Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: 2017 NASCAR Developing Storylines

  1. There’s a lot to take in

If NASCAR’s announcement of numerous changes to race formats and points in its three national touring series didn’t give fans a lot to think about, nothing will.  Beyond that, though, there will be some changes to the cars to reduce downforce in both NASCAR’s Cup and XFINITY series.  Charters changed hands like trading cards.

It’s actually a good thing that there are still a few weeks before the engines roar to life at Daytona, because it gives a little time to sort through all the changes we’ve seen.  Look, we’ll all figure it out.  As far as the aero package and the other rules adjustments, there won’t be answers until at least a few races into the season on different tracks.

The news seems overwhelming now, but once the season starts, hopefully some of the worries will melt away.

  1. Many fans will have a void to fill

Jeff Gordon’s fans got an extended goodbye when their driver filled in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last year, but he’s now said he’s done for good.  Tony Stewart is done in NASCAR as a driver.  Carl Edwards is gone, at least for now, and if reports of him seeking a political career play out, expect that to be permanent.

Those drivers all represent a huge fan base.  Greg Biffle and Casey Mears also have their share of ardent followers, and barring an 11th-hour deal, they’re out of a ride for 2017.

Their departures make it murky waters for NASCAR, especially when coupled with the competition changes.  Will most of the fans without their drivers stay, or will they go? It’s likely that most will stick around and either choose another driver to back or watch the field.  But with the sport in transition, by choice or not, it leads to a question mark that’s difficult to answer.

  1. Money still talks…too loudly?

The elephant in the room is and probably has, for years, been the dollar sign…and the elephant is not leaving anytime soon. Racing is expensive—and money determines the vast majority of how well a team can compete.

All the teams have good people.  All of them.  The big teams just have more people, which allows for more attention to detail, less chance of an oversight. Drivers don’t get to the top levels of the sport without talent — but they don’t get there if they don’t have money, either on their own or from a sponsor.  Sometimes money trumps talent, but usually, it will only get a driver so far if they can’t race at the level of their peers.

Still, it leaves a sour taste when money makes the decisions. That’s true at the team level (want proof—look at the surprising amount of backlash at Ty Dillon’s Cup ride, the John Wes Townley jokes, or anyone else who brings family money into the equation).  It’s also true at the top — like it or not, TV rules the roost to a large extent.  The reality is, the television package represents too much of NASCAR’s revenue to ignore.  For fans, that means later start times and, ultimately, gimmicks like playoffs and made-for-TV cautions. It’s a bit of a paradox, in that ratings have declined, but something has to change to try and stop the bleeding. Going back to pre-playoff rules is no guarantee that the viewers would come back.

  1. Keep it simple?

Are the new rules too complicated for the average viewer? They shouldn’t be, but they are made a bit less clear by terminology.  Bonus points are replaced by “playoff points,” but the concept is the same.  Perhaps renaming them was a mistake, because bonus points have been a part of the lexicon for a long time. Championship points are the same as always.

NASCAR appears to have changed its stance on keeping things as simple as possible, and that’s OK; fans can and will sort it out.  There’s always a risk of becoming too convoluted, and NASCAR is close to the edge.  Still, fans don’t necessarily want to have to do a lot of calculating to know how drivers will be seeded for the playoffs. NASCAR will need to be careful adding additional tweaks in the short-term.

  1. For the better?

At the end of the day, the big question remains whether any change is beneficial. NASCAR’s adjustments have the potential to be, though they need to be mindful that the focus needs to now fall squarely on the cars, the schedule, and increasing the level of competition from that angle. Points and segments can only go so far in fixing what ails the sport.

Driver changes are tougher.  Fans are incredibly loyal, and watching a favorite walk away isn’t like a player leaving their favorite football team.  If those fans decide to shift their loyalty to a new driver, they’re absolutely in luck this year as there are many new faces bringing something new to the table. With people looking for someone to follow, it’s a great time for them to gain a following.

But it’s also not guaranteed.

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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Where was the Ty Dillon backlash? Twitter?


“Points and segments can only go so far in fixing what ails the sport.

No they can’t. It’s still the same cars (not to be confused with real race cars), the same drivers and the same tracks. It’ll be the same follow the leader as before and Brian will come up with another brilliant idea to put another baby bandage on a compound fracture. And the drivers will say how great the idea is.

Tom Rednour

Keep it simple??

>> “a risk of becoming too convoluted, and NASCAR is close to the edge”

Nah, they jumped (and I’ll bet there’s a shark awaitin’)

I worked up an Excel spreadsheet just to see how “simple” this new points system is. Each race required eleven (11) columns: Segment 1 (Position, Champ Points, Playoff Points), Segment 2 (same), Final (same), Total Points (Champ, Playoff). You could eliminate some of the columns if you trust your formula composing skills (lookup tables) and trust Excel (which I don’t!). Imagine the fun stat guys will have adding all these new fields to their databases!

For the first three races of last year, here’s a comparison: “new, simple” vs old points system:
Johnson 140 – 110
Truex 127 – 90
Kyle Busch 123 – 116
Harvick 120 – 109
Logano 116 – 104
(I used http://racing-reference.info for the data, getting close to the forecasted Segment lengths)

I didn’t project any further ’cause my brain started to hurt. Still not clear on where the Playoff Points are added (at the end? before the not-actually-eliminating-cars “playoffs”?)

So, this year I’ll watch the Daytona 500, Martinsville, Eldora, road courses, and … that’s about it.

Bottom line: the racing might be better–keeping track won’t.


Too bad ProCup/ASA/ARCA isn’t televised live.


Changing how points are awarded doesn’t make the races better or more exciting. By floating that idea, Nascar seem to be telling us that the drivers spend a lot of time ‘coasting’ during races. What about their 100% rule? Oh yeh, that didn’t apply to plate races, did it? Lipstick on a pig, even if it’s harder to apply, still leaves you with a pig.

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