As many muscle car and racing enthusiasts know, Sunday, February 20, 2011 was the 53rd running of the Daytona 500. I was not able to attend this event however, I have attended a handful in the past. If you’ve never attended a NASCAR race, I would definitely recommend attending one. There are many events on site sponsored by NASCAR and numerous other sponsors where fans get an opportunity to interact with drivers during question and answer sessions, compete in contests, not to mention all the memorabilia available for purchase.
I’ve been a gear-head for a long time and have enjoyed racing, more particular NASCAR since I was a kid. I think what NASCAR has done to modify the points system to make it easier to understand for many was a good thing. I do feel they have tried to keep the playing field level and competitive. That in mind, it is time to be critical of them where I do feel a change is in order and I’m sure it will cause much debate amongst true fans of NASCAR. But in the end, have an open mind as this could create more competition and a more enjoyable racing experience as a spectator.
After watching the entire Daytona 500 yesterday I was very happy to see the Wood Bros. win the race in their #21 car and do it in such a fashion as having a rookie, Trevor Bayne, mark his own spot in Daytona history. It was 10 years since the Wood Bros. were able to go to victory lane. Their primary sponsor, Ford Motorcraft and Ford Motor Company, were able to share one of the most prized victories in NASCAR; the Daytona 500. That in mind, the race was filled with cautions and caution laps, there were too many two by two racing which made it seem boring for a 500 mile (200 lap) race. The most interesting and exciting part of the racing came down to the last 8 or so laps where the drivers were actually beginning to run for position instead of just a spot on the track “where it was safe.”
During the course of the race, the commentators were stating how nice it was, unlike any other sport, that the drivers would communicate with other drivers on their radios in order to work as a tag team to push/pull and draft with each other for position. The commentators spoke of this as if this was a great thing, I think for safety it maybe. However, for competition and racing, which is what NASCAR is all about it is dull and boring. These drivers were basically planning for 490 miles or so to run “safe” around the track to stay out of trouble in order to avoid the big crash or any crash so they could be around at the end and contend for the win. How can any true fan of racing call this competition or exciting? It was like watching a speed rail train at 200mph go in a circle for three hours. Some drivers, early on were too eager and made mistakes causing a crash taking out some very good drivers and their cars, which made the race even worse to watch.
Time for a Change
NASCAR needs to do something to the sport to increase attendance both at the track and at home watching. They need to change the racing, not the cars, not the tracks and not the drivers or rules. The races are simply too long to watch and even the drivers know this and do their best during the races to stay out of trouble so they can be around at the end of each race to contend for a win or a top five finish.
An interesting idea some have had and I agree with is to start running the races, all the races, like NASCAR runs the All Star race. Break each race down to a number of laps in segments and invert the field after each segment. Eliminate some cars from moving on to the next segment depending on their finishing position in each segment as well. The true cream of the crop will rise and allow for very competitive racing throughout each segment. With 43 cars, there is still opportunity to earn championship points depending on where you finish. If you are one of the cars eliminated in the first segment and you did not lead a lap, then you get the points assigned to that finishing position. This would give the initiative to every driver to actually race their way to the front in each segment, instead of riding around the track for 400 miles to be “safe” and then contend for the win. It would also eliminate those who go to the track who qualify for a race just to “start and park” for the money. These type of teams are taking up a spot on the track where a true competitor wants to be out there racing. NASCAR needs a “start and park” rule.
The Coca-Cola 600 is one of NASCAR’s longest races of the year. If you’ve ever watched it, you know the race could take as much as 4-5 hours. That’s a long time to sit and watch cars drive in circles where the field is not actively racing for positions. Tweaking the system where every race was done in segments broken down by a specified number of laps, inverting the field, eliminating a percentage of cars after each segment based on finishing position and awarding championship points accordingly, would make the racing much more interesting for the entire event, not just the last 10 laps or so. Will NASCAR do this, probably not. Should they at least try it at some of the tracks to see what the outcome is, yes. Until next time, keep turning those wrenches and keep your foot in the gas!