Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: A “Normal” Saturday And A Valuable Lesson

Working as a writer in the world of racing means that a majority of my weekends are spoken for before the first green flag ever waves. If I’m not at a racetrack, I’m planted in front of my television and computer so as not to miss a moment of, well, anything. This isn’t a complaint but rather the reality of the industry. Everyone here at Frontstretch.com and elsewhere in motorsports experiences the same thing.

However, every year, the first off-week of the season rolls around and suddenly a now-somewhat fine-tuned routine comes to a squandering halt as the engines quietly sit during Easter weekend. It’s a much-needed break for those who deal with the weekly grind of the travel, but I found myself drumming the arms of my chair as the weekend wound ever closer. What was I supposed to do with myself?

I decided a free weekend wasn’t one worth wasting and so I took it upon myself to have a good time. I attended a Royals game with a couple of family members, the first time in my recent memory that I had ever been to a professional baseball game. Of course, I had been as a kid but I had no memory of ever going or what the experience was like.

I came away learning two things: One, there is nothing like watching a race in person and Two, sunburns suck. (Which, of course, everyone already knows.) But how did I come to that conclusion (about races, not sunburns) by going to a baseball game?

Because it was so damn quiet. I was surprised that I could hear things that were going on, on the baseball diamond even though I was in a higher section. I could hear the umpire, the bat hitting the ball, and conversations happening in rows above and behind me. There was a lull between each batter and baseball seems to be a very much “hurry up and wait” sport.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time. The atmosphere was fun, the game was interesting, and you can never complain about getting a nice tan (or, in my case, a cherry red that quickly turns back to a ghastly white). However, the quiet, slow-paced atmosphere of a baseball game had me itching for what really gets my blood flowing: the roar of engines. So later that night, I made an overdue trip to my local short track for some good ol’ dirt track racing. I heard nothing but the thumping of my own heart, the sweet sound of engines, and metal-on-metal as contact was surely made on a little dirt track in Kansas. I couldn’t even hear the person sitting next to me, let alone other spectators. Dirt was flying in my face and teeth and, oh, just about everywhere that was covered up. It was awesome.

Now that is how to spend a weekend. On to your questions:

“I’m going to make you own up to something, Summer, because you’ve been a big advocate of this new points system and it doesn’t make sense. If this is such a great system, and it advocates winning so much, then why are the top two drivers in points winless? It doesn’t seem to matter that much to them.” Mike

Oh, I don’t know, because the number of points they earn per race hasn’t changed whatsoever and the regular season points reward consistency. The new system isn’t a new points system. It’s a new Chase/playoff system. It’s a revamp of the Chase that is meant to put a bigger emphasis to the end of the season while making the regular season count towards something.

And I’m not making it up that the Chase system rewards and emphasizes winning races. Almost every single driver and any crew chief asked has said that the new Chase system has changed the way they operate each weekend. Risk-taking is more evened out on the risk vs. reward scale. There is now very little benefit to riding around in the top 10 consistently, week-to-week if you don’t have a win to your credit.

I know there are some downsides to the system, but don’t tell me that the old (and I mean old, before the Chase, old) didn’t have its issues either. It didn’t reward winning almost at all, especially not much more than a second-place finish. And the champion was almost all but determined halfway through the season. Of course, there were seasons where the championship came down to the wire, but how is it not exactly the same with the Chase?

However, just because the top two in points don’t have wins (after only eight races,mind you) doesn’t mean the system doesn’t emphasize wins. The points earned during the regular season are still scored the same in that the names on the board will be based on overall performance. The benefits won’t truly be seen until after Richmond in the fall. Right now, the only difference you’ll see is in the actions of the competitors.

So, no, I don’t feel “called out” at all but thanks for your opinion.

“Will Hendrick’s pit crew coach leaving make them less dominant? It’d be nice to see the field leveled a bit.” Sheldon

Hate to burst your bubble, Sheldon, but I highly doubt this move will do anything to squelch Hendrick Motorsports. Short-term, maybe it will have a slight impact since cohesion is one of the most important things you can have on a race team. Greg Morin and Chris Krieg, two men who worked closely with Lance Munksgard, aren’t just some nobodies that Hendrick hired off the streets, though. HMS knows how to hire good people and, even on an interim basis, those two will likely be able to pick up the slack while a replacement is sought. A good business plans ahead for possible departures like this one.

Let’s just say that this move really does put a damper on the pit crews, though, and they suddenly start making more mistakes or having slower pit stops. Do we really think that Jimmie Johnson will be any less forceful, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will suddenly be slower on the racetrack, or that HMS will suddenly come to a screeching halt? As important as the pit crew is on race day, they don’t drive the cars and they don’t build the engines. So even if this does hurt the pit crews in a substantial way (which I highly doubt), I don’t think that HMS will be any less of a force on the racetrack than they are now.

“I saw where NASCAR’s two new hires were aimed at targeting youths and multi-cultural. So does that mean us old farts who have been watching the sport for decades suddenly don’t mean anything?” Kenny

I think those of you who keep saying that are missing the point. NASCAR can’t sit back and ignore the fact that their fan base is aging and that’s not changing as time goes on. Though I know a lot of younger NASCAR fans on social media, I continuously see them talking about how they are made fun of to some extent in school or otherwise because of it. Heck, I started watching NASCAR when I was a kid and no one else in my family did. To this day, they still give me crap about it.

If you love this sport as much as I’m sure you claim you do, though, you will want it to continue long past yourself. I know I want to see NASCAR and racing as a whole stay around for a while and I don’t know a lot of people in the 18-24 age bracket who are paying attention. As such, NASCAR executives realize that more people need to be interested in this sport, and they are hiring people who know how to do just that.

Honestly, I’m interested to see what they do in order to move the sport forward in a way that might appeal to the next generation. In the meantime, I’m really curious to see if fans who have been around for a while can tone down on the hostility every time any change is suggested because, let’s face it, change is inevitable. In this case, it is necessary, even in order to make sure the torch is passed to the next generation. Why not just enjoy the racing rather than looking for ways to get offended?

NASCAR is around for pleasure and entertainment. Don’t take it so seriously and just enjoy what it produces. If you do that, then others will want on board and might just enjoy it the same way you did.

About the author

Promoted to editor in 2013, Summer is one of Frontstretch’s fast-rising young talents. While contributing to social media efforts, she also writes the weekly "Up To Speed" column. A Kansas native, Summer graduated with a Bachelor's in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2015. She also contributes to other media outlets such as Kickin' The Tires.

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