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Is NASCAR “in a very good place” or is this a case of short term memory?

By admin | January 27, 2012

By Richard Allen

On the final day of the past week’s Sprint Media Tour, Brian France delivered his yearly ‘State of the Sport’ address to the assembled media. In that speech the NASCAR chairman declared, “The sport is in a very good place and we’re going to work even harder to achieve the very best things for the sport of NASCAR well into the future.”

France went on to highlight the revamping of the points system which occurred during the off season between 2010 and 2011 and “a championship battle that will be talked about for decades to come.”

The chairman also pointed to the recent introduction of Electronic Fuel Injection as something to create future excitement. “EFI excites the manufacturers and technology companies,” said France, responding to questioning about NASCAR’s embrace of technology. “To attract new companies (to the sport), we’ve had to take a little different view of that.”

Even the admittedly unpopular tandem racing that has in recent years become the norm on the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega is something to look to as proof of NASCAR’s “very good place.” According to France, even this flaw had a positive side. “We have had a breathtaking number of close finishes at those tracks, but the fans want a mixture of styles including a return to a more traditional ‘pack racing’ and that close side-by-side competition that’s unique to Talladega and Daytona,” he said. “NASCAR and the teams are working hard on this and based on the test earlier this month, we’re encouraged that we’re making progress.”

Obviously, the head of the sport is going to say that the sport is standing on solid ground and that things are going well. One of his jobs is to present NASCAR in the best light possible.

However, it is the job of the media to question whether or not things are going as well as described. And, it is the job of the fans to sit as the jury and ultimately decide whether or not the sport is what they want it to be.

So, is NASCAR “in a very good place” or are there concerns that go beyond the issues Mr. France addressed?

After this recent season and off season the issue most glaringly in need of address would seem to be that of overall team health. Coming into 2012 there will be a significant net loss in terms of competitive cars on the track for each race. Granted, Michael Waltrip Racing did add a team after last year to provide a spot for Clint Bowyer. However, Bowyer’s previous organization, Richard Childress Racing, will likely fold one of its four operations. Roush Fenway Racing too will have to cease competition with one of its rides during this season.

And more, Team Red Bull went away all together after the final checkered flag of 2011 waved for an additional loss of two more competitive cars. To add to the list of concerns, some teams will be operating with less than full sponsorship this season, which could bring next season into question for these organizations. Roush Fenway and Richard Petty Motorsports are at least two companies without their cars fully backed for 2012 as of this writing.

Another of concern, which could be closely related to lack of sponsorship for some teams, is the continued lack of attendance and television viewing of the sport. In 2011, as in other recent seasons, there were a number of tracks that featured noticeably large numbers of empty seats at the waving of the green flag. Several tracks have resorted to the use of coverings on which to place event sponsor logos and hide the empty areas. And over the off season, there have been tracks to announce they are widening seats, which again, will help hide the empty spaces.

France pointed to improved television ratings in 2011 as a reason for encouragement. However, it must be taken into consideration that those numbers were being compared against 2010 ratings which were horribly low and might very well be considered a ‘rock bottom’ moment. Television ratings are still lower than they were in the not-so-distant past, despite last year’s increases.

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But in this writer’s opinion, the biggest concern of all, and the overriding reason for all other negative issues the sport might face, is the competition on the track. France mentioned the closeness of last year’s points battles as one of the high points of the season, and without question, it was exciting. However, what were the thirty-five races leading up to that final one like? Was there intensely exciting competition in most races? Some races? A few races?

It seems as though short term memory is being allowed to override long term memory when discussions of 2011 take place.

Remove the worry over fuel mileage seen in an unusually high number of events last year and much of the drama disappears along with it. Granted, it would difficult to put on 500 mile races without at least some stretches of monotony. But it seems as though there has become far too much reliance on gimmicks to make the races “competitive”.

Debris cautions, double-file restarts and lucky dogs have become as much a part of racing discussions in recent years as engines and tires. Until the time comes that racing can be improved on the track without reliance on manufactured enhancements, the negative issues stated above will never be truly resolved.

Also, too much of NASCAR’s focus has been on personalities of late. Promotion of the sport is more about Junior, Danica, Edwards, etc… than the racing itself.

Rather than putting so much emphasis on individual personalities and gimmicky remedies, NASCAR needs to focus more of its creative energies on the product itself. Personalities may give the sport short term pops but it’s the on-track competition that matters most as it will always be at the core of the sport, even when the personalities fade away.

