Monday, December 10, 2007

Is there a quick fix?

Everybody has ideas about how to repair the perceived problems in NASCAR. I say "perceived," because some of the problems are just journalistic pot stirring with no real basis, and I mean "everybody" because even people who don't pay attention to NASCAR have suggestions.
A lot of the blame goes to Brian France, some of it unjustified--"he is in Hendrick's pockets," some say--but much of it is justified. Why? Because Brian thinks like an accountant, without the savvy for NASCAR that his father and grandfather had.
So Brian felt compelled to spell out what he thought were the issues, during the Championship week in NYC. As quoted in this article by Daytona's Mark DeCotis, Brian made himself more of the problem:

"It would have helped if he (Dale Jr.) would have been competitive. He didn't win an event, and he certainly didn't make our playoffs. And that's unhelpful if you're trying to build ratings."

Way to go, Mr. France, you just disenfranchised the rest of the 66% of NASCAR fans who are Dale Jr fans.
Now to be fair, that quote was taken out of context. But, nonetheless what Brian meant to say is still pretty disingenuous. This is the kind of thinking he used when he, the NBC sports producers, and Nextel Racing officials came up with the Chase for the Championship, that people won't watch racing if the competition level isn't up to their expectations. He figures that his ratings are down because Dale Jr wasn't in the Chase.
Part of the drop in television ratings is due to the fact that there are other ways to watch a NASCAR race from home using the Internet. Another part is the ineptness of the broadcasting effort on the part of ESPN/ABC in the second half of the season. These are things that neither Brian France, nor NASCAR can do anything about.
Unlike Brian France, the officials in NASCAR who really are in a position to fix things need to look at three real problems and hope that the TV ratings and attendance fix themselves.
Throwing out complaints that are based on personal gripes, dislike of certain drivers or teams, and conspiracy theories, the three main issues I see that need to be addressed are as follows:
1. The main thing that really grates on our nerves, because it is so useless and disruptive, is the provisional rules for the top thirty five in owners points. When six of the top ten qualifying times are not good enough to be in the race, something is definitely wrong. There are now more than forty three teams that try to make the field every week, so the reasoning for the provisional rule is obsolete. This rule has led to a lot of fan frustration and disenfranchisement. If NASCAR would just get rid of it, it would help things some.
2. Make the CoT racier. Many fans are bored to death thinking about parity and the way it was manifested in the fall Talladega race. The testing at AMS didn't seem very promising either. Though it made for one of the most exciting road races in the history of Watkins Glen, the prospects for exciting racing on the speedways and superspeedways with the CoT don't look very promising. Maybe the tire testing Goodyear will be doing with the car during the off season will amount to something. Almost all of the handling problems drivers had with the car were due to the hard compound on the tires Goodyear insisted on providing. It would be easier to fix the tires than to wait for the drivers to learn to deal with it.
In addition to the tires, the CoT at Talledega was absolutely boring. After Watkins Glen, I had high expectations for the car, but perhaps they were too high. Perhaps some way to reduce the speed other than restricter plates could be found? These cars need something to help them pass, as they are not as aero dependent as the old car, so drafting will never be much more than drafting. I thought NASCAR wanted to discourage bump drafting, but with this big, boxy car there is no way to gain a position unless you are bump drafted. Please, NASCAR, try spacers, or a smaller engine, or something that will allow these cars to have the torque they need to actually race at the superspeedways. Racing need not be about the Big One, so there is no reason to set conditions to create an inevitable multi car wreck. Some fans enjoy crashes, but the majority would rather see more racing and fewer cautions.
3. My last fix is partly serious and partly tongue in cheek. It would do a lot for making an even playing field if NASCAR would follow its precedent of putting the biggest cheaters in the position of finding and penalizing cheaters. For example, according to this article Gary Nelson was the third place cheater in NASCAR history, as far as number and severity of penalties. What did NASCAR do with him after he retired? Since he knew so much about cheating, they put him in charge of race inspections. The same thing with fifth place cheater, Robin Pemberton, who was more recently installed of NASCAR President of Competition. Personally, I feel that if NASCAR is really concerned about a level playing field, they should immediately make Chad Knaus Vice President of competition. After all, at the time the article about the top five cheaters was written, Knaus was one major penalty away from replacing Pemberton in the top five. We could find out for sure, then, if Jimmie Johnson really is that good.
But seriously, NASCAR isn't about to do that, and it really would not be fair. What would be fair, is instead of trying so hard to find something wrong with the cars, NASCAR could be just a little more lenient as far as technical innovation goes. Let the crew chiefs be just a little more creative, and the competition will certainly be tighter.
There is another issue that people still complain about but is no longer a factor--the phantom cautions were ceased shortly after My Favorite Driver's "WWE" comment about the bogus officiating used to tighten up the field.
So, maybe NASCAR is in mind to follow my suggestions, since I am not the only one making these suggestions, they could actually hear these ideas. Perhaps they do make these repairs, and gain back the confidence of race fans.
Perhaps the best thing they could do right now is practice creative use of Duck Tape when Brian France attempts to speak.


JMD said...

You make some very good points. It seems that many times when a child takes over a company the company starts to tank. Is this the case with Brian France? Only time will tell.

While I was supportive of the car of tomorrow since a safer was needed, they have to do something to make it competitive. We don't need more races like the fall Bristol race.

Keep up the great posting!

Trixie said...

I am hoping the COT will provide more exciting races. There were only a handful of races last year with it and it was dominated by one team. The drivers and crews really need a full season on ALL the tracks to determine what can or can't be done with the car.

You are right about the viewing of races. There are so many outlets now, it's really hard to gauge who is watching and how many. I know some people tune in to the start of the race and then at the end of the race. Everything else in between in some people's minds is boring. I am not of that opinion.

As much as I hate to say it...the crews need a little more wiggle room with the cars. Blatant cheating is one thing, pusing the envelope is another. Who better to put in charge of watching of the competition, then those who know all the tricks.

RevJim said...

Thanks, for the kind words, jmd, and I will continue to enjoy your blogs.
Trixie, there were very few races I thought were boring, I was even thrilled by three wide at Bristol, which a lot of folks disagree with me. I'm glad you're with me on the wiggle room issue. I like to see more grey area. Innovation has always been an important part of auto racing.

vroom said...

Let's just call him "Ducky France"!

Anonymous said...

all good points I agree with RevJim...Brian I'm afraid is a corporate executive of many I have run into...narrow scope is their trademark so I don't fore see any great changes until there is a shift at the top...Jim France would be better he has taken that sportscar series and made a diamond out of coal ...fingers crossed for a palace coup soon..