The Successes and Failures of NASCAR
Has the sport changed for the worse?
With it being a quieter weekend for Motorsport, and having followed NASCAR this year, I felt it was a good time to discuss the pros and cons of one of the biggest racing series in the world, especially after another dramatic race last night!
NASCAR is arguably most infamous for its huge crashes, and the drama that ensues around it, so you cannot deny that going 20 years without a death in the sport, is a commendable statistic to have, and hopefully it will continue. This has been down to not only the strength of the cars, but also the innovation with the SAFER barriers, which help to cushion impacts. Dedicated safety teams which follow the sport around, better seats and reduced speeds have also aided this fight for safety.
Unfortunately, the next few points, which are the biggest features of NASCAR, are not entirely positive ones. First of all, we have the playoff system. Brought in in 2015, to try and provide guaranteed excitement every year for the title, it is a divisive issue. You cannot argue that it doesn’t give us more excitement and intrigue, and may have helped to bring some new fans to the sport, however the integrity of the series has taken a hit. This season is not so bad, as the best teams have got through to the playoffs on the most part, yet if neither Larson nor Hamlin win the title, I am sure that questions will be asked again. For me, I wouldn’t say I hate it, as it does help the on track product, I would just prefer the best driver to always win the title, not the best at Phoenix.
The next issue is one that most fans seem to be united on, and you cannot deny that it ruins the racing. That is the stage breaks! They were put in to keep up the entertainment during the race, and ensure there were more restarts, so hopefully more action, but it takes away so much of the strategy of the race. Instead of seeing different teams having different plans of how to run the race, everyone does the same thing, because they know when the cautions will be. Strategy variety is what often creates great racing, as cars have different ages of tyres, and different agendas, without that we just have a procession. If they want to hand out points during a race then fine, but just don’t put out the yellow when you do.
To balance out the negativity, I will talk about the calendar, which I think on the most part is pretty good. Especially in 2021, as there is a strong range of tracks, with many more road courses coming to NASCAR. Starting with the Daytona 500, gets many fans interested in the series, and weekly races, whilst being a bit overkill, keep them watching. With the current playoff system, the race count is probably about right, maybe only a few too many, but if they go back to a ‘normal’ championship, they could easily cut it back to 25, and make each one more special.
I was partly inspired to create this article by the consistent success of Martinsville as the cut-off race before the season finale. It is a confrontational track, which with so much at stake, always means drama. When you look at that, then see Bristol and the Roval as the other cut-off races, you have to show respect to NASCAR for knowing what races to put where. Having Daytona as the regular season finale race works well too, and Talladega in the playoffs normally means chaos. The only mistake I see really, is the title decider at Phoenix, as whilst it is a good track, I am not sure it gives the action you need to end the season. They should probably go back to Homestead!
I also feel as though NASCAR does a pretty good job of holding up the rules, they come down hard on any misdemeanour on pit lane, in the name of safety, but want to let the drivers be free to race on track. I like that the drivers are trusted to show respect for each other, and when something happens, they let the drivers talk it out, instead of having a steward’s enquiry. Then, if a driver shows violence, either on track or after the race, NASCAR does its bit to try and stop it happening again. It is by no means perfect, yet compared to other series, they are doing pretty well.
Back to another negative sadly, with the traction compound that they put down at some tracks to improve the racing. Not only does it not always work, which just leads to one groove racing, but it then ruins the track for any other series that want to race there, like IndyCar. In my opinion, if the track in its normal state cannot produce great racing, then it needs to be fixed properly or leave the calendar, instead of applying a band aid.
The last negative is a small thing, but one that means a lot for the finances of the sport. That is the charter system, which helps the big teams to stay in the sport, and makes it harder for new ones to join. It basically guarantees those who have one, that they can run in every NASCAR race, whilst the rest have to fight over a few spots left, and they aren’t cheap to get either. It takes some of the excitement out of the Duels at Daytona ahead of the 500, and is part of the reason why the Cup field is diminishing.
My final point isn’t directly for the NASCAR Cup Series, it is for their feeder series, as I feel they do the best job of all the racing series around the world, of making them their own entity. The Xfinity series is put on network TV, and fans will come on a separate day to the Cup race, just to watch it, and it is the same with Truck, although to a lesser extent. Also, ideas like using the Cup pit crew for the feeder series is a huge thing which saves budgets for the feeder teams.
All in all, NASCAR isn’t a broken sport, it is just that some of the most important rules, are hard to justify from a racing standpoint. It can still give us some brilliant racing, tension, and drama, even if it is heavily biased towards entertainment!
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