Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: NASCAR Fans Like Wrecks, Not Racing

After seeing the public reaction to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway last weekend, it finally confirmed something to me that I had theorized for years.

Half of NASCAR’s fans want lots of wrecks in a race, not good racing.

The Cup race at Richmond featured only one caution for incident: when Noah Gragson spun Daniel Suarez. On the flip side, it contained tons of passing, tire strategy, comers and goers.

It was a race that played out naturally, with no overtime gimmicks or restart divebombs deciding the winner. Chris Buescher had fast pace and no mistakes, and that earned him a hard-fought win.

But that race earned only a 53.9% approval rating on The Athletic‘s Jeff Gluck’s Good Race Poll. So nearly half the fans who watched Richmond did not like it.

One week earlier, the High Point 400 at Pocono Raceway featured tons of wrecks — to the point of being just shy of a wreck-fest. What did that race not have? Passing.

Once the field settled on a restart, there was limited passing. Martin Truex Jr. said it was “just impossible to pass the leader.”

“Our car was so fast, but the guy would get out in clean air and be gone,” Truex said.

Because of that, Denny Hamlin had to rough up Kyle Larson on a restart in order to get the win, and it was a great finish as a result. But the race did not have great racing.

But what did this race get on Gluck’s poll? An 81.1% approval rating. Some were even calling it the best Pocono race ever.

So roughly 28% of NASCAR fans (on X, at least) preferred the race with lots of wrecks to the race with lots of racing. I’m no scientific researcher, but I believe that proves that there is a large chunk of fans who like wrecks more than they like good racing.

And it makes complete sense! People enjoy violence in their entertainment. There’s a reason Oppenheimer and Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One are two of the most beloved movies of this year. There is a reason that shooter video games rake in millions and millions of dollars.

There is a reason NASCAR’s broadcast partners continue using footage of Ryan Newman‘s and Bobby Allison‘s awful superspeedway wrecks even though people were injured.

People can’t look away from violence and are even drawn to it in entertainment. It’s just another weird part of the human condition.

But NASCAR viewers need to keep that attraction to violence somewhat in check when watching races. Because this isn’t a movie. These are drivers are real people, and every time they wreck, there is a chance something actually bad could happen besides just setting the car owner back a lot of money.

Seeing the big wrecks is certainly part of what makes NASCAR awesome as well as the unpredictability that comes with it. Not to mention every caution means a crazy restart is about to follow.

But the drivers’ talent and racing IQ comes through more in a race like Richmond, and I wish more fans would appreciate that aspect as well.

Brad Keselowski certainly agrees with me. Watch his impassioned speech about the racing at Richmond.

Maybe you disagree with me and were bored to death by Richmond. That’s completely OK. People like different things. Tons of people thought Napoleon Dynamite was one of the funniest movies ever while I was bored to death by it.

That Richmond race wasn’t by any means the greatest race I ever saw. But it was a good race, and NASCAR certainly needs races like that on its schedule.

Because if every week was just a ton of wrecks and crazy restarts, then eventually we would get desensitized to that and it would become boring or too ridiculous. And you’d wind up with a whole bunch of Mickey Mouse race winners and champions.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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Alex Curtis

Said it 1000 times, NASCAR fans are the only race fans who stand and cheer when a driver gets seriously hurt or killed. Bunch of drunken inbred idiots who know absolutely nothing about racing.

Christopher

Cite even one instance in 75 years of NASCAR fans standing and cheering when they know a driver has been seriously hurt or killed.

John

You’re correct. Its odd, the safer cars, walls etc are what had allowed drivers to race without fear and crash each other at will. Some of these drivers weren’t alive when the last fatality happened in the sport.

Hobbs, Carroll

They still race with that fear, no safer barrier, Next Gen car, Hans Devise will ever take out the fear of a fire during a big crash out of the mindset, fire is the biggest fear, there’s still fear of getting hurt before every race at any track, racing is inherently dangerous, nothing can never take all the fear away, I raced street stocks an late model, got hurt couple times, even flipped over on a 3/8 mile asphalt track, fellow racer told me he never thought in his life a car could flip on this track, he never raced again, I guess that fear caught up to him, I was back next race, I put the fear aside, before each race a lil prayer, hug n kiss from wife n buckle up fear gone when the green waves you too busy then to think about fear!

