NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway is one of the most popular races on the schedule thanks to the paint schemes that echo times past. Since being restored to its traditional Labor Day weekend date, the Southern 500 has given fans a reminder of what once was. But what if NASCAR was to return to its past in other ways? And what if these changes were for whole seasons, not just one race?
1. Bring. Back. Legend. Races
No, but seriously. One of the coolest things I remember when I was a kid was watching the two Bristol legends races in 2009 and 2010. To see such legendary figures as Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Junior Johnson and Phil Parsons get back on the track and race for one last shot at glory was awesome. I grew up a book nerd and my favorite driver was Pearson. It was awesome to see him drive through the field from the back live in 2010.
The first race was a big success. The second was a success before Larry Pearson almost died. But that’s because of the cars they were running (CARS Tour cars have too much power for a race like this) and the track. Bristol is way too quick to have AARP members out there racing for a win. Give Martinsville the Cup All-Star race in a July night race and have this be an actual Legend Car companion race after the Open the previous night. – Michael Finley
2. Stock cars that look like … well, stock cars
The changeover would be astronomically expensive for the teams, but I’d like it if the next generation of cars actually looked like the street models. Going through history books, one of the details that stands out the most is how unique each model looked. Plus, the fenders wouldn’t match up, preventing excessive bump drafting. It doesn’t cause problems in Rallycross or sports car racing, so why couldn’t stock cars make it work, too?
More realistically, what about the return of three-digit numbers? – Wesley Coburn
3. Make every race count
I do like the idea of having the playoffs, don’t get me wrong. But the old points system would also work well, especially how it’s a pure format that the drivers can race for without locking themselves in and not having to worry for a couple of races. In other words, to some degree or another, every race should count. – Adam Cheek
Whether it’s under the one-point system with some tweaks, or the Latford system with some tweaks, or something else entirely, we need to have a full-season championship. It’s not a good look when fans look at recent championships as less worthy than their predecessors because of the system in place. It’s past time for an overhaul. The system was never broken to the degree NASCAR tried to fix it, and it’s time to go back to square one and look at it again. – Amy Henderson
4. Give teams a chance to prove themselves superior
I’d like to see NASCAR bring back some areas for teams to actually work on their cars and make them different. I’ve said this a lot recently, and I’ll say it again: let teams choose gears and suspensions. Maybe even offer tire choice on race weekends. Make teams choose speed or durability and create the risk of attrition if they choose wrong.
The idea that nobody should have any advantage is flawed. The problem is the financial advantage the bigger teams have, not the ability to make a car faster within the rules and accepting the risk that comes with that. Yes, the option is costly, which does give the bigger teams an advantage, but they already have one. Perhaps giving the smaller teams the ability to find something on the track isn’t a bad option. Let them choose where to spend their money.
One thing that made racing enjoyable in the late 1990s was that sometimes a smaller team would hit on something and be competitive, and that was fun to watch. You could almost believe that car would win, even if the odds were stacked against it. We need that level of competition back. – Henderson
I concur. One of the hardest things to write in my column every week is to preview that week’s race. There’s only but so many ways to write “Well, Kyle Busch is good here. So is Kevin Harvick.” There are still certain driver characteristics, like Chase Elliott being good at Watkins Glen International or Ryan Blaney being awful at Richmond Raceway, but those are few-and-far-between compared to how it used to be 20 years ago. While I believe common templates have generally been a positive for the sport, opening up the rulebook would definitely bring more variety to whoever is running near the front most weeks. – Finley
I too agree. Opening the rulebook would provide more opportunities for teams to make their cars go faster. It may even lead to more upsets. In 2019, the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series upset was Justin Haley winning at Daytona International Speedway, and that was due to pit strategy and Mother Nature. Haley himself acknowledged he did not do anything to win the race. – Mark Kristl
5. Note to Sponsors
Sponsors spend a lot of money to slap their logo on the hood of a car. We all know that and owe them a debt of gratitude. Without backing, teams – and NASCAR as a whole – could not give fans what they look forward to seeing on Sundays.
But they need to lighten up.
While it’s fine for sponsors to expect a certain level of behavior from drivers that they’re spending millions on, there’s room between toeing the company line and totally inappropriate behavior.
While I’m not suggesting a return to the time when seemingly every story ended up with somebody naked and/or a car in the swimming pool (or both), if drivers aren’t relatable, fans won’t get behind them in the same way they once did. Let them be human. Let them be a little stupid. Don’t package them into some pre-wrapped lump of over-processed nothing.
If fans can relate to drivers, they’ll root for them, buy the t-shirt with the sponsor’s logo on the front for the world to see, buy the sponsor’s product if it’s something they need or eat at the sponsor’s establishment or shop in their store. Fans choose favorite drivers because they like them and can relate to them. You used to feel as though you knew the drivers, even if you never met them. That needs to come back. – Henderson