Each week, someone around here, usually Tom Bowles, writes a “Did You Notice?” piece that focuses on mentioning the trends that may or may not be claiming space in the NASCAR headlines. Consider this column an addendum, kind of.
Rather than be an analysis of a trend or whatever else the DYN writer might pull from the ether, this is an attempt to think about the sport as a whole. And in all of its massive complexity, there is one thing that can be easy stated – the times are a-changing.
This season is turning out to be an interesting case study in how a sport evolves in the modern age. It seems that each day has brought news that not only are day-to-day aspects changing, like silly season announcements to long-terms moves in ownership. The Next Gen car is a whole other monster that is set to grace the track next year and one that is undergoing interweb scrutiny.
Let’s touch upon the trifecta of big things that will re-shape the sport for the next few years.
One of the noticeable shifts that has changed the product more quickly than anyone might have considered has been the reshaping of the schedule. In a recent article for The Athletic, Jeff Gluck mentioned how the number of road courses the series visited jumped from two in 2017 to seven in 2021.
That is a massive shift. Regardless of whether or not drivers are visiting an existing venue or hitting new tracks – like Road America and Circuit of the Americas – road courses now amount to nearly one-fourth of the schedule.
One could argue that the series is now more creative in its scheduling than it ever has been since 1972, when RJ Reynolds and Winston shaped the season into something resembling modern seasons. The variance of tracks has been a boon and perhaps one of the factors leading to a surprising 14 different winners in 22 races.
While the inclusion of road courses has come with a warm reception, it comes with a peculiar jump. For years, fans and drivers have pushed for more short tracks but at some point, road courses became the new short track.
But Atlanta Motor Speedway missed a golden opportunity. Rather than tearing the place apart to build a new short track, like what Auto Club Speedway is doing, it went in another direction.
In the Athletic article, Kyle Larson lamented this fact, saying “I would love to see one of these places totally change what they’ve got, like Fontana is (doing). Short tracks are exciting. Fireworks, drivers mad at each other — and that’s what they’re trying to accomplish with [the Atlanta speedway-style redesign]. I don’t think it’s really going to get what they’re shooting for.”
Bristol Motor Speedway used to be a premier event but made one of its races a dirt spectacle to attract fans and that says a lot for how badly a track reconfiguration can go. With that being posited, the argument can be made that Bristol still provides more interesting events than, say, a race at Texas Motor Speedway (no wonder the track is switching one of its dates to a road course layout).
Adjusting what had been a stale schedule has been one of the wonderful developments in the sport and much-needed. The question that arises is whether NASCAR will encourage the same flexibility in the schedule in future years. Fingers crossed.
For years – really – Bowles has brought up ownership as a key concern for NASCAR. Something about barriers to the sport being too much and the sport has not encouraged young owners and blah blah blah. He has not been wrong but rather he needs to find another hill to die on because that one is over.
Jeff Gordon will be taking over at Hendrick one day, having ascended to second-in-command. Brad Keselowski is now an owner/driver at Roush Fenway Racing. Or is it Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Racing now? Then there’s Pitbull and Justin Marks taking over the Chip Ganassi Racing operation in an announcement that came out of the blue. And, of course, Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin teamed up to grab a stake in the sport with 23XI Racing.
In just a year, the shift in ownership dynamics has been startling as much as it has been encouraging. Should Dale Earnhardt Jr. make the jump at some point soon, the ownership group will have a tremendously different look than it did not long ago, and there is reason to think that these new voices will steer the sport in new ways.
Jalopnik put together a solid article that examined how the Next Gen car is being received and perceived. A couple weeks ago, it seemed as though the car had become a total failure, that the wheels would fall off, it would go airborne once hitting 65mph and that it was made of balsa wood.
Any or all of that may or may not be true.
The biggest fear came from the fact that the composite body might be too brittle. Such consternation led to a weird game of NASCAR memos and Twitter mentions that turned out to be a bad version of passing secrets down the line.
It turns out that the tests have come back in line with expectations and teams began receiving the new chassis this week.
The new car is one of the most exciting parts of the sport. It may turn out to be a disaster, but it is also an attempt to bring the on-track vehicle more allegiance with what is available.