Hobbs, Carroll

No no no, nobody cheers a disastrous crash that they imeditally know that a driver may be hurt or killed, Austin Dillon crash, Kyle Bush broke leg crash in xfinitey crash, those pile up crashes that they see cars spinning, bouncing off the wall n each other yea maybe, bump n runs at Bristol where the receiving the bump loses it n spins yea half the fans cheer for the one doing the bumping, the other half cheering against him, fans imeditally see the seriousness of a crash and act accordingly!

SB

Cautions are what can help make a race more interesting because it tightens up the field. Cautions can happen for many reasons other than wrecks…flat tires, individual cars spinning, for instance. That can cause more passing, which is definitely more interesting than watching a parade or cars strung out on the track.

Mitchell Matthew

The race was was boring because there were few if any green flag passes for the lead. The next gen car does not go well with short tracks.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mitchell Matthew
John

It already has become too ridiculous. Manufactured racing for entertainment is not my cup or tea. I prefer to see what I saw at Richmond…or like the racing we used to see at Bristol before concrete. The racing needs more horsepower and no gear shifting on ovals and more latitude in changing chassis set ups on the race weekend.
The brilliant runs by Buescher, Brad and Logano should have been the story. I still watch it weekly along with F1 and Indy Car because I like racing. But from the pre-race on Nascar celebrates beatin’ and bangin’ in their rules, their advertising, and their reporting as ‘journalists’ try to fuel controversy instead of report the news. I miss Dale and Tony calling out journalists for asking stupid questions.
The new ‘low cost car’ is costing owners a fortune….the changes are costing more than the engine and transaxle bill they are trying to avoid.
All has been quiet on the on the ‘permanent charters front’. I’m surprised someone from the press hasn’t dug into this issue and asked Nascar some questions…unless there is fear of reprocussions. Good article.

Tripp

Ask the wrong questions and the NASCAR press credentials go “poof”. Big Bill once said to a reporter who asked him about the “sport” of NASCAR that NASCAR is NOT a “sport”, it’s “entertainment”. For me, destroyed race cars are neither sport nor entertainment. Close racing is what I want to see.

Dawg

There are a couple of fan types that are always going to be with us.
Neither of which I particularly admire, but the teams rely on sponsorship, & that is dependent on eyeballs, so it is what it is.

We do have fans who want to see “action” & that isn’t just skillfully executed on track passes, & good pit work & strategy.

We also have a number of bandwagon fans. That’s people who jump on board when a team is winning, & will abandon then if they fall off.

Sponsor , & TV partner $$ is based on viewership, & that includes all kinds. So I’m happy to see the numbers trending upward no matter why people are tuning in.

Shayne

It’s always interesting when the media chooses to attack certain NA$CAR fans. What do all of those empty seats represent? Does Gluck have a poll for that? Blame the fans.

NA$CAR’s inept leadership is the problem.

Bob Miller

True, crashes add to the excitement of a race.
But with NASCAR lowering horsepower and throttle response, along with aggressive driving rules, they have taken much of the thrill out of most races.
Why do you think Dale Earnhardt was so popular?

When a 3 hour race has few lead changes because because drivers can’t pull out and get a run, it’s time for my NASCAR nap.

I’m all for improving driver safety, and that of the fans, but part of the draw, the excitement of racing is the potential dangers. If a driver can’t deal with it, then they don’t belong in that league.

Jeremy

Here’s the thing. We like to think we are intelligent, sophisticated, empathetic, morally upstanding beings. Truth is, deep down (some deeper than others), we are bloodthirsty savages. It wasn’t that long ago people had picnics while watching battles during the Civil War. Public hangings used to be a big draw. Lion Tamers, death defying high wire circus acts, the wing walkers on the bi-planes, and of course, cheating death by racing an automobile at speeds unimaginable to the average citizen. Many of the most popular movies are about war and/or violence with sensational, dramatic footage of explosions, gunfire, murder, death, and destruction. Like it or not, it is who we are (and always have been) as a whole.