I would have to disagree with Brian France’s assessment that the sport is “in a very good place”. Rather, I would contend that there are certainly a number of positives about NASCAR. The thrill, the speed, the energy and the enthusiasm of the fans and competitors are just a few of the things that originally drew me to the sport, and those things are still there. However, it is also my opinion that the sport is not all it could be, and that will continue to be the case until the issues I touched on here are resolved.

So, I would say that NASCAR is in an OK place for right now.

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13 Responses to “Is NASCAR “in a very good place” or is this a case of short term memory?”

  1. The Mad Man Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Brian France sort of missed the mark like he has since he’s been in charge. It’s not the sport of NASCAR. It’s the sport of auto racing in which NASCAR happens to be one of many sanctioning bodies, specifically for a series that’s supposed to be racing, but doesn’t race, stock cars.

    If NASCAR really wants to get back to where it was, it needs to return to its roots and not just say it is. The roots are southern moonshine & stock car racing. Not $8 watered-down beer at the concession stands or some specially built, purpose designed, spec series race vehicle.

    Take a car from the showroom floor, install the appropriate safety parts & materials, use a hot engine, then go race it. Is that so hard to do or comprehend? Apparently so down in Daytona Beach.

  2. Team24 Says:
    January 28th, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I agree with both your article & The Mad Man’s comments. Competitiveness has to be measured by an entire season, not one race or one part. I also believe that if Brian’s last name was something other than France, he would not be working in NASCAR.

    Yes, the simplification of the points system & putting a higher emphasis on winning were welcome changes. However, the entire concept of the stupid Chase was unnecessary. IMO, it didn’t add anything positive to NASCAR & made NASCAR look stupid.

    Anyone who tries to make NASCAR more like stick & ball (& puck) sports ignores the face that NASCAR is not & cannot be like any other sport. Having every team compete in the same “game” at the same time makes a playoff system unworkable. I believe the attempt to make NASCAR more like other sports is the main reason “root fans” left. Add to that the numerous new fans that left once the gimmick wore off & you have the big drop in viewership.

    A lot of the blame for the downturn in attendance has been put on the economy. However, NASCAR seems to be the only sport suffering such a severe dropoff. Tickets to the Super Bowl are upwards of $1000 & the game is sold out. Regular season NFL game tickets are also quite expensive & many teams season ticket plans are sold out. (I use the NFL as an example since that’s the sport Brian France claimed NASCAR was going to compete against for fans)

    Another issue I believe has had an impact is the, as my Grandma used to say, talking out of both sides of their ass. Until clear guidelines for “boys have at it” are written, there will be an unfair assessment of penalties. And this nonsense of fining people for voicing opinions without a valid explanation of why what they said was worthy of a fine has to stop. For example, if the opinion of EFI was truly so wrong that a $50k fine was appropriate, it should be easy to explain why EFI is so great.

    I love NASCAR, have since The King raced. I probably will always be a fan but I have to admit the changes of the last few seasons has lessened my enthusiasm.

  3. Russ Says:
    January 28th, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Would it be fair to say that they are struggling to manage a decline? That they have made decisions which while made sense short term, have now boxed them in from making some of the changes which need to be made.

    In short, I think you could make a comparison to the troubles that overtook open wheel racing in this country. But its not irreversible at this point.

  4. Tony Geinzer Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 6:24 am

    I really feel that the current state of recycling last class talent in first class seats is alarmist and I know more impetement is on Driver Development because the last run was so wrong and we are seeing more Sprint Cup Careers Drivers rising vs. those who want Sprint Cup Money.

  5. Bill B Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Brian France sounds like any other talking head CEO of any other corporation. You shouldn’t expect honesty. He’s a glorified PR agent for NASCAR.

    I’d say there were a handful of great races last year. Personally, I don’t expect every race to be great. I’d rather see someone win by 8 seconds if they kicked ass all day then see a close ending brought about by a fake caution, GWC, and/or the double file restart. I’d say that overall last year’s races were better than the previous few seasons. Once again,,, overall. For some reason I think it was the law of averages more than any of the changes NASCAR made.

