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The Frontstretch 5: Areas Where NASCAR is Between a Rock & a Hard Place

Let’s be honest — NASCAR takes a lot of flak from a lot of different angles, some of it deserved.

But if we’re really being honest … some of it isn’t. In fact, many of the issues that race fans in particular take the most issue with have little or nothing to do with NASCAR at all.

For instance …

1. The cars

While there are a lot of issues with the current Gen 6 cars that NASCAR can fix, or at least attempt to improve, they aren’t the only entity involved here.  The manufacturers have a stake in the cars as well, and for them, the game has changed drastically from the days where “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” drove the industry.

Back in the day, manufacturers competed to design cars that would win on the racetrack, and some passenger car designs were driven by beating the competition on the racetrack. Those winged Daytonas and Superbirds, among other models, were designed to race and adapted for production (and they couldn’t be adapted on the outside because the NASCAR and production body were one and the same, as held true through the mid-1990s).

That simply doesn’t happen today. While NASCAR could alter the rules so that the production templates also fit the race versions, the manufacturers might not be so quick to get on board. They could, but changing production models on an annual basis to be faster in NASCAR is unlikely to produce the sales that would justify that extensive process to the car makers, particularly Ford and Chevrolet, who have scaled back production models recently.

Many fans still vehemently oppose foreign manufacturers in the sport, and forcing the car companies to work around NASCAR’s rules might well cause the American manufacturers to reconsider their participation. It could, but this is an area where NASCAR no longer holds all the cards.

And that holds true in a lot of areas now.  The game has changed in many ways, and in some cases, NASCAR is along for the ride. Can things be improved? Absolutely and always.  But there are some things that cannot simply be returned to the way they once were, because all the other pieces are no longer the same.

2. The schedule

NASCAR has indicated that they are willing to make schedule changes for 2021 and beyond, once current track contracts run out. The reality of that, though, is that it’s going to be difficult to institute real changes, because track owners are going to fight tooth and nail for their races.

The vast majority of tracks on the circuit are owned by two entities: International Speedway Corporation, which is owned by the France family, and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., owned by Bruton Smith. Dover International Speedway and Pocono Raceway are independently owned. So while NASCAR might shift a couple of dates from ISC tracks, they’re not going to let a lot of money bleed from the family coffers.

NASCAR does own Iowa Speedway, so that track remains as a possible addition for the future.

Smith’s company has sued NASCAR for race dates before and it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t do it again, though the Smith family has indicated a willingness to work with Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

That leaves Dover and Pocono to take a hit apiece, so all in all, maybe four dates might go to different tracks. There could be more, but it’s unlikely that any sweeping change will happen other than some date changes and perhaps a shakeup in the playoff lineup and the All-Star race location. The track owners aren’t going to willingly give up a race weekend to another company.

3. The broadcasts

There’s no doubt it’s frustrating to watch a race broadcast these days. Tight camera angles focused on only a few different cars through most of the race, commentators who want to be part of the show, too many commercials … you name it, and it’s probably a legitimate beef.

But the networks pay NASCAR handsomely for the right to cover the sport, and NASCAR itself has little say, if any, as to how they broadcast them once the contracts are signed.

Should NASCAR advocate for fans during negotiations? Absolutely. But without clauses in the contract that demand certain things, there isn’t much the sanctioning body can do.  And with a new contract on the horizon, NASCAR is likely going to take a hit in terms of the money they get this time around — they’re not really in the position to make a lot of demands.

And the networks are at the mercy of advertisers to pay the bills. While a revamp of the content is doable, commercials can only be cut so much. Some advertisers won’t spring for side-by-side screens. Perhaps timing could be reworked, but the networks aren’t going to pay huge dollars for broadcast rights if they can’t recoup them through advertising.

Fans’ issues with the coverage is completely legit. But NASCAR isn’t really to blame here.

4. The drivers

Are drivers today too vanilla, over-handled by PR folks? Probably. But again, the blame doesn’t fall on NASCAR. When sponsors are forking out millions of dollars on a race team, they can ask the driver to behave pretty much however they want them to. They could tell them they have to wear a clown costume and tell terrible jokes on pit road before the race. What that means for most drivers is that they toe the company line. They can’t afford for a sponsor to pack up and jump to another team.

Should sponsors allow drivers to be more human? Of course. And they should have them at public events instead of the corporate suites sometimes, too. But NASCAR can’t make them.

What NASCAR also can’t do is force drivers to drive every lap like it’s the last one. Drivers and teams know how to play the long race game, and aren’t going to risk a torn-up car a quarter of the way through a race. Points are too valuable, and their year-end points finish is really where the money is. While it’s true NASCAR has put too high a premium on winning a title, teams and drivers are going to look at the bigger picture, whether that’s a race win or a year-end title.

Wrecks and retaliations are a very high price to teams these days, and races do lack drama because of this … but there really isn’t anything NASCAR can do.

