NASCAR has become one of the fastest growing sports in America over the past decade.
The end to the 2011 season was one of the most dramatic finishes to a Championship in sports history. After 36 races Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were tied in the point standings and Stewart’s six wins gave him the win on a tiebreaker.
NASCAR had momentum going into the 2012 season. Most thought the popularity of the sport would skyrocket after the finish to the 2011 season. It has not happened.
NASCAR got off to a horrible start in 2012. The Daytona 500 (the biggest race of the year) was delayed by rain. Once the race started, it was once again delayed when Juan Pablo Montoya ran into a jet dryer while under caution. The television ratings were down most likely because of the delays to the race.
NASCAR moved on from the nightmare in Daytona and still expected popularity to grow in 2012. Just when NASCAR thought they had a good product on the racetrack, some fans started to voice their concerns over the type of racing that was taking place in 2012.
Many fans have stated that the racing was boring this year. Fans love to see wrecks and drivers beating on each other’s fenders during the race. The opposite has happened this year. Most of the races have had limited caution flags and even fewer passes in the race.
Longest Green Flag 48-Laps
Longest Green Flag 88-Laps
Longest Green Flag 72-Laps
Longest Green Flag 219-Laps
Longest Green Flag 124-Laps
Longest Green Flag 141-Laps
Longest Green Flag 234-Laps
Longest Green Flag 76-Laps
Longest Green Flag 104-Laps
* Stats from Racing-Reference.com
Most of the caution flags in 2012 have not been as a result of wrecks. Many caution flags were as a result of debris on the track.
Some fans have questioned whether the caution flags for debris are “phantom cautions.” When the race reporter states, “The caution is for debris on the racetrack,” the fans would like to see the debris that brought out the caution flag. Usually, the television crew never shows the debris. It makes some fans and even some drivers question if there was really debris on the racetrack.
In the race at Richmond, the caution flag came out for debris with only 12-laps left in the race. Stewart was winning the race when the caution flag was waved and after the race questioned where the debris was on the racetrack.
Fans do not want to see NASCAR throw the caution flag just to tighten up the field during the race. They want to see good side-by-side racing and caution flags as a result of a driver taking out another driver to win the race.
So, why has the racing been so boring in 2012?
It seems as though every driver has his thoughts on what could be done to improve the racing.
The loudest voice in NASCAR belongs to the most popular driver in the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr. In an interview by Jeff Gluck on sbnation.com, Earnhardt commented on the lack of recent cautions and rivalries:
“That is just the way the racing is right now," in which it's more important for drivers to points race than to go run into a competitor out of anger.
"I still feel like it's pretty early in the season," he said. "Everybody is just trying to get as many points as they can get, trying to make the Chase. If you go out there running over each other and damaging your car, you could cost yourself 10 points here and 10 points there, and you could lose the opportunity to make the Chase pretty quickly.
"So you have to pretty smart when you're driving your car."
Earnhardt is following the old philosophy made famous by the legendary racer Dick Trickle, “In order to finish first, you must first finish.”
The competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in more competitive than it was in the past. If drivers are not competing for a spot in the Chase on a regular basis, the car owners will find another driver who will. That is why points are more important than revenge on other drivers.
Some drivers have remained silent with their opinions to improve the sport, but Carl Edwards may have the best advice for changing NASCAR into a more competitive sport.
Jeff Gluck of sbnation.com reported Edwards’s thoughts to improve the sport when Edwards made comments in a media session last Friday at Richmond International Speedway.
NASCAR hates it when I say this, but I firmly believe that we should not be racing with downforce, sideforce and all these aerodynamic devices. We do not need splitters on the race cars and giant spoilers.
What has happened, in my humble opinion...(is) it is pretty common sense that if all the cars are very similar and all the drivers are really good – which we all think we are – and we are all within a tenth of a second of each other but are relying on this clean air and downforce to make the cars go that speed, then by definition, if the guy in front of you is disturbing the air, then your car is not going to be able to go as fast as it could in clean air.
So why don't we get rid of these aerodynamic devices and race cars on racetracks with tires that are softer? ... That is my opinion on how to make the cars and the drivers able to do more and put it in the drivers' and crew chiefs' hands. I think that is important.
I don't know if that will make more exciting races, but it sure as hell will make a guy able to go up through the field if he has a fast race car, and I think that is exciting.
Next season the NASCAR Sprint Cup series will race cars that resemble the manufacturers' cars in the showrooms at the dealership. The cars will still have many of the downforce items that Edwards referred to.
Would NASCAR be better served to go back to the days when the drivers competed in the same cars they drove to the racetrack? I do not think so, and it will never happen anyway.
Another solution to the boring races this year has been to reconfigure the racetracks. Bristol Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway have decided to make changes in their racetracks to help improve the quality of racing for the fans.
Kansas Speedway was due for a change. The seams in the racetrack made it hard for NASCAR teams to find a setup for their cars. The added banking and a fresh new surface at Kansas Speedway should bring the racetrack to life, much the way Las Vegas Motor Speedway was when it was resurfaced.
Bristol is another story...
The reason for the lack of fans at the racetrack for the spring race at Bristol was not because of the boring racing on the racetrack. Yes, fans love to see drivers beat on each other at Bristol, but the problem with the Bristol race is outside of the racetrack.
The Bristol race is simply too expensive for most fans to attend. It was reported on espn.com that many fans who won free tickets for the race at Bristol could not attend because the cheapest lodging was over $300 a night. If the fans wanted lodging cheaper than that they would have to stay in Knoxville, Tennessee, a three hour drive to the racetrack.
After the race at Bristol, racetrack owner Bruton Smith decided that if the racetrack was changed, the fans would come back. The changes to Bristol Motor Speedway should add some excitement to the race, but cheaper ticket prices and lodging would go a long way towards filling the stands for one of the best racetracks to watch a race.
So, what is the problem with NASCAR this year?
Some fans want to see wrecks, while others have no problems with the type of racing occurring this year.
To fix the sport, NASCAR should listen to the drivers and the fans. Earnhardt’s idea of point racing being the most important thing to a driver is true. The new point system has put a premium on each point in the race. Maybe another rule change needs to be made to make winning the most important part of each race.
Edwards’s idea of changing the cars so that they are not equal is the best suggestion, although I do not think it will ever happen. NASCAR teams have spent too much time and money into the design of these cars. To completely change the car would be too costly for many teams.
Some racetracks need to be changed. Kansas Speedway is one of them, while Bristol is not. Lowering prices for fans would help the sport more than changing the design of the racetrack.
NASCAR is a great sport, and while the lack of feuds between drivers and massive wrecks in the race have caused some fans to turn away, the race this week at Talladega should give the fans just what they want. If fans want to see incredible wrecks and drivers made at each other, Talladega is the race to watch.
Next week fans will complain when half of the field is taken out in one wreck and their favorite driver spends most of the race in the garage.
My advice to fans is to be patient. The racing will get better as the NASCAR schedule approaches the start of the Chase. Don’t let a couple of caution-free races ruin the NASCAR season.
Follow me on Twitter @HuskerMagic
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