    I don’t know

  6. Jerome Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Great comments and even better article. “Racing With Rich” and Mad Mikie’s columns are the articles to read when NASCAR is concerned. Brian France is an idiot plain and simple. If he was not a France he would have been fired a long time ago. Actually, he would not even have gotten the job. B France reminds me of the Kevin Bacon character in Animal House. “Remain calm…all is well” as all He** is breaking loose. I have basically stopped watching NASCAR, a sport I started following in the late 60’s. The racing stinks, being a celebrity is more important than being a driver with skill, blathering morons populate the broadcast booth, and a total moron runs the sport. The emphasis needs to be on racing, not celebrity wannabe drivers, or manufactured feuds with pansy drivers who were more than likely on the receiving end of daily whuppins in high school (Busch brothers come to mind) or talking head simpletons who tell us how great the racing is we are watching , despite the fact it isn’t, and who chastise us when we call crummy racing what it is…crummy racing.

    Wow, got to ranting, I hope it doesn’t babble on too much.
    Great comments, great article.

  7. Sue Rarick Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 9:03 am

    There as an old adage that advertising and PR could get them in the door, but couldn’t get them to stay or come back.

    Recent history has shown that anytime an industry has gone after the young hip and trendy they generally get a popularity spike then when that group moves on to the next hip and trendy thing they are left with more problems than they were trying to rectify.

    In Nascar’s case they are trying to attract a more urban audience. But that audience will move on with the next rend and the core base of Nascar may very well have moved on themselves leaving Nascar with ratings and attendence that makes 2010 look like a high point.

    Nascar has traditionally been a southern sport and that southern part of the country has a population of 100 million. Lose that and Nascar will have trown the bird in hand away for two in the bush that will eventually fly away too.

  8. Overra88ted Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Bear in mind this is the idiot BZ France talking, one who took over a a company worth multi billions in 2003 that is now wroth LESS than a billion dollars. The marketing “genious” who gave us the contrived 10 race Do-Over Chumpionship, IROC cars, phantom cautions, abused Lucky Dog cautions, 15 car wave arounds, the marketing of a overra88ted and over-hyped driver with average at best talent and a famous last name, and now marketing a driver that has not proved a thing. All in the name of “racer-tainment”. Stealing sponsors from teams to be the Official this and that of Na$crap. TV partners that are clueless on how to show a race. Yea, Na$crap is in a great place alright.

  9. Earner Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Nascar has done many things right & many things wrong. Issuing fines for making an opinion about EFI is so wrong & will lose the fans once it is known that the driver/crew chief are only making politically correct (nascar approved) statements I can’t see why I would care any more. I don’t want plastic comments we want true opinions. Then theres the “secret” fines that are just as bad to stifle free speech & it seems we (the fans) are just left in the dark to accept whatever we are told (insults fans intelligence) These are not the actions of one who aspires to keep old fans & garner new ones & it MUST STOP. There is enough problems with the on track issues that to maintain fan interest we want the facts not censorship. How un American! Boys have at it & feed the fans what we want them to hear seems to be brians (the dunce)way. The France family must be so proud of how brian is slowly bringing Nascar down so that folks will some day stop talking about Bill & Bill Jr (we don’t seem to build those any more) France. P.S. Lose about four 1.5 mile cookie cutters & add short tracks. You see its all about entertainment

  10. sylvia richardson Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Pretty boys do not make a great race. All it is now is [entertainment [for what] one yr you can do this the next yr you can’t do or say this. Where is the a com ment by a driver so wrong? what has happen to just be honest? we as fans for many yrs real lies how difference it is now days in a sport that once was great now just so so. if we as fans have been into this sport for over 25 yrs. we have lost big time. BF IS A LIER we all know this.

  11. sylvia richardson Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    The drivers need to be able to say what they really believe[like kyle did after winning at BMS. i just know the [old [poops] would have went under a cave if one had been close to them. most of use as fans [hate the cot cars,lucky dog,pass around. top 35. RAING IS ABOUT SPEED. THAT MEANS ALL THE CARS SHOULD BE RACING DO TO THE SPEED OF THE RACE CAR. LIKE AM AS BIG OF FAN MARK MARTIN COULD EVER HAVE. IF HE CAN NOT MAKE IT ON THE SPEED OF THE RACE CAR. Then he misses a race. then mark goes home and workes harder
    thats race in my eyes.

  12. Russ Says:
    January 30th, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Nascar would love to be the NFL of motorsport. Wont happen because the 800 lb. gorilla is F1. (say what you like remember 600 MILLION viewers worldwide )

    But maybe the NBA would be a better comparison? Both are lifestyle leagues where image is more important than substance.

  13. Jeff Bovine Says:
    January 31st, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Hell yes!!! What Sylvia said!!! Wait, what the hell did she say???