Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time

1. All these seats

In the late 1990s, as NASCAR became a more common water cooler topic, tracks added seats upon seats … seats that they’re regretting to the point of removing a lot of them. Sometimes, less is more, and the building boom was all about the moment instead of considering that most fads come to an end. And when they do, there’s an awful lot of room left on the bandwagon. The thing about supply and demand is, in order to sustain demand, you need to curb the supply a bit.

Sparse crowds don’t make anyone look good, but sometimes those crowds aren’t as sparse as they look. If you fill up half of a 100,000-seat venue, you have a heck of a crowd, a bigger audience than many other sports venues can even hold. But it looks empty, and that in itself produces apathy.

If the track looks poorly attended, even with more than 50,000 in attendance, interest in going isn’t exactly piqued. If a track sells out, though, people tend to look at the packed stands and think, “man, I wish I was there.”  There’s no denying that the crowds have shrunk significantly; that’s not all due to the size of the grandstand. But the lack of foresight in building them so big contributes to the overall perception of the sport.

2. Later, dude

(Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)
Pocono doesn’t have lights. How will later start times next year affect tracks like this one? (Photo: Logan Whitton/NKP)

NASCAR tried moving to later start times previously, and it didn’t work. Fans didn’t like races starting at 3 pm, and most were moved back to earlier times a few years back, though not as early as they once were.  So doing it again for 2017 makes little sense.

Sure, the networks want races closer to primetime, but when you factor in things like travel time for fans to get home and the unpredictability of the weather, especially at tracks where there are no lights, it seems unlikely that the move will attract more fans than it will anger into possibly doing something else on Sunday.

3. How’d you get down there?

Take a look at the front ends of Cup cars from the 1980s and earlier, and you’ll see a whole lot more air below the front bumper. It’s a stark contrast to today’s race cars, with the splitter that rides so close to the asphalt that little air passes by. Drivers like the closed-off front end because it adds downforce by eliminating lift from airflow under the car, making the cars both faster and easier to drive.

That seems like a good thing until you consider that the splitter – and to a slightly lesser extent, the low-hanging valence that came before it – contributes to the aerodynamic dependence that makes passing difficult and clean air king. While NASCAR has made big strides in the right direction, raising the front end of the cars seems like it would be worth experimenting with to see if it can be done safely. If it can’t, then at least a return to the valence without the splitter blade could make a difference in what fans see on track.

4. That’ll weed ‘em out…

This one’s a little hard to write, because it goes against a lot of what I say all the time: driving for a small team is not an indicator of lack of talent on a driver’s part. Far from it. But it’s safe to say that when NASCAR created the new and, debatably, improved Chase, nobody really expected a team in Chris Buescher’s position to be contenders.

Buescher is 31st in points right now, but just a handful behind 30th and Chase eligibility. Buescher is an outstanding talent, and a nice kid to boot, and the Front Row Motorsports teams work as hard as anyone in the garage. They’ve proven that they can do more with less than just about anyone.

But there’s something about a 30th-place driver being in title contention, even if it’s likely he’ll be weeded out early, just doesn’t sit right. The championship needs to be about excellence, not just on one day, but throughout an entire season. While the 30th-place cutoff makes it easy for a driver who misses races for injury to still contend (and some feel that they shouldn’t be able to either), it also makes it easy for a driver who, while undeniably impressive, is not championship caliber overall to get in.

And as much as everyone loves an underdog, it’s a bit difficult to accept one in the Chase over teams who performed better on a week to week basis.

5. Here, have a cookie

On paper, it certainly makes sense to have multi-purpose race tracks that can easily host a variety of racing series. The problem is, cars don’t race on paper, and the tracks that were designed for both stock cars and open-wheel racers don’t often produce great races from both sides. Only its aged pavement has allowed Auto Club Speedway to become an exception, but for years, it was no different from most of the other 1.5 to 2-mile tracks on the circuit.

NASCAR’s mistake was adding so many of these tracks to the schedule to begin with, instead of telling would-be track owners that if they wanted to be included on the Cup schedule, they needed to come up with something different. Now, in the age of track owners filing lawsuits to get their way, it’s harder to get the cookie-cutters off the schedule, in part because there are few tracks with the infrastructure to replace them. That’s because nobody built them, and the ones that were on the schedule were not kept up to date.

If NASCAR had said something to the tune of “Want another race? Build another short track,” to both Bruton Smith and the planners at sister company International Speedway Corp., fans would be getting a more exciting product in the end.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-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 working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is 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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Yesterday was a “a win”, but damn can we cut out the celebratory nonsense as if he was competitive throughout the race before it was called and earned it? It was a Mother Nature’s gift to Chris and his team. Now he is in the position of a possible stupid Chase berth. Can this win and this format get any more insanely stupid? He will not get this chance again, that is a given. But damn to even think on paper he is “qualified” with the “win your in” yet again brings home the stupidity of the whole format. And shame on one writer that hypes and promotes this fluke win as it is something more that it was….Shame.


kb. the best way to handle this is to hope it happens more and more to show everyone the stupidity that is this whole format. In that same vein, I hope Chris makes it to the final four. At least making the Chase will bring some more money for that team, so that is one positive to take out of it.


Thanks Steve….


At the time, the Car of Tomorrow was another of Brian’s “brilliant” ideas. At least to him. How’s that one working out? And all his subsequent examples of his ideas for his “product”.


if it was working, the stands would have more people in them and the ratings, even on channels that are not on everyone’s cable package, would be up even higher.

BZF and NASCAR are depending on the $ from the tv partners which is why they will bend over backwards to accommodate their every wish, even when it is bad for the fans.

The newer aero package has certainly helped the racing but if there is a dominant car and that would probably have been Truex at Pocono until he had the tire failure, then races can quickly turn into snoozers because of it.