5. Physics

Finally, NASCAR is up against science here. This ties into the first point, because part of the disparity is simple physics.  A 2019 Toyota Camry does not, cannot, race the same as a 1982 Buick did. The two are so vastly different aerodynamically that it’s just not possible. And no manufacturer is going to spend the time and money it takes to develop a racecar that looks even less like their street cars, and they certainly aren’t going to design street cars to look like the racecars of the past.

Consumers don’t want huge boxy cars that cut a massive hole in the air because they aren’t as comfortable to drive as today’s cars, and more importantly, the less aerodynamic a passenger car is, the less fuel-efficient it will be. If there are consumers out there who would buy a car that cost more to operate because it would create great NASCAR races, hats off to them, but there probably aren’t a lot of them.

So, the physics of racing are at odds with the physics of street driving when it comes to today’s cars. Take a good look at a new passenger car. They’re lower and sleeker than ever, because that’s what people are buying. Full-size coupes and sedans are dwindling in popularity and availability as consumers turn to smaller cars or SUVs.

NASCAR has tried a variety of things to make the racing better, but they can’t alter the way the air works or the difference in the amount of grip a tire has on a hot surface versus a cold one or how gravity and lift work. Manufacturers certainly aren’t going to build cars that nobody’s buying so the races will be more competitive. Sure, there are things that can be improved. There always are. But simple physics will have the final say.

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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7 thoughts on “The Frontstretch 5: Areas Where NASCAR is Between a Rock & a Hard Place”

  1. “They could tell them they have to wear a clown costume and tell terrible jokes on pit road before the race. ”
    So Mikey was told to be a clown? It seems he hasn’t been told not to.

    The body of a street 2019 Toyota Camry is not the same as Brian’s version. A 1982 Buick street body and race body were pretty much the same. Which was why teams used Olds bodies on some tracks. Plymouth and Dodge were different too. Ford and Mercury were different. I think the manufacturers would welcome the challenge of making their cars more racy on the track since it would probably lead to more sales.

  2. So with regards to TV coverage, it sounds like our only recourse is to stop watching but I have to ask, so many have already stopped watching that the ratings are record lows every week, how many more people have to stop watching before the TV coverage listens and tries to make changes?
    Here is a piece of low hanging fruit. I can’t imagine that positive feedback about Michael Waltrip outweighs negative feedback but here we are 20 years later and they haven’t gotten the message. How can they be so obtuse and/or oblivious to their viewers? How much lower do ratings need to go before they listen?

  3. The physics of the car bodies do not need to go back to 1982. Well maybe they could in regards to drag numbers. But what does need to change on the current cars is how the bodies are put on the cars. Clint Boyer said on Dale Jr’s podcast that the cars look like a dually pickup fender on the left side and a flat board on the right. Maybe if we made both sides of the car the same and not allow the teams to skew the cars left or right depending on the track. Clint also said that since the no ride height rule went into affect that the cars are to stable. Touching each other actually stabilizes the cars. Get the cars off the ground and make mechanical grip mean something again. In my opinion it’s not hard to figure out why the racing isn’t very good , the cars are built to use all the air for maximum performance. All the air means running out front all alone but when in a pack and way less air on the car it can’t be raced. Maybe we take some of the knowledge and rules of the 1982 Buick and run today’s cars with those rules and see what happens.

  4. Raise the cars off the ground, ditch the splitter, put the radiator opening where it belongs (thus getting rid of the solid nose) and ditch the side skirts. Problem solved

  5. Folks have always complained about tv coverage.
    Put a decent show on the track, and people will watch at home- no matter who is talking on the tv. Chris Economaki and Ken Squire proved that for years….

  6. I disagree with point 1, 2 and 3. NASCAR actually does have a significant say in all of these. They have ultimate control over the cars specs yes the manufacturers have a say but ultimately it is NASCAR’s rules.
    2) NASCAR still controls the schedule, here again greed plays a role as the sanctioning fee is outrageous for the number of fans that come due to other NASCAR decisions. Here again, NASCAR lowers fees, the tracks can lower prices, more fans can choose to show up. It should no longer cost a family of 4 well over $1000 to enjoy a race weekend outside of reasonable driving distance. Now one NASCAR fan gripe in this realm that you did not point out was race weekend fan experience where lodging is ridiculously priced, gas is overinflated, restaurants have race weekend “specials”, etc. These are actually very much outside of NSACAR’s control though people blame NASCAR.
    3. NASCAR can control their own greed especially with this last contract. viewership already started to slide and NASCAR still demanded big time money for the broadcast rights. A lower realistic price allows the broadcast to show fewer commercials if they so choose.

    With all this said, one thing back to the issue at hand NASCAR does seem to have less affinity for jaque debris cautions since stage racing started. So here is a case of NASCAR doing something right even if the “reason” it happened is not as accepted. I just wish that the stage break laps would not count towards the total.

  7. i disagree with the part about commercials. there are way too many and actually makes me not want to buy those products. if f1 can go flag to flag without commercials, the rest can too. they pop up a small graphic in corner says presented by mother’s polish… yes i bought some of their products.

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