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The Frontstretch Five: NASCAR Fallacies

The Frontstretch Five: NASCAR Fallacies

Welcome to the Frontstretch Five, a brand-new column for 2014! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers, and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things, and ideas that define the current state of our sport. In the latest edition, there are some beliefs that Amy says NASCAR (and sometimes fans and media) just won’t let go of.

1. NASCAR needs to be like other sports to be successful.

This belief is one that Brian France continues to cling to, tweaking the rules and the Chase accordingly, in an attempt to attract NFL and other sports fans to NASCAR. The problem is, it’s not working. Many fans of other sports don’t care about auto racing and many probably never will, no matter what gimmicks are used to try and draw them in. Plus, the diehard race fans don’t want NASCAR to be like the stick-and-ball sports, and many choose it because it’s not like other sports. They didn’t want a “playoff” system because they knew a season-long championship worked for this sport. They didn’t need fancy graphics or special camera angles to tell the story because the racing was the story, plain and simple.

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Racing is unique, but does it need to borrow from other sports to have a mainstream audience? (Credit: CIA)

It’s understandable that NASCAR wants to have the longevity of popularity and loyalty from fans that some other spots have. But what they don’t seem to see is that they did have that. No, the numbers of fans weren’t the same as football or basketball, but fans were loyal and deeply passionate. Had the sport stayed its course in some key areas, it would likely have retained more of its old fan base, and, as it has, for generations, gotten new ones as they were brought into the fold by their parents and grandparents. In putting the casual sports fan over the longtime fan base, NASCAR made its biggest mistake, because few of the casual fans became diehards, and many of the diehards feel like the sport didn’t want them anymore.

2. Fans come to Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races if there are Cup drivers in the field.

15 or 20 years ago, this statement may have been true as the then-Busch Series and later, the Truck Series were trying to gain an audience. But there were some key differences then. The first is that both series featured a large number of stand-alone races, and a lot of times, the Cup drivers would come to town and drive for a local owner. They’d get his car in the show, and some would have a good run. It was fun to see who might show up and race for a smaller team.

What the Cup drivers didn’t do was dominate nearly every race they entered. Some fans would like to think otherwise, that when Mark Martin was running up a record number of wins in the series, and Dale Earnhardt would come stink up a show here and there, it was the same as now when Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are running roughshod over the series. It’s not, and here’s why. In Martin’s winningest year, 1993, he won seven of 14 starts in the Busch Series. The series raced 28 times that year, and 11 races (39%) were won by Cup regulars (Martin, Dale Earnhardt, and Michael Waltrip), with the other 17 wins staying with Busch Series drivers.

Compare that to 2013, and it’s easy to see the difference. While Martin ran half the schedule, last year Kyle Busch ran 26 of 33 races (79%) and Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano had a combined 31 NNS starts, with 30 of those in the No. 22 car. Busch won 12 races (36%), Keselowski won seven times (21%), and Logano had three victories (9%). Those three drivers alone combined for 22 wins, a whopping 67% of all races run in the series. Just five races, or 15%, were won by series regulars last season. It’s clearly not the same as the days of Martin’s success.

And a lot of fans are sick of it. If social media is an indicator of what fans are thinking, then NASCAR should be paying attention, because many, many fans are not tuning in or going to the track because they’re tired of what they feel is a race with a predetermined result. Do they want to see the Cup drivers banned from the series? No, and neither do the series regulars. What fans want is a level playing field where the Cup guys don’t have a huge advantage going in and the series regulars can beat them if they’re good enough. But that’s rarely the case because the Cup drivers garner huge sponsor deals that, for the most part, far outstrip the budgets of the NNS teams. Fans aren’t watching, and they’re not going to see the races for the Cup guys anymore.

3. A win on fuel mileage or a rain call is somehow lesser than one earned in some other way.

This one is perpetuated by fans and even some media, but it’s a cop-out. Racing isn’t simply about the best driver or the best car on any given Sunday. It’s about the best strategy, about a team putting a driver and a racecar in position to win a race. That could mean a dominating performance, it could mean keeping the car in one piece or protecting the engine while others have problems. And it could be about stretching fuel a little longer, a little better, than an opponent. A win is a win, and in NASCAR, wins don’t come cheap. Ever.