That the current Cup cars are so outdated is confusing. Bringing in fuel injection 20 years after it was standard with road vehicles was comical. But having a digital dash yet still running motors and suspensions that have long been out of date becomes confounding.
While the engine is still not changing (though rumors of hybrid engines coming along in a few years are circulating), there are a number of positive reworkings. The change in the wheels, from 15-inch to 18-inch is a big cosmetic alteration. The change in the transmission from 4-speed to 5-speed ekes closer to passenger vehicles that now frequently have eight gears.
It is easy to criticize any changes to the car, and it is easy to remember how Kyle Busch felt about the reconfiguration of a Cup car in 2007. There are sure to be growing pains with the new car but that is part of the reason to watch. As teams begin to figure it out and the drivers become more acclimated, the new car should be a move in a positive direction.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.
Two additional points to ponder : Pandering to every want and need of TV is the controlling factor today. Late Sunday starts are yet another reason for people to not travel to the track and without attending a race live, you will never hook a new race fan. The at-track sensation is what grows new fans. With all the blathering about doing things “for the fans”, Nascar is grossly out of touch with what fans want.
Key among that is affordability. With all the desire to cut costs for team owners, no one has tried to make a race weekend for a family of four less expensive. During the 90’s when seats were being added annually, everything from $250 hotel rooms to additional prices and fees for camping and the doubling of ticket prices made racing out of reach to the traditional middle class fans.
Instead of adding <stuff> I don’t want, cut my damn costs…work with the communities to not require mandatory 3 day stays at hotels and don’t go to communities that won’t work with you. Leverage does exist to do that. What is the effect to the bottom line to cut ticket prices in half? What does it cost to offer water at $2 a bottle? Nobody’s complaining about $8 beers (after the first one, at least) But high cost water effects survival. Pricing for concessions, tickets and hotels are traditionally “what the market will bare”. Look at the stands, Nascar. They aren’t full. Nascar has chosen to go upscale in its choice of target audience since the 90’s and it has failed to put more fans in the stands and loyal viewers watching their ads.
Its a very interesting topic for an article in Frontstretch.
I remember when ISC used 9/11 as an excuse to restrict coolers. Used to be we could spend the day at a track with a reasonably sized cooler & offset the $6 water or the $8 beer n $10 hamburger.
Yes! We were at Dover the weekend they rescheduled the race. Since no one could bring in a cooler, the price gouging was out of control AND the track ran out.
Tell me which major sport allows fans to bring in their own coolers. That time is thankfully long past. Drunk fans do not add to the atmosphere of a sporting event.
I don’t disagree with the drunk fan part of the comment, but racing still separates itself from most of not all major sports in many ways including tradition. The coolers in the stands are how when I was a kid my family could afford to take my brother and me to the track. I’d rather pay for one more ticket (if I’m taking my family) and use the seat for the cooler compared to paying concession prices. Ticket prices are one thing but concession has just gone completely off the rails.
Same here. Off topic but have been looking for someone that may have a video of the flyover from that race. I remember how it was nerve wracking being in a big crowd, the biggest gathering of people post 9/11. Just being unsure how safe it was. Seeing the flyover gave me chills. Was also the first race at Dover my (now ex) wife hadn’t been to with me because of being seven months pregnant with our oldest, now a Marine…wow does time fly.
Is this still the case? The only track I’ve been to lately was New Hampshire and they let in soft wall coolers. I just took a clear backpack and added insulation. They were even giving away free ice. I know that’s an SMI track, but I went to Darlington a few years back and brought a bag with me. Didn’t try to bring in food though because it was my first race in like 15 years and I was just used to baseball rules.
They’ve tried everything they can think of to get fans back…. except lowering the price of a ticket.
So, what the fans want is to get in for next to nothing, bring their own coolers full of beer and pelt the winner with full beer cans or water bottles if their favorite doesn’t win. Not too hard to understand the redneck stereotype that NASCAR has.
Sure j.. I mean darby, whatever you say.
Sshhh…its a secret
Not a secret to me or anyone else.
