I watched from the comfort of a beach vacation, anticipating what should have been a banner weekend for the top stock car series in America. But as Mr. Nielsen reared his ugly head on Sunday, his results called that racing momentum into question. TV ratings once again remained subpar, with an overnight of just 3.0 on ABC, all but guaranteeing a decline for another year. The crowd was also short of a sellout, 155,000 seemingly an impressive number until you realize getting these tickets were equivalent to your chances of winning the lottery in the 1990s: all but impossible.
It all adds up to a sport looking for a way to reinvent itself in the eyes of a nation with its own ideas of improving NASCAR. Every week, I get a fresh batch of ideas on how this sport can rise again through the passion of its dedicated fan base. Are any of their ideas worth using? I leave that for you to decide in this vacation-induced column, the first of a two-part mailbag series on your own ideas to make the sport better.
So read on and don't be afraid to give feedback through the usual places: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter at
What Jim is referring to is the "pre-Chase" format from 1975-2003, where the point system was virtually identical, but NASCAR had no playoff system. The sport also benefited from such ideas as the "Winston Million" program, run from 1985-1997 which gave drivers a bonus for winning three of the sport's four big races at the time: The Daytona 500, The Winston 500 (Talladega), The Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte) and the Southern 500 (Darlington).
If you add Indianapolis to that list and replace Talladega with the Bristol night race, you could conceivably resuscitate that idea with the $5 Million Sprint -- a $5 million bonus to someone who wins three of five races and $1 million to a man who won two. That would have made Saturday night a barnburner, with
Nice idea, Rick, one of several from fans stringently arguing to add points for average running position. It would add legitimacy to NASCAR's Loop Data program (98 percent of the media and fan base currently ditch in the trash each week) while forcing drivers to stop treating the first 100 miles like a bunch of scared 16-year-olds driving on the highway for the first time.
The possible negatives: A two-point bonus for 24th-best average position just isn't enough. You need to at least triple those numbers (75 points for first, 72 for second, etc.) to make it more meaningful. Also, once you make the standings a flow chart it's all but impossible for the average fan to understand. It needs to make racing aggressive, yet statistically simplistic ... try that one on for size.
This one's a little more difficult, as NASCAR's current TV contract runs through the end of the 2014 season. I do find it intriguing though, there's very little cross-promotion among the different networks. It makes business sense -- FOX, for example, wants people to keep watching their network even when they don't have the races -- but wouldn't it stand to reason fans will follow the sport, not the network, when the coverage changes each Sunday? Considering the size and scope of the TV contract, NASCAR could certainly do a better job of overall cross-promotion here. With the ADD generation, it's sometimes impossible to remind people of a particular program unless you put it in front of them multiple times leading up to the race.
We'll address the topic of making races shorter in more fan mail next week.
Talk about throwing a curveball, Randy. That's an idea no one's talking about, but with the right money and promotion could really be a new wrinkle in an aging series. I agree we need more road courses, at least one of them in the Chase if we're going to keep this godforsaken system. A rotating street course would be the ultimate challenge in a playoff that's supposed to test teams under all sorts of different conditions.
Three obstacles: Track-owning Godfathers ISC and SMI (neither of which wants to give up a date), money, and convincing a major city that's never had a stock car race to close downtown for the weekend to make a racing spectacle. It's difficult ... but then again, we're to the point where people need to think outside the box.
I like the idea of a different scoring system for the Chase drivers, Geoff. In no other sport do the non-playoff contenders ever influence the finish of the postseason, let alone compete in the actual event. But you're pushing it with the elimination format, an idea that increases the likelihood of an "upset" where a 12th-place driver during the regular season wins the title. Is that really what this sport wants, to be like other sports where a .500 team can come out of nowhere and take the title? Doesn't that make the regular season even more meaningless? And aren't the concept of championships based on who performs the best over the course of an extended period, not a lucky four-race stretch?
NASCAR prides itself on being different. I think elimination formats bring them right in line with other stick 'n' ball sports, except their version of the postseason is simply not as good. We'll see what happens for 2011, but this likely Chase-tweaking scenario seems more silly than potentially successful.
I don't agree with a lot of things here, especially ideas like eliminating pit road speed. There's a reason why some of these rules are in place: people were getting seriously hurt and even killed.
That said, good points are made about the consequences of over-officiating. Racers were asked to avoid a pothole during NASCAR's Super Bowl for half the race at Daytona, yet a caution for a piece of rubber comes out virtually every race? There needs to be a better balance between being an overprotective mother with safety and simply laying back and letting the race play out. No fan of any sport ever likes a subjective call to decide the game (
The same theory applies with parity. IROC failed because racing is a combination of driver and car. Tying crew chief's hands behind their back, making only a handful of adjustments available makes these generic Car of Tomorrow stock cars 10 times worse. It was done to keep the rich from pulling ahead of the pack, but instead it's left them with all the power, force-feeding it to the poor in small engine and chassis increments while the lower class stays stuck in a box without any way to make those parts and pieces better. The occasional top-10 finish from the underdog has now simply turned into a way to survive each weekend without the dreaded start-and-park.
Innovation's a natural evolution of society, and what NASCAR has done with their decisions the last six years is put everything in front of the train to make it stop. But there are no brakes on the creativity of the human brain, and there will always be people trying to find different ways to go faster -- hard crashes and safety hazards notwithstanding.
So it's high time NASCAR stood out of the way and let them. You can't stay stuck in neutral forever through a society that's always driving forward.
"Was good to give the full update and not leave anyone in the dark. Thanks to all the fans who came out today to wish me well. Felt great. Really appreciate it. 2011!!" -