Why NASCAR Fans Don't Have Much to Complain About
Are NASCAR fans the greatest sports fans on the planet?
While you may get an argument from the stick-and-ball crowd, especially from the footballers over in Europe, you can say with confidence that...
NASCAR fans are the greatest sports fans on the planet!
They are extremely loyal, knowledgeable about the sport (to a point) and a lot of fun to hang out with while enjoying both a cold beverage (or three) and their favorite sport on television (or in person).
Did you know that there are three types of NASCAR fans?
Hardcore Fans Rule NASCAR
Most NASCAR fans are of the hardcore variety.
They have a favorite driver, and everyone else sucks. They know NASCAR isn't perfect, but they love everything about it. It's like any good marriage—you overlook the parts that aren't perfect, and you love the rest.
They love the new Chase format because even if their driver is having an off-year, he still has a shot at the Chase just by winning a race. How great is that?
Fans Can Complain, Too
The second type of fan is also hardcore and has a favorite driver. However...
They profess to loving the sport, yet they like to complain about everything—the officials, the drivers, the races, the racing itself, Brian France, Mike Helton, Goodyear tires, the television broadcasts, the Waltrip brothers and just about anything and everything they feel isn't just right.
They also like to make frequent reference to the “good old days” and how things “used to be better.”
There never were any "good old days." Back in NASCAR's early years, drivers would win by two laps, not two hundredths of a second like they do today. The cars were primitive compared to today's cars, not as fast as today's cars and they were much harder to drive.
The result? On any given weekend during those "good old days," there were three, maybe four cars that were capable of winning, not the 10 to 15 we see today.
And for more about the complaints about the racing, Brian France and Mike Helton...
Well, I Used to Be a NASCAR Fan
The Lapsed Fan
There is a third type of NASCAR fan—one that’s left the sport behind.
For whatever reason, they used to be a fan (“I stopped watching when Rusty Wallace left…”) and they no longer follow the sport. NASCAR even has a name for them. They’re called “lapsed fans.” They can’t really say why they're not fans anymore; they just don’t follow the sport.
Some will say the tickets are too expensive, others say that the tracks aren't great for families, or that the races are too long or that Brian France has ruined NASCAR by (insert change to the sport here).
They're entitled to their opinion, but they need to check their facts.
Nevertheless, they've put the sport in their life's rearview mirror, and sadly, they have no idea how much fun, enjoyment and thrills they're missing out on.
NASCAR: Better Than Ever, More Exciting to Watch and Cars That Look Like Cars
Why have they left?
When Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the entire sport changed. It had to. Drivers were getting killed on NASCAR's race tracks across the country, and Earnhardt’s death marked the end of an era.
It came at a time when more and more drivers were coming to NASCAR from parts of the country where NASCAR wasn’t racing at the time—including the Midwest and the West Coast. This "diluted" the southern feel of the sport, a sport that can trace its lineage back to the moonshine runners of the '40s and '50s.
After Earnhardt's death, NASCAR made a pledge that it would fix the cars so that they would be fast yet safe. There were a few ugly hiccups along the way—remember the rear wings on the first Car of Tomorrow (CoT)?
And despite a lot of complaining about the looks of the CoT, NASCAR kept working on the inside.
NASCAR succeeded in making the car considerably safer (ask driver Michael McDowell how safe they are) and now, with the latest version, nicknamed the “Gen 6” car, they’re also very, very fast.
So why are the fans still complaining and how come those fans that left the sport haven't come back?
Maybe it's because they don't know what today's NASCAR fans know.
Unpredictable and Dramatic
What are they missing?
The fans that have left the sport don't realize that NASCAR racing in 2014 is unpredictable and dramatic.
The competition in the Sprint Cup Series is closer today than at any other point in its history.
Seven different winners in the first seven races is an undeniable fact, overshadowed only by eight different pole winners in the first eight races.
All three manufacturers have won races thus far, led by Chevrolet’s four victories and Ford and Toyota with two apiece.
Would it be better if the same driver won all the time? Of course not. However, in the "good old days," "King Richard" Petty used to dominate NASCAR in a way that makes even Jimmie Johnson's domination of the past few years look pale in comparison.
Jimmie Johnson used to smoke the competition on a regular basis only a few years ago. But that was with the older car.
That was then and this is now. Are you, the fan, paying attention to what is really going on every weekend? Jimmie Johnson hasn't won a race yet, there's always a dozen or more cars that have a great chance of winning every weekend, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been the points leader twice so far and there's different drivers being talked about that haven't been talked about before.
The Numbers Don't Lie
- There's been an average of 12 different leaders per race, compared to 8.6 at this point last year.
- An average of 25.6 lead changes per race, compared to 17.4 in 2013.
- Total of 29,541 green-flag passes, compared to 23,178 in 2013.
- Total of 346 green-flag passes for the lead, compared to 181 in 2013.