Jeff Burton used to say that his team didn’t go out to win every race, but rather to put themselves in the position to win every race. Burton knew that taking care of his equipment and racing clean and smart was important. A driver might not have the best car all day, but he can have the best calls from his crew chief which gives him the best car at the end, where perhaps he can grab a win on a green-white-checkered. Perhaps he can manage his tires better and take two on the final stop while others take four. Maybe his team reads the radar better and makes a winning gamble. And perhaps he can make a fuel run last more laps than the others. It doesn’t matter, because on that day, in that race, the guy who wins does it because he is able to do something that 42 others can’t. Beyond that, how he does it really isn’t important. You won’t hear a driver in victory lane lament that this is “only” a fuel mileage win, and his peers won’t respect him less because his win came on a better call when the rains came. Nobody else should either.

4. Every race has to have a close finish

No, it doesn’t. What every race needs to have is the finish it’s supposed to have. In other words, a race unaltered by NASCAR or anybody else. It’s easy to understand NASCAR’s thinking on a late debris caution where the leader is running away by five seconds and there’s little passing. Someone, somewhere, got the mistaken impression that every race had to be decided by inches, but that’s unrealistic.

There was a time in NASCAR’s history when many races had a single car on the lead lap at the end. A good one might have three or four. And that was okay. Fans didn’t complain about it all the time (or if they did, there was no social media to splash it all over, so it didn’t get viral). Neither did drivers. It simply was what it was.

Now, many casual fans don’t understand that not every finish is going to be a fender-banging door-to-door battle and disparage the race as boring when that’s not the ending. NASCAR has made it worse, not better, by throwing debris cautions where the debris is not shown on TV cameras and where teams aren’t reporting it on the radio. Manipulation of races isn’t the answer. Fans have to understand the reality of the sport.

5. The racing was better “back in the day.”

Well, sometimes it was, that’s true. But sometimes it wasn’t. There were some great finishes, some great stories of amazing feats (not all of them exactly NASCAR legal), and some clunkers, too, like the aforementioned races with one guy on the lead lap. It wasn’t perfect by any means. There were some good races and some not-so-good races in any era of the sport. It’s like that in every sport, a universal truth.

What was better, then? Why do race fans and media wax nostalgic all the time? Well, the cars were stock cars in a day when car culture was still strong in America. Many people today don’t have the same love affair with cars in general as folks once did. Many see cars as simply utilitarian, a way to get from point A to point B via the fastest route the GPS can muster. They don’t just enjoy the drive, don’t love their cars.

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Large corporate sponsorships, such as Target, weren’t nearly as commonplace back in the day as they are now. (Credit: CIA)

In those days, the France family ruled the sport with what was, if anything, more of an iron fist than today. But the drivers, to a point, were respected. Fans were respected. It was still about the money, but it didn’t seem so greedy.

It was also easier to relate to the drivers because they seemed more like the guy next door than a corporate shill. Fans could relate to them better than they can relate to the millionaire drivers today. While not every driver back then came up with no money or help, and not every driver today had a silver spoon, they are two different breeds. The blue-collar drivers of the old days were, perhaps, easier to warm up to. Fans were forgiving of mistakes and even of creative engineering (and if you think it goes on now, do some reading on what was going on then! Chad Knaus had nothing on those guys) because these were regular guys who they looked up to.

So, while there were many reasons that NASCAR’s golden years were different, maybe better, the racing alone isn’t the reason why.

About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Co-Managing Editor of Frontstretch since 2012, Amy oversees the site’s photography and daily content as well as assisting with staff management. A ten-year veteran writer and three-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, Amy pens The Big Six (Mondays), Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays), Holding A Pretty Wheel (Fridays) and writes a monthly diary with Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan. A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

26 comments

  1. You ever notice that articles like this generate the most comments? If only NASCAR actually read them and took them to heart. We aren’t complaining because we want to see the sport die but because we actually care.