I can’t believe it’s taken people so long to realize this. Why else has Daytona/Talladega been the ratings monster they have been all these years? Hint: it ain’t because the racing is good.

sdelfin

I didn’t grow up with racing, but when I became a race fan, I quickly grew to appreciate the racing more than the spectacle. Some people like the wrecks. But wrecks or not, yellow flags add drama. Cautions bunch up the field and provide strategy. Wrecks, even for those who don’t like the wrecks, let viewers play detective along with the broadcasters in trying to figure out exactly what happened. Races with very few cautions are uncommon, but they happen. There’s less “stuff” going on in those races.

It depends on the track as well. Some tracks do better with long green flag runs than others. I re-watched the 2018 Spring Martinsville race during the last offseason. That was the snow race that Bowyer won. It had one caution for incident. It was so cool that day that the tires just held up really well. Martinsville is one of those tracks that end up with a really spread out field with long greens, along with lots of lapped traffic. I still enjoyed it for what it was, but the lack of yellows hurt the level of excitement. Richmond is similar with long green runs, except there’s more room for the field to stretch out. I still enjoyed the race. There was plenty going on mid pack. That isn’t to say they shouldn’t work on the short-track package. But for casual types, wrecks are a spectacle, and yellow flags and restarts add drama.

RCFX1

It’s not one or the other. Side-by-side racing with tires and fenders banging is exciting. On the other side, a wreck, or ‘the big one’ as the commentators like to say, is exciting too. It’s the same in all forms of racing. I

Brian

Obviously, I may be part of the 53%+ but the Richmond race was actually pretty good watched it from green to checker. Part of the issue, NBC has addressed this to a certain extent, is that the TV coverage focuses too much on the leader even if they have a 2 second lead. It was refreshing to see and hear the commentators view and give props to the racing in the “back” of the field. People that is also part of racing. Is a race good if limited passing for the lead? It can be if the largest audience (TV) is given the opportunity to see it. A race cannot be not good if too many crashes. I was at both the Busch and Cup race at Talladega spring 2002 and after the two very BIG ONES the racing was bad. The racing up to the Big Ones was pretty good. I can’t imagine how tough it was to watch on TV. Point is, racing is driver A trying to beat drivers B, C, D, etc and not through attrition. Fuel mileage races are good, long green flag runs are good as long as TV shows the actual action and not the strung out top 5, accidents are good, if not caused by Hamlin-esque tactics, as it allows teams to improve the cars.

gbvette

In what world is a race where two cars lead almost half the laps, an exciting race? At least at Pocono you had the feeling that multiple cars had a chance, and even though they struggled to pass, there was the appearance that maybe they could. Watching Richmond I never had the feeling that Bueschler would be challenged?

Do I like wrecks, no. I’ve crewed on amateur and pro racing teams for 25+ years, and have become friends with a lot of drivers. I watched one of them die in a wreck. Many of the drivers I grew up a fan of, Jim Clark, Fireball Roberts, Mark Donohue, Dale Sr, Bruce McLaren, and others have died racing. Every time it happens it really bothers me that a sport I love so much, can be so cruel.

I’ve been horrified by the number of wrecks in all of the NASCAR series the last two years. The stupid moves, the careless driving and the dumb behavior of some drivers, especially in Cup and truck has been inexcusable. It’s normally not a big deal when drivers bump and shove on a short track, it’s a completely different situation when the Hamblin’s and Chastain’s of racing do it on bigger, faster tracks.

YBDD

It’s not about wrecks. It’s about passing for the lead. Richmond was another boring nascar parade. If I want to see race cars follow each other around I will watch F1.

Joshua Farmer

Great article.

Driver#2

My only complaint is that there were 0 green flag passes for the lead. Not sure how you would fix it.

Bill B

I’m fine with a couple of races a year being caution free but I wouldn’t want that to be the norm. If there isn’t some bent sheet metal and hurt feelings in “stock” car (yeah, I know) racing then the guys just aren’t trying hard enough. What I definitely don’t want are unnecessary cautions to be called to bunch them back up. So, yeah, I want there to be some legitimate cautions most weeks but I can appreciate a pitcher’s duel.

DoninAjax

How can an event be caution free when there a two TV timeouts and countless needless caution flags to increase the perceived entertainment value of Brian’s product?

Dav_Daddy

I thought the Richmond race was great!

I also think there is nothing wrong with the short track package that couldn’t be fixed by adding about 200hp of electric motor.

Gary Catron

I like good calculated racing more than wrecking each other, don’t like this new Nascar racing, just about lost all respect for Nascar.