I guess I offended the POTB. No shame in that. I do it all the time. In fact, it’s part of my job.
Yep, no secret at all. They’re called aliases. People that need to hide behind them are usually people that you don’t want to know. Were you told you had to change your moniker or was there so much bad will attached to your old one that you thought it wise on your own?
Of all the changes with the new car, I think the composite body is the most interesting. And I suspect will have the most resistance from the teams.This should eliminate the teams playing all kinds of games to gain the aero advantages as they have in the past. And IMHO that will be a great way to level the playing field. Of course they will be able to do things like adjust the mounting of the body but still its a step forward.
RE: “For years, fans and drivers have pushed for more short tracks but at some point, road courses became the new short track.”
Fans wanted more short tracks because they wanted fewer races on intermediate tracks because the races those tracks produce often turn into high speed parades. Since existing track owners are unwilling to make that happen we get more road courses as some sort of warped compromise. Ideally it would have been nice to go from 2 road courses to 4, and from 6 to 10 short tracks, all at the expense of the 1.5 to 2 mile tracks. Much like at the turn of the century people were asking for wins to be worth more and they gave us the chase/playoffs, once again we see that we asked for more short tracks and we got road courses. For the record I like road courses but the point is, they will never give us what we ask for. What are they…. on dope?
Nascar should hire Bill B as an advisor. So much common sense there. And how much damage was done to Nascar by the guy who threw the ring at Truex? Where IS that asshat anyway? Hiding in the liquor store?
NASCAR continues to drive a stake into their own hearts. Since there is no longer anything “stock” about Stock Car Racing, they may as well go back to the concept of IROC Camaros and Daytonas: create identically-prepped cars for each team to run and let the expertise and strategy of the drivers and teams determine who is best qualified to win a race. One quick note on short tracks: enough dirt tracks currently exist around the country that can host a dirt race here and there without having to tear up a track like AMS or Bristol and/or reconfigure it.
Blaming tracks for poor racing has been NASCAR excuse for the past 15 years. NASCAR is the reason the racing sucks. The inability to put a decent car on the track is why most races suck regardless of venue. It ain’t rocket science, but the fine folks in Daytona don’t have a clue. They should stick with poaching sponsors and media hype. Things NASCAR is good at.
The biggest reason for poor racing doesn’t fall in the laps of tacks, Goodyear (don’t count the Brickyard tire fiasco from about ten years ago, that was an anomaly). The biggest reason is the constant changing of the rules package. Really happy and optimistic about the next gen car for this reason. No more twisted sisters, no more special car for super speedways, etc. Just one car and the rules stay the same for the year. Let the teams be creative with them but as long as they fit the template, no use of unauthorized parts and engines stay sealed…..just let them be creative with setups. For example, if they hit a dirt track again next season. Expect a lot of soft right rear shocks and springs with a lot of travel (this is over simplified but for the sake of conversation). This will allow teams to mimick the more exotic dirt racing suspension systems. This will help the driver to steer the car based on throttle input. This can all easily be done with approved parts and adjustments that are built in to the new car.
In general, just too many changes week in and week out, often with last minute changes being determined when the cars have already arrived at the track.
Nobody complained about the length of events until the university dropout self=professed “genius” decided to fix what wasn’t broke with the Car of Terror, a “simpler” points system and other brilliant ideas. I still believe he’s doing damage to the toy he inherited and played with. Anyone who’s paid attention to the effect the tweaks have had will not anticipate any improvement in the product.
There are adding too many road courses to the schedule. I cannot believe they are running a race on the Indianapolis road course versus the oval. The day NASCAR goes to an electric vehicle, will be the day I am done with NASCAR. I also keep hearing that the next-generation car will improve the racing and competition. All I can say, is how many times have we heard that line?
The oval provided zero excitement after the first few years. I don’t think many fans miss it at all. It is not suited to the stock cars. The future of racing is road courses and short tracks, both of which put the premium on driver skill. The big ovals had their day, but the cars are too aero-sensitive to make for good racing on them.
I guess FS is where all the “I’m-done-with-NASCAR” fans and writers come to moan.