  2. Amy… Is there some way we can start a hostile takeover of Nascar and install you as CEO?

  3. I definately agree with #3-5, but if there’s any fallacy that needs to be on this list, it’s “Junior succeeds, we succeed.”

  4. A few quibbles:

    “If social media is an indicator of what fans are thinking” Actually, it is an indicator of what SOME fans are thinking. We don’t know what the fans who aren’t on Twitter are thinking.

    “Every race has to have a close finish” and “The racing was better “back in the day.” What matters is if racing today is EXCITING… and it’s not, at least as measured by the number of people not showing up to the tracks and the number of people not watching on TV. Today, a sport has to offer viewers instant and constant gratification. Why isn’t soccer more popular? Because relatively few people think watching 90+ minutes in hopes of seeing a handful of real scoring opportunities and one or two goals is a worthwhile use of their time. Now double the time, and you’ve got a typical four hour NASCAR race, and during that 4 hours, there is a small handful of times a viewer will be on the edge of their seat. If you want more fans, you’ve got to give them more excitement per minute of watching. Come up with a system that forces the drivers to be more aggressive earlier in the race (perhaps by parking the last 10 drivers each quarter of the race?). Take away some of the reliability of the cars and the tires, make them a LOT harder to drive (without scrimping on safety).

    • The biggest fallacy that any fan of NASCAR can have is that racing should be exciting 100% of the time. The only way you can get that result is to manipulate and manufacture every aspect of the race which tips the scale away from sport and more towards entertainment. Baseball is kind of boring too but people still love it.
      As Jack Nicholson said in “The Departed”…. “This ain’t reality television”. If that’s what you want then you may increase ratings but you’ll end up with wrestling.

      • I hope you are not complaining about baseball! How can you not love a game so relaxed that they play in their pajamas?

    • Sorry, Tom, I disagree that every race has to be 100% excitement for every minute. I think that NASCAR has already gone too far in their efforts to manipulate things in order to try and force what would happen naturally IF the cars weren’t all kit cars and could therefore race side by side and pass during the race instead of having to try and do it all on pit road or on the double file restarts.

      Too many races where the aero dependency and tires that never wear out play a role.

      I want to see a fair race, one that isn’t manipulated by cautions to either bunch up the field or produce an “exciting” finish by having a bunch of wrecks on a GWC.

      • You know Gina if NASCAR/Goodyear would bring a tire that wears that would solve a few problems I think as teams would be forced to actually manage their tires, (Are you listening JJ?), which in turn would force teams to actually pit verses now when drivers pit for fuel, (Sunoco of course). I don’t want to sound “black helicopter-ish” but at this point in time Goodyear has years worth of data whereby they can draw from to actually create a tire that wears, (even with this IROC racecar) but yet they continue to bring rock hard tractor tires. I’m starting to believe that its actually NASCAR that doesn’t want tires that wear because one driver in particular has issues with tires that need managing. Maybe that’s a stretch but this rock hard tire deal is getting pretty old and there really isn’t a reason for it.

        Keep in mind that I’m not for or against that driver in any way, in fact I really can’t say I even have a favorite driver at this point, (RIP Dick Trickle) but I still follow NASCAR because of my love of racing. So today’s NASCAR really sucks for someone like me as I’m watching this farce of a racing series purely for my love of racing. Like I said, get tires that wear, lose some aero and make the drivers actually have to drive.

        • Chris, I agree with you about Goodyear. Yes, when the drivers have to manage tire wear throughout a run and through the race, it changes the way the race works. When Goodyear started bring the flintstone tires, you notice we had an increase in the number of races decided by fuel mileage and there were also more “parade” style races because of that.

          LOL, I hear you about the racing being well, just not that good. For a while this season, the tires Goodyear brought seemed to wear (not explode) and I had hopes that the racing was going to be interesting. However, here we are at mid-season and it seems that we are back into the same old, same old as far as the racing goes. Obviously I have a favorite and I don’t hide that and of course my enjoyment of racing tends to increase if that favorite is running well and has a good finish.

