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(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Your Cheatin’ Heart

When NASCAR announced that teams who failed postrace inspection would face disqualification, forfeiting even a race win, it was well-received among race fans.  Many have called for years for stiffer penalties for bending the rules, and rightfully so.  Fans deserve to know that the winner of a race did so in a legal car. So, race fans applauded NASCAR when they announced the move earlier this year.

Until it actually happened.

After Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Ross Chastain, a driver who has been the main character in a couple of feel-good stories over the last year or two, earning a top Xfinity Series ride after scoring some impressive finishes in very underfunded cars only to see it slip away when financial troubles caused sponsorship to dry up at the 11th hour and then score a storybook win for an underfunded Truck team but for naught when it comes to the playoffs because he wasn’t running the series for points. When Chastain changed to race for a Truck title, knowing he’d have to win again for Niece Motorsports, it was easy to root for him after everything.

Chastain made it look easy, winning at Iowa Speedway, needing only to gain enough points to break into the top 20 in driver standings to wrap up the playoff spot and unlikely title bid. That lasted until the truck failed postrace height measurements—and true to its word, NASCAR stripped the win from Chastain, along with all the points that went with it.

And suddenly fans were not so happy with the rule after all.

One thing to understand here: teams failing postrace inspection are given the benefit of the doubt. Parts are allowed to cool, teams can fill the fuel cell and inflate the tires to where they would have been during the race, and then NASCAR measures again. Throwing away race wins isn’t something NASCAR takes lightly. But if the race vehicles still can’t pass tech, there has to be a penalty. NASCAR handed out the one on Sunday that they said they would since day one.

So why so unhappy? Perhaps it was because fans figured that the first driver caught would be one driving for a big team, someone who won too much or bent the rules in the past or someone they just didn’t like.  Someone like Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson.  Not one of the good guys.

Except the good guys have to play be the same rules. NASCAR did the right thing, the thing fans had been asking them to do. They knew what a story it would make if Chastain became a contender despite his late entry, but they were (gasp) consistent with the rule they said they’d follow. There’s nothing to criticize here.

And yes, NASCAR does need to inspect cars after races. Yes, they did pass prerace inspection. But if there was no postrace, how long would it be until teams found ways to change the cars during the race in such a way that they would quickly be outside the rules. In other words, they’d cheat, because it would be a free-for-all. Suggesting otherwise is condoning teams playing outside the rules.

But here’s the thing. If everyone wants NASCAR to be consistent with the rules, then everyone needs to be consistent with what they want.

It’s not just about postrace inspection, either. There is more at stake, and to an extent, fans can control some of it. Many fans have asked for changes to the schedule, to include more exciting tracks. But just like asking NASCAR to take wins away, fans have to support changes when they happen.

That means showing up.

More worrisome than the disqualification Sunday was the crowd.  Iowa packed the stands for Truck and Xfinity races for several years, with fans calling for a Cup race.

But in order for tracks to host races, people have to go to them.  It’s simple: while NASCAR’s revenue comes largely from its broadcast deals, the tracks’ revenue comes from fans buying tickets, concessions, and souvenirs. If they don’t make money, they aren’t going to petition NASCAR for races.

Fans said they wanted NASCAR to return to Rockingham Speedway… and NASCAR did. The problem was that while NASCAR went back, the fans—who had begged and pleaded for the race—didn’t. The first Truck Series race was fairly well-attended, but not packed. The second was not.  NASCAR and the track didn’t host a third.

As the more-short-tracks mantra gains traction, there are a lot of empty seats at Bristol and Martinsville.  Why should NASCAR take a chance on other tracks if the best tracks they have aren’t filling up.  Not everyone can afford to travel to a race, especially one that requires an overnight stay.  But anyone calling for short tracks with the means to go to one, especially one that’s nearby, needs to be there, showing NASCAR that people are willing to back up their words.

NASCAR is at a crossroads, and fans have been seeking a lot of changes to repair the sport they love. But for NASCAR to make those changes, they have to have reason to believe the fans will support them.  Not just when it’s a driver they like or dislike. Not just to have a track on the circuit.  Not just anything.  If fans ask for something and get it, that’s just the beginning.

The same goes for other changes, including to the cars.  It’s OK to be disappointed when the racing isn’t what you hoped. It’s OK to hope for more changes. The flip side of that, though, is acknowledging what is working and looking for ways to expand on that. Criticism has to be constructive in order to have a lasting impact.