- And…an average margin of victory of 0.588 seconds, the smallest since 2008.
Source: NASCAR Integrated Marketing and Communications (4/14)
The New Chase Format Is Great
Come on, admit it. You’re a NASCAR fan and you like the new Chase format.
What’s not to like?
It places a premium on winning, and apparently, that message has been heard loud and clear in the Cup garage. Win and you're in. The Sprint Cup Series started off the 2014 season with seven different winners in a row.
Sixteen is now the magic Chase number, with great speculation as to just how many different winners the Cup series will have in 2014. NASCAR’s 60 plus years of history says there won’t be more than 16 winners in any given season. But at the rate different drivers have been winning, one victory might not guarantee you a ticket into the Chase.
That means more drama as the season draws closer to the Chase.
Does all this mean that Kurt Busch will have to win a second race to be in the Chase?
NASCAR’s competition department is saying he won’t.
It's still early in the season and anything, anything can and likely will happen.
Knockout Qualifying Is the Greatest Thing
You have to agree, that no matter how jaded a NASCAR fan you may or may not have become, or how much you dislike the changes Brian France has introduced, or how much you dislike the green-white-checkers finish rule—knockout qualifying is the best thing to come to the NASCAR show since they invented the checkered flag.
It is, in one word—awesome!
It is a simple solution to putting an end to the absolute worst show in auto racing—single car qualifying in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
You can argue against every other change that's been made in the sport over the past decade and you'll get a good, smart discussion from me on the facts, right or wrong. But...
How can you not LOVE knockout qualifying? And just wait until Talladega in a few weeks. Qualifying there is going to be so big, that Fox Sports has announced that qualifying is being moved from the Fox Sports 1 network, where it is normally seen to being broadcast live and in living color right into your home on the Fox network on Saturday afternoon.
Like I said, it is big. And don't for a minute think that the drivers aren't thinking it is as well.
The Future's so Bright You Gotta Wear Sunglasses
The future is here.
Save this photo. It is a glimpse into the glass ball that reveals the future of NASCAR.
It is a moment in time with two future Sprint Cup champions, taken during their rookie season in Cup competition.
How can you not get blown away by the prospect of these two future superstars duking it out for the Sprint Cup title over the next 20 years?
Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are only two of the eight Sprint Cup rookies who make a huge imprint on the starting field every weekend. They, along with Justin Allgaier, Alex Bowman, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, Ryan Truex and Michael Annett, are NASCAR’s stars of tomorrow.
Keep in mind that the drivers listed after Dillon, Larson and Allgaier belong to young, somewhat under-financed organizations that are also trying to make a name for themselves in the sport of stock car racing.
Eight candidates for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. In most years, the rookie crown means very little since it’s usually being contested by two, maybe three drivers.
To win ROTY in 2014 will really mean something.
Making Changes but Keeping It the Same
Ch, ch, ch, ch Changes.
I’ve found the easiest way to start a conversation anywhere is to tell someone close to me that I’m a sportswriter. Not just any kind of sportswriter, but a NASCAR sportswriter.
It starts a dialog about a sport that I and 70-plus million of my closest friends across America truly enjoy. And its not just about the competition for me. It’s the people.
NASCAR is often forgotten when sports fans talk about team and team work. If the man on the street only knew how much goes into putting a Sprint Cup car on the track every week (times 43) they would surely be blown away. And more importantly, once you’re involved with NASCAR for any great length of time, you find out that everyone is like family.
These are tough times for the NASCAR family. The money that keeps the sport afloat is hard to come by these days, same as in all sports. It’s hard to blame anyone for that. But somehow, NASCAR has been able to rebound from the dark days about six years ago, when the economy tanked and some of the biggest teams in the sport put many people out on the street.
The big crowds and comparatively big television numbers—on any given weekend from February to July, the NASCAR race is the most watched cable sport show all weekend—all remain a staple of the sport.
As a NASCAR fan, you have the right to complain about anything you want to complain about. And if you’ve got the time and the energy and you know the route to take through social media, anyone can express their pleasure or displeasure of how the sport is doing directly to the people at the top of the food chain who are listening—yes, listening to the fans.
Admittedly the television broadcast isn’t perfect. But you can make it perfect for you by using NASCAR.com’s Raceview program or Race Buddy.
You can also follow Twitter during a race, or follow one of the many live blogs available on the Internet. More and more people are doing that. It makes for a more complete picture of what is happening on the race track. After all, there's 43 fascinating stories taking place every Sunday
You can’t just sit on the sidelines and complain about NASCAR if you’re not willing to either offer a solution to the problem or be part of someone else’s idea for a solution. You have to admire the hard work being done by some pretty serious people in Daytona Beach and Charlotte who are willing to make changes to NASCAR while keeping it the same as it has always been.
It’s a tough balance, but so far, despite all the shouting, things seem to be working pretty well.