Last Sunday's dramatic finish at Dover added some welcome excitement to a NASCAR season that has often lacked drama, a situation highlighted by the rain-delayed and rain-shortened race in Charlotte.
Two of NASCAR's marquee races, the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, were affected by weather, with the winner on both occasions declared as the cars sat stationary on pit lane.
With passes for the lead taking place less on the track and more in the pits, and races often leaving fans wanting more action, there is renewed interest in talk of methods to add excitement to the sport, without radical changes.
Here are a few examples sure to ratchet up the suspense for the fans.
* The double-file restart is one change NASCAR has already approved, and will begin utilizing at Pocono. It's a format used in the All-Star Race, and is widely praised and almost never criticized.
Under this restart format, lapped cars line up behind lead-lap cars instead of on the inside line beside lead lap cars. Fans would certainly back this change, although Michael Waltrip may complain that this would end all hope of ever "starting" on the front row.
* With drug tests becoming an even more important issue in NASCAR, and sports in general, it's time to sensationalize the issue, and make drug testing a spectator sport. And, by "spectator" sport, I mean test the spectators. What better way for fans to understand the severity of the issue than to be tested themselves?
Fans would be randomly selected as they enter the track facilities. Those that pass can be immediately sent on their merry way. Those that fail, however, will be given five guesses to name the substance for which they tested positive.
Fans that use all their guesses clearly have a drug problem, which only verifies the results of the positive test, at least in NASCAR's eyes.
* Fans need to understand that NASCAR can't build excitement at the expense of safety. Therefore, NASCAR should involve fans in safety decisions. For example, a can't-miss promotion at Talladega would be to offer free tickets to fans willing to form a "human catch-fence" around the 2.66 mile Alabama superspeedway.
Or maybe free pit passes and two hot dogs for any fans brave enough to reinforce the SAFER barrier at Richmond.
* In lieu of actually making racing more exciting, make it seem more exciting. While I'm sure NASCAR intently studies demographics, they need to take this one step further with actual laboratory tests to discover the genetic makeup of an excitable NASCAR fan. More specifically, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans.
Obviously, there is a chemical in the bodies of Earnhardt fans that allows them get excited over nothing. After first ruling out alcohol and ecstasy, scientists could possibly extract this "excitement gene" and treat "bored" NASCAR fans with it.
Since NASCAR is often reluctant to change the actual racing, this may be their perfect solution, because this would only be a change in fans' perception of the racing.
* And speaking of demographics, NASCAR has always given lip service to attracting minorities to the races, but has never really followed through. Well. NASCAR, it's much simpler than you think. Easy cosmetic changes to the cars would easily serve that purpose. Just put a $5,000 set of rims on each car, and affix a decal of Jesus and/or the Virgin Mary in each rear window, and watch the new fans come rolling in.
* Instead of giving a boring track like Texas two dates on the schedule, why not replace one of those dates with a once-a-year race on a "figure eight" course. This race would feature the beating and banging of Bristol, and drivers would have to utilize both their road course and oval skills. Plus, the "figure eights" intersection would be just like a race at Talladega, with the potential for carnage on every lap.
* During the long, grueling NASCAR season, it's hard for drivers to concentrate on anything other than racing. So, let's not forget those that are often neglected or left craving affection because of it. These would be NASCAR wives and girlfriends.
NASCAR needs a dose of girl power, so why not give NASCAR wives and girlfriends their own competition. Can these women remain faithful to their men during the lengthy racing season, or will they succumb to temptation and cheat?
Points will be awarded for virtue, and the lady who remains most faithful will be declared winner of the "Chaste For the Cup" at Homestead in November.
* Institute a "penalty box" for feuding drivers to settle their disputes, not in the obscurity of the NASCAR hauler, but right on the track, in a specially-constructed chicken-wire cage, out in the open, in full view of the fans.
Of course, the race would be red-flagged while the combatants duke it out, as Jimmy Spencer serves as mediator/instigator.
What can be better than the knowledge that a feisty competitor just slapped the taste out of Kurt Busch's mouth? Well, actually seeing it happen!
* With the reality television genre growing exponentially, it's time for NASCAR to employ a facet of reality show competitions—the fan vote.
Let's apply this mainly to caution flags. Does that hot dog wrapper in turn three at Martinsville truly warrant a debris caution? Let the fans vote on it!
Heck, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans can even decide the fate of Junior's crew chief, during the race!
* Baseball has the "Seventh Inning Stretch." NASCAR needs a comparable break in the action for fans to stand up and cut loose. But who needs a song? I say at about the 350-mile mark, red flag the race so inebriated fans can rush to the restrooms, clear their heads and their stomachs, and emerge clear-headed for the final exciting laps, or, as often is the case, lap.
Call it the "Seventh Inning Retch" or "The Splash and Dash Pit Stop."
* NASCAR cheerleaders are another logical way to boost fan morale. Stationed in front of the grandstands, cheerleaders could lead the crowds in catchy chants and perform acrobatic stunts. More importantly, they would serve as the first line of defense against flying debris.
* Instead of the Burnout Competition during May's All-Star festivities, hold a slalom contest for drivers, challenging them to navigate through gates consisting of NASCAR inspection officials, drug testers, Bruton Smith, and members of the France family.
* There are roving reporters swarming the pits. How about one or two mingling in the stands, searching for interesting stories that give insight into the fan's perspective?
I could care less that Matt Kenseth took a quarter-wedge adjustment and two tires. But I'd really be interested in knowing some personal information about Larry from Warner Robbins, Ga., in seat 17 K, section 14. Like, for example, what's higher? The SPF factor of his sunblock, or the proof of his liquor?
Dick Berggren would be fantastic in the capacity as a roving stands reporter, especially if paired with Triumph The Insult Comic Dog.
* NASCAR needs a woman driver in the Sprint Cup series, and the logical choice is Indy Car racing's Danica Patrick. She's talented, feisty, and opinionated, just like Tony Stewart used to be.
It would be exciting to see Patrick pit her talents against the men of NASCAR, and it would be even more entertaining seeing the guys refrain from retaliating when Patrick's short fuse blows. That would take more restraint than a six-point harness.