NASCAR has shown that they are willing to make changes that fans have asked for. For that to work, the fans have to be willing to support those changes, even if they aren’t perfect, even if it means sometimes the outcome won’t be as they hoped. It won’t ever be perfect (and it never has been) but it can get better — if it’s a two-way street.

 

 

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

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6 comments

  1. Avatar

    Yes, NASCAR has made changes to the cars – but for what purpose? Fans, in large part, are asking for better racing. However, NASCAR’s changes, per their own words, are intended to provide a better ‘show’ – not necessarily better racing. There is a difference. Superspeedway plate races are admittedly an entertaining show, but they are not particularly good racings, at least not in the traditional sense. Plate races are more like an Enduro race, survive the mayhem and maybe be in the right place at the right time to win a race. The changes instituted by NASCAR this year, again per their words, were intended to bring the superspeedway style ‘pack racing’ to intermediate tracks. The intended result would have been more about entertainment than good racing – and their lies the problem. Is NASCAR really “giving the fans what they are asking for” – or are they still just chasing the elusive ‘new fans’ while giving mere lip service to the existing fan base?

    I agree that NASCAR has made changes to address some of the criticisms, and that the fan base should give NASCAR credit where credit is due. Allowing the Charlotte Roval was good, as was bringing back single car qualifying, changing up the schedule, looking at other track options, trying to reduce the aero advantage of the lead car, and etc. – all good things. However, I think we the fans must be careful not to allow our voices to be misunderstood or redefined by NASCAR or TV broadcasters. To wit – ‘racing’ is more than mere entertainment, it is a sport. NASCAR needs to stop thinking of itself as a provider of entertainment and remember that it is (supposed to be) the sanctioning body governing the competitive sport of stock car auto racing.

  2. Avatar

    Amy, Well said. I was expecting more comments in this section and expected many of those to be of the “your a NASCAR apologist” variety but maybe this lack of comments is just as telling as the lack of attendance. Potentially we, the fans, might just not care enough anymore.

    Also, to the point made by KB in here, yes NASCAR went back to tracks, yes NASCAR has tried certain things, but when the expectations are not met (hard to do) then attendance shifts back to the norm.

    As KB pointed out the racing product itself is still not as enticing as it could be. I watched pretty much the entire Iowa NXS race and a couple of things stood out to me regarding how you framed this article….

    1) The racing itself was not overly compelling on the TV screen.
    2) TV focus on limited drivers teams. I believe the 15 caused a caution but have no idea why because TV ignored it.
    3) NASCAR’s overall inconsistency is still an issue, one driver barely grazed the wall causing a caution, another driver hits it pretty good but no caution. I do applaud NASCAR for its enforcement in the case of the 44 truck but still do not have enough detail about what it actually was, how far off, etc. This again is where fans and NASCAR are at odds. We want to know more info so it does not have a dictatorial feel and thus can be applied consistently when others get caught.
    4) NASCAR and tracks want attendance at the races but do not “force” the TV partners to provide better overall coverage of the race to compel people to attend future races. If it appears boring on TV, why should I fork over $300+ a person to attend in person not knowing that the in person experience may likely be better due to being able to choose what to watch on track. I can see a battle for 10th, 14th, 20th which if it goes on for several laps is fun to watch.
    5) Also, while NASCAR has made changes are they the right changes? Yes NASCAR is trying but… one example, fans have asked for a win to mean more but within the context of a season long championship. NASCAR took that and created this weird partially appalling playoff scenario instead.

    • Avatar

      A good example of inconsistency was on Sunday when Cole Custer barely hit the wall, had no damage, but brought out a caution and started 2nd on the restart. It’s who you are.

  3. Avatar

    Well said KB. The sport left years ago when Brain Farce brought in all the Hollywood marketers. Everything one sees on TV is geared to toward the advertisers. Why else would they continue to show the much lauded helmet cam on cars that are not even close to the front? In the earlier days ( I didn’t say OLD) drivers suits only had a few sponsor patches. Now they resemble clown suits. Roll over BIG BILL!

  4. Avatar

    I understand NASCAR is a business. I get it, I truly do. However what fans have screamed, begged and pleaded for…the OBVIOUS, NASCAR has fallen on deaf ears. Better racing. Why is it they don’t get it? For years this has been the battle cry of fans wanting to stick with the sport and they don’t get it. So no, I totally disagree that NASCAR listens to fans. They don’t. The one thing that is so important to fans, Castle Daytona is deaf, dumb and blind.