          I do try and be objective. I’ve watched racing for quite a while and between the IROC car and the lousy coverage and then combine that with pitiful no passing parades (I don’t buy NASCAR’s loop data since they consider lead changes from green flag pit stops as part of it and that is just bogus data) has made me less interested, as well as many of the decisions NASCAR has made which were directed to try and bring in new fans at the expense of the old. Seems that hasn’t worked as well as NASCAR might have thought, but unlike Coca Cola who had the great business sense to say “our customers HATE the new Coke”, let’s bring back Coke Classic”, NASCAR’s leadership would rather just keep fiddling while Rome burns. “you mean there are fans who hate the chase??” says Brian (clueless) France!

  5. While I do agree that a win is a win is a win in any Nascar race, the fuel mileage races of a few years ago all but drove me from ever watching Nascar again. It wasn’t the strategy alone but the fact that with tires that lasted longer than my street tires the drop off in lap times was gone and you totally lost the long run/short run set-up strategy. You all but eliminated passes on the track and had to settle for pit stops for gaining any positions.

  6. I still wonder if it was Dale Jr winning all the time in the Nationwide Series if there would be this much discussion about Cup drivers stinking up the show. Is it Cup drivers in general, or is it because its Kyle Busch?

  7. Go ahead and take the cup guys out and see how the lower series does. Oh, btw, the cup series continues to see a decline in tv ratings. You really think the lower series will do better?

  8. One thing with Number 2. Back in the 80 and 90 when the Truck series started and the Busch series was actually quite popular was that when Cup drivers did enter the races be it a stand alone on an off weekend or a companion event it was either with someone else’s car or one they owned, operated, and had prepared by their employees not by Gibbs, Hendrick, Penske, etc. I am perfectly fine with the Cup guys doing the lower tier races so long as they are not directly affiliated with their Cup team. Essentially Busch and KEs and Logano are ringers brought in to win the race and get exposure for the sponsor which has significantly backfired due to lack of eyeballs paying attention to the series compared to 15 years ago. The beginning of the end was early 2000′s when Cup guys were running for the Busch championship in Cup provided cars. What backs up this point is a couple years ago Kyle Busch was actually running his own cars and was not winning as much in NNS as when running the JGR cars he had previously. Note he is back to winning too much since going back to running in JGR cars versus KBM cars.

    Trucks is a different animal altogether and I wonder how much Toyota dominance in that series has hurt versus the cup drivers winning so much. Personally, the truck series lost its appeal when they started running too many times on Cup tracks versus the more bullring and outside tracks they used to run on. Bring back some of those and get the racing back on ESPN or a more available network and see what happens.

    • I think you are right about the Camping World Toyota Series. I have no interest in watching a series comprised of all foreign trucks. In the last race their were two fords, one Dodge, and about a half dozen Chevy’s.

    • Brian, as did the author and others, nailed it on the head here. Back in the 1980s and 1990s the cup drivers would cobble together a small team of personnel to pit their own equally cobbled together cars, or drive for one of the many single car teams. So at least they were driving pretty comparable equipment to many of the Busch regulars. Sure they had an obvious advantage in skill and experience, but at least the advantages pretty much ended there. The single car team owners got some good runs or wins, which helped them land sponsorship to run the season with other drivers, aka Busch regulars.

      By way of comparison, Kyle Busch didn’t win a Nationwide race in 2012 driving for his own team. While his team was not on par with JGR, this was still a well funded effort and his brother did win in that car, so what’s that say about Kyle? A top driver *should* be able to carry a car to some extent, wheeling a top 10 car to a top 5, and taking a top 5 car into victory lane now and then. Yet, absent the money, personnel, and equipment of JGR, Kyle went winless. He only returned to his dominating ways (12 wins in 2013) when he was driving for one of the two strongest teams in Nationwide. Wow, you can dominate a series when you have an experience, equipment, AND team advantage over the vast majority of the field. Golf Clap.