I sure hope NASCAR doesn’t take your advice, it will be the end if they do. F1 is road course only and their ratings are a joke.
You’re wrong on your last point too. I rarely visit FS.
The ratings are low in North America. Worldwide nascar isn’t even a blip on their radar.
So, I doubt NASCAR cares about their world wide popularity. In America where it matters, F1 isn’t even on NASCAR’s radar. It’s ridiculous the way that NASCAR is heading toward the F1 Formula recipe of road courses only. If NASCAR takes Darby’s advice, they will be finished in this country. NASCAR is already heading in that direction anyway.
They need to start by throwing out management and their stupid rule book. Then MAYBE they can be considered a racing series again.
Bring back Rockingham!
Or convert N Wilksboro to dirt
Really for the first time in a long time enjoyed watching the races. Actually kept up every week with my fantasy team which I haven’t done successfully in years. The schedule change was big and though I was a bit frustrated nat losing one of our Dover races here in DE this year (hopefully it isn’t permanent and it will be a rotation of tracks). I really enjoyed the attempt at the dirt race at BMS. I TRULY believe that could have been a much better race with the next gen car which was slated to start running this season before then pandemic. The current cars just don’t allow for enough adjustment but it was still a fun race to watch. Since they aren’t going to allow the more radical suspension systems found in things like dirt late models, at least the independent rear suspension has the opportunity to mimick this by giving the cars more roll to the right rear which will allow teams more control in setting up for a slick surface.
I BRING THIS NEXT TOPIC UP FOR A RELATED REASON…..
In addition to the dirt and the road courses, outside of NASCAR; having the formation of a new “IROC” like series with SRX really was another big plus for motorsports in general. But them being able to pull from previous year champs of the Trucks, Xfinity, Indy, and series was great. Happy to see them go with a different format from what IROC used where they ran mirroring to a specific track that the cup series was racing at for the weekend. Yes it makes travel a bit more but in this era, it’s really a non issue. Would love to see a combo of the older retired drivers along with the current champs to make a bigger field next season. Now, how does this tie to NASCAR? The short tracks and even dirt short tracks with their ability to put on quality races. I only missed the event at Slinger due to family vacations. I loved the racing this series produced. It was names we knew on a really good variety of just short tracks. Yes, there are a select group of these tracks that have the infrastructure in place to hold a large scale event but there are a handful more that due to ownership have the ability for this to happen. No it isn’t really feasible to bring a Cup race to Bedford Speedway in PA, though with one of the widest racing surfaces on dirt, it would accommodate the racing well. It’s storied history of having multiple Indy 500 drivers race there over the years as well as a few dirt late model drivers that went from track champion to try their hand in NASCAR back in the 70s and 80s, so historically it would be a great track to go to. Unfortunately, like most local tracks, the seating and facilities just aren’t there. Not to mention they couldn’t even move close to 50-75k people on the roads in that town without shutting everything down for a weekend. This is the case with most of the dirt tracks. But there are the ones like Eldora and Knoxville which have both hosted Truck series races that could expand seating and have the financial backing to put in the effort. There are also dirt tracks connected to Texas Motor speedway and Charlotte. These have both been on various national dirt touring series for years. They have the infrastructure in place to easily do this. There are a handful of other famous dirt tracks in the country that have the ability (to make needed upgrades) and are in locations that would draw fans. BMS is talking about the future of a dirt race being a regular thing.
So hopefully it isn’t just a one off event and I don’t mean just this year. I mean I’m hoping it’s not just a one off if they do make dirt part of the normal schedule that means at least having one of these in a round of the Chase. That brings up a whole other topic that I’ll comment on later, the format of the championship.
Meh, I liked the NASCAR was so “behind the times” when it came to designing their cars. There was no noticable change in the racing product when they switch to fuel injection, or to unleaded gasoline, or anything like that, so I’m not sure why they bothered except to be more modern I guess. NASCAR to me never seemed like it was about being modern or at the cutting edge of design, and that’s part of what made it awesome. It’s much more impressive to drive a car that handles like a dump truck than some super car.
BRING BACK CHEATING!
BRING BACK CHEATING!