This weekend's race at Homestead marks the end of the 2009 NASCAR Season. Barring a collapse of the 48 team, Jimmie Johnson will be crowned the 4-time Sprint Cup Series Champion in just about 60 hours. Many of you will say he's just playing the Chase, but I think the 48 team is simply making the most of the cards that have been dealt.
Most people will agree that this has been a (and this is putting it nicely) lackluster year for Brian France's troops. We have witnessed the failure of the Chase to provide any real drama in the series, mystery "debris" cautions that many people accuse NASCAR of using to bunch up the field and manipulate finishes, and Hendrick Motorsports dominating the competition.
Sponsors are leaving the sport. The CoT is an ugly mess of a racecar. The grandstands are riddled with empty seats, even though tracks are slashing prices and offering some of the cheapest tickets we have ever witnessed this decade. There are no rookie candidates looking for great rides. Every team except for HMS seems to be contracting, hunting for sponsors, laying off hard working people, and just trying to survive.
To put it bluntly, the sport is at a crossroads. The times when teams, tracks, and sponsors were eating high on the hog are over. Everyone sees the writing on the wall, well everyone except the folks down at Daytona.
So while speaking with my lovely wife about our Christmas lists for this Holiday Season, I realized Santa should put a team on elves on this sport we call NASCAR and maybe, just maybe, save this sport we love so much. I present to you my Christmas Wishlist for the NASCAR Series. Brian France, I hope your reading this:
- Change the CoT. This is the most important thing on this list. The box the crew and car chiefs have been painted into is too small. NASCAR mandates shocks, heights, wings, etc. Engineering is now more important than ever. Most of the setup on these cars is now done in the race shop. Unload fast and chances are you are going to have a good weekend. Unload and miss the setup at the shop and you are going to fight all weekend for 15th. NASCAR needs to make rule changes that allow the teams more room to play with this car and keep racing competitive. Not to mention with the current rules package there is almost no passing for the lead. Clean air is now more important than ever.
- Bring back testing. Yes, I know the economy is bad. Yes, I know this is supposed to save teams money. Instead, we find teams hiring "testing" drivers and traveling to unsanctioned tracks to try to find anything with this car that can be used at the racetrack. It is impossible to make the racing any better if teams can't learn valuable information about the way their cars behave on the tracks they race on.
- Sit down with the teams once a month. Don't talk, listen. The teams are crying for help. Sponsorships, costs, racing, fans, they all have ideas on how to help the sport. Instead of dictating what you want to see in the sport, allow the teams to make suggestions. Try implementing them.
- Quit pulling race dates from historical tracks and giving them to boring cookie cutters in markets where most people don't even care to know about NASCAR.
- If you throw a caution for debris, show the debris. Hold it up in the air and let the cameras get a good shot of it for the fans viewing from home. Show it on the Nextel Vision screens. Make sure that there is never a doubt as to whether there was actual debris.
- Admit when you are wrong. The Chase, the CoT, robbing dates from Darlington, debris cautions, and an unclear drug testing policy are all issues that the fans feel like are bad for the sport. For anyone, it is hard to admit when you are wrong or let go of a dictatorship, but when you are the leaders of a billion dollar industry it can be impossible.
- Listen to the fans. They are talking to you right now. Ratings are down, attendance is down, traditional fans are leaving in droves, and the fans that you coveted for years, the 18-34 year old males that are fixated on the NFL are now bored with your product and are leaving, too.
- Lastly, leave the drivers alone. Let them be themselves. If they want to fight in the pits, let them fight in the pits. As long as they aren't using their cars as weapons, stay out of it. It's good for the sport which means it's good for you.
- A down the wire championship points race. I am a Jimmie Johnson fan and even I'm growing tired of him running away with the championship every year. I wish for an exciting race that goes down to the last lap at Homestead and I don't even care who wins it.
- I wish for an exciting race. One with lap-by-lap passes for the lead that comes down to the last turn of the last lap. We haven't had one of those that I can recall since this CoT was implemented. At least not at the 1.5 mile tracks.
These are my wishes for 2010. Brian France, I mean Santa, if you are listening I've been a pretty good boy this year. Only naughty when it was good. Only one speeding ticket. If you could help us and bring us just one or two of these wishes maybe, just by a hair, you could save this sport we love.
Got your own wishes for 2010? Leave them in the comments section. I welcome all comments and suggestions.