Road America being the latest in a long line of new tracks the Cup Series have visited this season, what do you think of the trend NASCAR is doing with visiting new venues? – Scott U., Madison, Wis.
I love it. Change is good. Being in the minutiae of the sport, it’s hard to look at things from a 30,000-foot view sometimes. That’s why I rely on some friends and family for their takes on certain things within the sport.
Multiple people told me the vast landscapes of Road America this weekend “looked so cool” and “feels different than normal.” When I asked them if they meant in a positive way, it was universally agreed that it was, citing change from the norm of ovals to not only a new venue, but an expansive one at that.
Bristol Dirt, Circuit of the Americas, Nashville Superspeedway, Road America and the upcoming Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, weather and traffic concerns aside, have been pretty successful overall. Generating interest? Check. Racing product serviceable with room for improvement? Check. Not to mention we’ve got another dirt race on a purpose-built dirt track this upcoming weekend at Knoxville Raceway for the Camping World Truck Series.
The trend is something I hope becomes second nature and normal. Go to new racetracks. Older race tracks, different race tracks. Legitimately evaluate whether or not the NASCAR Cup Series can race safely on circuits without SAFER barriers. The possibilities are endless.
Bowman Gray Stadium (All-Star Race, anybody?), Hickory Motor Speedway, Slinger Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Stafford Motor Speedway, Thompson Speedway, Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Kern County Raceway Park, the list goes on and on.
In this ever-changing world, NASCAR needs to continue to find ways to differentiate themselves from other racing series. Keeping up this new trend of visiting unique and different markets/tracks is a great way to do so.
With Atlanta’s repave making some waves with the drivers, do you think drivers should have input into how tracks reconfigure themselves? – Luke R., Darlington, S.C.
Very topical conversation, Luke.
Kyle Larson may have spoken for all drivers with his #BluntLarson return to form on Tuesday (July 6).
Larson was caught off guard by the narrower surface, but not the increased banking.
He also believes drivers have a good idea of what good racing is, but "fans like crashing and a 40' surface is going to keep us tight together and accomplish the "good racing" they think it is." pic.twitter.com/2nf3KapKJg
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) July 6, 2021
It’s reminiscent of Denny Hamlin publicly calling out Speedway Motorsports, Inc., in past years for not asking the drivers for their input on PJ1 application the night before the NASCAR Cup Series race.
Oh, and Hamlin didn’t hold back on unleashing his opinions on SMI this time around either.
With all due respect. This same group has reconfigured Texas, Kentucky, Bristol with 0 driver input. One of those lost a race, other one we don’t race anymore and last one we put dirt over it. But hey, what do the drivers know 🙄 https://t.co/IRCfVeK79d
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 7, 2021
Drivers don’t love when they’re largely not consulted with decisions that A). Directly affect them, B). Help the product (which is what everybody involved wants) and C). They think they (and probably do) know better than the individuals making them.
"But, you know, fans like crashing and a 40-foot wide surface is going to keep us tight together, so maybe that's going to accomplish the good racing that we think it is."
— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) July 6, 2021
This comes from Speedway Motorsports senior vice president for operations and development Steve Swift outwardly stating they didn’t take much input from drivers on their reconfiguration and redesign.
“I say this, I kind of jest: when a driver is happy about our racetrack, usually the fans aren’t,” Swift said. “We want to make sure what we’re creating is what the fans want to see.”
Cue the “we like what we’re seeing” truthers and deniers out of the woodwork with that line from Swift, but like it or not, this has been the direction NASCAR is going and will continue to be. Closer pack racing resembling drafting at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, lower horsepower, higher downforce, less driver “mattering” for the most part.
If they used driver input for the most part, horsepower would be 900, downforce would be zero, the spoilers and splitters would be chopped off, short tracks would dominate the schedule and money would be flowing into the sport.
But what’s the common denominator with those variables? None of them are happening, because as much as the drivers matter, their opinions largely don’t. It could prove to be a slippery slope for the sanctioning body moving forward. As older veterans set off into the back nine of their careers, how much longer do they want to race in NASCAR when they can really race somewhere else?
See: Jimmie Johnson.
🗯 "With the rules package and where NASCAR’s going […] I want to drive stuff with way too much horsepower. And that’s definitely not the direction the [Cup] cars are going. But I love the sport and I want to be around." pic.twitter.com/eAasLjwfp9
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) November 4, 2020
So, I’m not sure if driver’s should have input into decisions like Atlanta’s repave. On one hand, they know what they’re talking about. But on the other, if they make it exactly how they want it, then it’ll be predictable (theoretically) and not as hard to drive.
Multiple avenues within this conundrum exist for NASCAR, and odds are they’ll be faced with it countless more times over the next couple years.