      ..and I wouldn’t care which driver was doing it. I like Brad, but I find zero cause for celebration when he wins a Nationwide race either, unless he does it by denying a victory that would have otherwise been claimed by Kyle. I’d far prefer neither win.

      Oh, and NASCAR should have never, ever, let an experienced (and current) cup regular go down to Nationwide and claim the driver’s championship. That those teams or drivers could take pride in purpose by beating up a predominantly underfunded, lower tier series and running away with its championship astounds me. I can understand the first year it happened, because it probably never occurred to NASCAR (or most fans) that a cup guy would seek to do that, and didn’t want to change things mid-year. However, once that glaring loophole was exploited it should have been closed to prevent it from happening the following year, and not allowed to occur again and again and again.

  9. I’ll go further. This is an excellent articleh and you are to be commended on it. You really covered everything thoroughly. Good for you.

    My personal favorite these days is, and I heard it yesterday on Sirius radio, they had 26 cars finish on the lead lap and that didn’t happen years ago. Of course they didn’t have lucky dogs and wave arounds years ago. Years ago you raced hard to finish on the lead lap.

    How’s the sport today? Watch the least 20 laps. No need to sit there for several hours. You hear the same ore-race commentary for each race every year. They could actually make one commercial for each track and save money by playing it every year instead of paying shills to say the same things every year.

    They have manipulated enough races to the point they that they have manipulated the fans from the stands and their tv sets. If killing the sport was heir aim they are succeeding.

    • You got it right with the coverage. It is pretty bad. It is night and day different now then pre 2001. The TV coverage was typically better, showed more actual racing, did not have a constant flow of information on the screen, which the ticker is nice to know where drivers are running, actually showed racing in the pack if the leaders were strung out. Typically one of the personalities would make a comment during the coverage like you’re not missing anything up front, or we are staying on this battle for position, etc. The racing and the current race were the story not the personalities, not the championship from day one, not all the stuff. They tried to cover all drivers to some degree, actually would let you now if a lower tier driver fell out of the race and tried to find out why, commercials a sticking point now, but actually watched some old races and the commercials were still about every 15-20 laps but depended on track size. More laps at Bristol than Pocono for example. So commercials are not that much different just are more acknowledged.
      Biggest issue I have with the coverage is the break aways from the racing to other miscellaneous fluff. Do not show a piece about a driver during green flag racing. Cut aways to spec car, or tech garage type things are typically ok as they are informative. It is cutting to personalities like the in field studio types that add little to the story of the race and just take away from the actual coverage. Let the broadcast team and pit road reporters do their jobs. I do not need Brad Daugherty, Mikey Waltrip babbling on about useless information while actual racing is occurring. A glaring example was last week at Daytona TNT broke away from green flag racing to do a ridiculous piece about Miss Sprint Cup and following whatever the girls were doing on Twitter or something.
      Save it for a caution not during the actual race. It would have been fine if it was 30 seconds but it was 3-4 minutes long.

  10. Of the 17 races won by Busch series regulars in 1993, how many of them were run at stand alone tracks such as South Boston, and thus had no or only one or two Cup drivers? I’d be willing to put the rent money on 15, at least.

    The move to bringing the then Busch series to mostly Cup tracks is when the Cup drivers started dominating.

  11. Great article, well thought out and well presented. The only quibble I have is that while finally someone in the NASCAR press recognizes that the fans are discusted with NW and CWTS I think you underestimate how much, if only slightly. I am done with both series until the Cup drivers are gone, all of them, every race. I believe I am far from alone.

  12. Good list, but you forgot one of BZF’s favorites: “There are 75 million NASCAR fans!”

  13. Well done article, Amy. I agree with all your points. BZF continues to think he knows best even though the evidence doesn’t support his views. As long as he can bring in the big $ from TV, the France family will continue to be happy. It will be interesting to see if the RTA will do anything that might actually benefit racing & the fans.

  14. Very nice article Amy. Very good points. I have nothing to add. Too bad the jackass in charge of NASCAR doesn’t care what fans think or can see the sport for what it is instead of what he wants it to be.