What Is Wrong With NASCAR

January 15th, 2011

[Note: I originally wrote this after the last Cup race in 2010. Interesting how some things seem to be changing.]

I watched the Homestead race today (actually, these days “watching” a race consists of setting it to record on the DVR and a couple hours after the start time put it in play and fast forward through the commercials and the boring parts of the race). I think the last race I watched was Talladega. The only reason I watched this one was because of the championship question.

You have to hand it to Jimmie Johnson; he’s got this Chase format figured out. Notice I didn’t say he necessarily deserved to be champion. And that gets me to the first of NASCAR’s problems.

• No suspense. Oh sure, there was a little suspense before the Homestead race. But the race wasn’t 30 laps old before the suspense became “how much will Johnson win by?”. You also had two drivers lead all the laps. BORING. No wonder the stands had empty seats.

• Too many races. NASCAR needs to learn about supply and demand. When even Bristol has empty seats, you know something is wrong. There are just too many races in the Cup series. Pare it down to 30 and if you must have the Chase gimmick, then let it be the last 5 or 6 races. Cutting back on the number of races will help the teams save money, and by lessening supply, the tracks will be full of people who want to see the races.

• Too few owners. By allowing an owner to have up to four cars in the field, NASCAR is potentially limiting a Cup field to just 11 owners. When they reduce the number of races and make it less expensive to run, then more owners can come in.

• Too much collusion. I find it extremely incredible that NASCAR allows drivers on the track to collude with one another. Racing should be an individual driver sport, not a team sport. I want to see my driver win on his own, not get a free pass to lead a lap by his teammate.

• Too much “Official this” and “Official that”. NASCAR takes money from the race teams by stealing sponsorship dollars from them. NASCAR should return to being a sanctioning body, not a marketing body.
Too many Saturday night races. I’ve said this for years. NASCAR is killing local racing when they go up against it on Saturday night with Cup races. But they don’t seem to really care, as long as they’re getting their money from the big races.

• Too many big name drivers stealing the money in Grand National and Truck series. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, there were only a few Cup drivers who raced in the lower divisions. The ones that did were not what you would call successful Cup drivers (e.g. Michael Waltrip). You had the occasional run by someone like Dale Earnhardt, but for the most part the Grand National Series had its own drivers running for their own championship. But some time in the last 10 years, some Cup drivers decided it was a good idea to take candy from a baby, and now it’s been quite a while since a non-Cup driver has won a Grand National championship. While it’s not as bad in the Truck series, there are a few Cup drivers who, when they run, dominate the race to the extent that it’s boring.

• The points system is just out of whack. I realize the Chase system was put in place to add “excitement” to the championship, and that going into the last race, this year’s championship was the closest it’s been in a few years. But yet again, the driver who won the most races didn’t win, and a driver who won as many races as the third place finisher didn’t even qualify for the Chase. I think the points system needs to go back to being based on a full season. The Chase format pretty much erases any points advantage a driver might have during the season. I understand that NASCAR has to straddle the line between pure competition and pure entertainment, and I think the reason ticket sales and ratings are down is that they’ve tilted a little too much towards pure competition.

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