Biff Baynehouse

“Pique” aye? [stimulate interest or curiosity] GOLD STAR for vocabulary Mrs. Amy! Kudos!
Yeah! [late start times] I always thought of this as suspect & highly counter-intuitive, especially at places like Nono & WGI. The 2:30 or 3:00 starts are frequently problematic when coupled with the Northern Appalachia weather patterns, which are those pesky little pop-up showers storms that frequently interrupt events. Late starts on Eastern events are disservice all the way around (teams, drivers & media) in my opinion. Where-as starting earlier opens the window & adds a few more hours on being able to go full distance whilst simultaneous accommodating rain delays. BOTH Nono races this season had weather. Especially when they know a full week in advance weather is going to be an issue (as with the Nono race this week) they should move the starts up to Noon or even 11:00. If they can do it on Monday, why not Sunday? TV, you might reply. Whelp how are ratings on Monday as opposed to Sunday? Sunday at Nono was especially infuriating this year! Knew about the strong likelihood of issue orient weather on the preceding MONDAY, so they should have started at Noon or 11 &, as it were, they never got it started then pulled the plug at +/- 2:30 with +/- 5.5 hours of day light remaining!…??? Postpone at 2:30? What the heck was that? Then Monday, with the 11:00 start, if not for that darn hor long fog RED flag, with only 22 laps withstanding, they would have gotten the full distance before the rain came, which perfectly exemplifies my point & is a point that is as easily applicable at ANY Nascar event.
As a Fordies I love seeing Chris & Front Row in contention, but this “win” & the strong likelihood that he will be “in” exemplifies why the “chase” has been & always will be a farce, as I have been saying since DAY ONE! KyBu, the current “champion” MISSED ELEVEN RACES for Christ’s sake, KuBu also qualified after he missed 3 races. Then there’s the 8 Tonly missed this year. In short (as if), the “chase” devalues ALL the regular season races & will never be a fair or rational way to assess or crown a motorsports champion.
As for the Cup cars, I believe they have done a decent job & certainly applaud their intent & efforts. They got rid of that obscene high-drag stuff they used at Mich & Indy last season, so that alone was a major positive. Then downforce reductions are hard to quantify & stats do not necessarily always show the true results. I do believe the racing has been improved quit a bit & that they will gradually they will continue to reduce downforce (which is good). It takes a considerable amount of planning & testing to tweak things & I think they should avoid spontaneous package changes that do not allow Goodyear to test & adjust the tires to compliment the revised aero-effects. That was the case at KY a few others last season & when you do that you are not allowing for a true data set to develop from the revised aero-effects, plus taking substantial risks making changes without testing tires. But the thing that has really bugged me is the legislating out of existence the tandem drafting, & ALL drafting for that matter, with new rules updates due to hit the NXS in ’16. The Cup bumpers are misaligned now. In my opinion that does not inhibit bumping at all & essentially promotions wrecks. So that is reprehensible, point blank. Tandems were, bar none, the most hair raising & exciting plate races in history. Lame tame trains being so popular is confounding to me & I think that speaks more to motorsports ignorance in Nascar’s fan base than anything. I just don’t understand it or see any positive aspects in tame trains as opposed to the tandems. I could go on ceaselessly here too, so let’s just leave it there…
The cookie cutter thing is so 90’s. Being born a Nascar 70’s & 80’s child I miss many of the abandoned shorties too I have never advocated places like HOM, CHI, KS, FON, LV. But before “new” shorties, I tend to think the trend will be to road courses. In the 80’s & early 90’s, as far as most drivers & fans thought, they might have raced on Mars. Drivers & teams had no experience & fans begrudged it! Now the opposite could not be more true. WGI is the most popular event on the circuit & with the phenomenal repave job ISC did that momentum will surely grow. So, first of all, as I have insisted since the inception of the “chase”, WGI should switch dates with Dega & be in the “chase”. Dega is a chrepes shot, where-as, on the Nascar circuit, never a truer test of championships driving skill there were, than WGI. Both are ISC tracks, so that is & has always been an absolute no brainer. Then substitute a different road course for anyone of the aforementioned cookie-cutters. In doing so, keep in mind, prerequisite to the Cup series is a permanent garage dedicated house all race cars. So Road American, Road Atlanta, Mid Ohio & most of the other American circuits are out. Realistically, as things stand today, possibilities are limited to COTA, Laguna Seca, the infield courses at Indy & Tona $ Mosport (in order of my preference). A weekend that includes a Cup race thru the infield on Saturday & on the oval on Sunday at Dona or Indy, now THAT is entertainment value! Speaking of …Indy I liked at the onset & still do racing-wise, but in hindsight, that has also been mishandled. Coupling Nascar with USCC (now IMSA) was genius, but that quickly when away. Now, despite the foreseeable fact an NXS exhibitionist laden race at the Brickyard would never be an effective substitute for USCC race, they abandoned Indy Raceway Park, which was consistently a sellout & one of the best races on the NXS line-up. As it stands & as you mention at the start, the attendance this year at Indy was remarkable. The NXS race looked like a closed-gates test session, with most of the few in attendance, beating the heat by huddling out of site of the TV camera under the shade of the 2nd level grandstands. Im sure something will have to be done with that weekend. I’m anxious to see what they dream up, but hopefully it’s my idea of a Cupper double-dip, or any combination series, with an Indy infield on Saturday & outfield on Sunday.

Biff Baynehouse

Among other lesser type-o’s: …tandem drafting, & ALL ***bump drafting… ….ignorance in Nascar’s fan base ***more than anything… …as far as most drivers & fans thought they might have ***well have been racing on Mars…. …***crepes shoot…


Try paragraphs Biff. People might actually read your posts

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