Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Things NASCAR Needs to Address

  1. The plate package

One thing that has been lacking at Daytona and Talladega with the current package is what once made plate racing entertaining: the lead being the last place a driver wanted to be taking the white flag. The ability for one line to catch and pass the other has diminished, and that’s hurt the excitement—the leader has too much control over the field at the end of the race, and the top and middle lines at both restrictor plate tracks don’t seem to work as well as they once did. It shouldn’t take wholesale changes to the cars to get there.

Though the cars are far different from what they were circa 2000, the plate package then wasn’t a huge diversion from what you see today. The roof spoiler and wicker bill package made for tight pack racing, sometimes with surprisingly few crashes as the cars were more stable in the air. While drivers are currently able to gain ground in the pack, gaining 15 spots and going to the lead in a few laps is no longer a reality … and plate racing would be much better if it were.

  1. SAFER Barriers

Many tracks, Talladega among them, have done a credible job of making sure that more surfaces have SAFER barriers. There’s really no reason not to have them mandated on every surface facing the racing surface at every oval track on the circuit. And NASCAR should be helping by reducing sanctioning fees to tracks for a set number of years after installation is complete. Talladega showed how far the sport has come in safety, but one hit on an unprotected wall and it will be painfully clear how far it still has to go.

  1. The XFINITY Series championship

When NASCAR polled fans about adding a Chase to the XFINITY and Truck Series, the question included one thing the final deal didn’t: limiting Cup drivers’ participation. You have to wonder if many fans chose the lesser of two evils and checked the Chase box, believing that the Cup drivers would be limited in more than just a single race (the finale at Homestead). Now, nine races into 2016 and the “win and you’re in” Chase format is becoming a bit of a joke, with exactly two drivers qualified via wins in the series. At this race, how many of the final 12 title contenders will have a win? Four? Five?

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Elliott Sadler’s Talladega win catapulted him into the XFINITY Chase. However, would his aggression at the end, causing a wreck have been muted under a different points system? (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

The whole reason for the Chase in the first place was to discourage title runs like the one Matt Kenseth had in the Cup Series in 2003, where he won just one race en route to the championship. There was an uproar in 2014 when Ryan Newman came within a point of winning the Cup title without a win. So, why suddenly put the format in place in a series where regulars don’t win regularly? It’s less of an issue in Trucks, but for the XFINITY show, it’s definitely a concern.

  1. Transparency

NASCAR’s reasoning for not releasing its rule book to the general public is that the car specs are proprietary. Fair enough. But why not make some sections available online, including those that outline behavior standards, inspection, qualifying and race procedures, and other things that would give fans a clearer picture of what’s being policed and how without giving away trade secrets. While publishing penalties and levels of infraction was a good step, it still means little without fans knowing what the rules are and what infractions equal which penalties. It shouldn’t appear that the rules are written in pencil, a complaint fans have had for many years.

  1. The bottom line

While the fans would see little immediate impact, reining in the cost of competition would, in time, only improve the on-track product. Yes, every sport has haves and have nots, but costs in NASCAR have spiraled out of control in the last 15 years. In the late 90’s, touted by many as some of the sport’s best years, a team could be competitive in the Cup Series for $10-15 million a season. Then, a few huge corporate sponsors came along and dropped double that into a couple of teams. That was great for those teams, who prospered and won, but not so great for the sport overall. Longtime sponsors pulled out of the sport because they could no longer field a competitive car with the budget they had allocated. Longtime teams went out of business as a result.

Teams with full sponsorship aren’t able to compete with the powerhouses any longer.  And it hurts the sport, because it’s hard for fans to pull for the underdog if the underdog rarely has a fighting chance of success.  NASCAR needs to take care to nurture future investors, who won’t get involved if there’s no return on their investment, and to make their investment worthwhile by making some level of success a financial possibility.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Amy, to answer the question in the Xfinity portion it is due to Brian fart being a marketing guy and not a racer like his Dad and Grandfather.
He is also trying to run the sport in a similar my way or the highway format is predecessors did but in today’s environment that is no longer effective and the results are obvious.
MLB almost died in the early nineties and much of that was on leadership. Only saving grace for MLB was the home run chase of 1998 but that became significantly tainted in subsequent years with the steroid/PED issues.

Each entity goes through ebbs and flows and NASCAR is currently in a long trough after being on a sizeable and lengthy rise from the 80’s into the nineties and early 2000’s.

Broken Arrow

NASCAR was never more than a niche sport and trying to compete with the NFL was obviously the dumbest of many dumb things Brian France has done. But the damage is done. The Chase is here to stay and the last two championships being decided by WINNING at Homestead have been total positives. (When did JJ ever try to win there during his run?) (When did a Super Bowl winner lose the championship because the other team scored more points during the regular season?)

As for plate racing, Amy clings to the belief that there was ever a time that it was a good thing. Amy, put down the bong. (Actually, I doubt you know what one is. So, maybe a better piece of advice is “go back on your anti-psychotics.” Or maybe she is just plain dumb.) Plate racing has NEVER been good. There have been some accidentally entertaining races. But the history of mayhem, destroyed cars and the death of NASCAR’s biggest star, not to mention the serious injuries to others) all prove that no amount of tweaking will help plate racing. Take the plates off, fix the aerodynamics to prevent flying cars and increase the separation between cars. The only time a car should be near another car on the track is when cars are attempting to pass. That is the whole point of racing, “My car is faster than yours.” Not, “my pack is moving better than yours.”

But as they say, don’t try to teach a pig to sing. The sound is bad and it annoys the pig.

Broken Arrow

Also, Amy, one last thing. Sports is not the Little Sisters of the Poor. Money talks Bullshit walks. All your hype of the “little guys” makes me think you are re-reading all of Charles Dickens and these poor drivers have to beg for their porridge. If you don’t have money or have a way to attract money, you may as well stick to local racing. That is life in all major league sports and Ryan Blaney is damn lucky to have a ride with Penske backing. Maybe somebody else could do better, but hey, he has the name and the connections. Not so different from about 20 other drivers I could name. Who is really the underdog? It sure as hell isn’t the Blaney Kid.


BA, whatever you are smoking, you seriously need to quit. We all get it, you hate Ryan Blaney’s guts? Why? You have openly stated that you are a Chase Elliott fan. Good for you! Chase is driving for a top team, with money flowing like water. He should be doing good. Blaney is driving for a small team. In spite of the Penske connection, the Wood Brothers do not have the financial backing that Chase Elliott’s team, and owner, have. Could the Wood Brothers show up at the Barrett-Jackson auctions and lay out millions of dollars for the cars that Hendrick has bought? No, they can’t. They are a small team, both financially and in manpower, something you feel should disqualify them from competing at the Cup level. They are the epitome of the underdogs.

You need to get help with your bias attitude and your constant attacking of those of us who do not agree with you. Besides, Chase Elliott will win a race, or even two, this year, and he will be Rookie-of-the-Year. The Wood organization just can’t compete with Hendrick’s bucks.

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