a race to not even bother, and find new TV partners

Upstate9fan

My list, I’m trying to be realistic:

1. Change the schedule, 2 1.5 mile races need to go at least. Also, reconfigure Chicago into a 1 mile Rockingham Clone (we are never going back to Rockingham)
2. Redesign the car from the bottom up (sorry owners’ wallets). Design it to make low downforce like a mid 1990s Gen-4, safety features of the COT and the brand identity of Gen-6.
3. Unless you are going to go back to the pre-Chase system (not very likely), just leave the race formats and points system alone.

SmarterThanYo

I agree with Andy. Nothing can make NASCAR survive. Millennials don’t care about cars and old-timers bitch and moan and don’t go to races anymore. You all seem to ignore the fact that Ford is no longer going to sell cars in the U.S. What could be a better argument that the idea of racing sedans is way past its prime? When the 2nd biggest automaker bows out of the car market, even an idiot could see that racing is as obsolete as the Ford Taurus. Unless NASCAR turns from stock cars to real sports cars, no one cares anymore. And even then, the attention span of the younger generation will not tolerate races that last longer than it takes to send a text message.

SmarterThanYo

And one other thing: Until NASCAR’s inevitable demise, I would limit the fields to 20 drivers who are capable of winning. No more backmarkers to cause routine cautions. No more of Amy’s beloved “underdogs.” Bye-bye Matt DeBenedetto.

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