Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?
While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.
In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.
With its inaugural season of competition now in the rear-view mirror, grade the performance of the Gen-6 car. And what, if anything, would you do to enhance said performance?
Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): The Gen-6 car gets an A for appearance but a C for performance. In reality there wasn’t much difference in the on-track product than previous incarnations. Somehow NASCAR has to find a way to enhance the competition and produce more side-by-side racing, especially at 1.5-mile tracks.
Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): Gen-6 gets a C-plus. Good on some tracks, not close to “passing” on others. There is no easy fix, but “dirtying up” the car with a shorter spoiler and less front-end grip should help. The car looks good on the track, but performance lags.
Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; @mikemulhern): I'd give it a C-plus, no more. The new 2013s didn’t improve the action on the track; if anything, the excessive speeds, especially at the 1.5-milers, worked against the premise of improving competition. After spending several years in development, clearly the men designing the Gen-6 didn’t come up with something to make the action better out on the track.
How to improve things? Slow the cars 15 mph, probably by cutting cubic inches, with a new, smaller engine block; a 280-305. Robert Yates was pushing for such smaller engines 20 years ago, before Ernie Irvan’s first bad crash. NASCAR is 20 years behind the curve here. Why drivers have to run into 14-degree-banked corners at 208 mph is absurd.
Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): The car doesn’t deserve a failing grade, simply because we all knew that there would be growing pains. However, the car wasn’t an instant hit either, so let’s go with a C-minus. As much as NASCAR wants to tout the increase in total green-flag passes, passes for the lead were down measurably and races on intermediate tracks still got strung out significantly.
This non-engineer would take away a significant amount of aerodynamic downforce and make the cars much less reliant on the air around them. Fans would gladly trade a spate of qualifying speed records for drivers who are able to control their cars side-by-side with each other for more than a few laps after a restart.
Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine; @ESPNMcGee): First half of the year: B-plus. Second half of the year: B-minus. I never hated it like so many others seemed to. And no matter how much you disliked it, you have to admit it was an improvement over the CoT shoebox. As for “fixing” it, I think that anything NASCAR comes up with, the teams will find a way to tunnel around. That’s what happened with the Gen-6 car in 2013. To me, it might be as simple as slowing the cars down (though I like the higher speeds) and shortening the races, especially on the mile-and-a-half tracks. If you chop down the distance between green and checkers, it always dials up the intensity. Just ask New Hampshire.
Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News; @bobpockrass): B-minus. It gets an A-minus for looks and a C for racing. The racing at the start of the year was pretty decent but then teams all got on the same page. I don’t often agree with Carl Edwards, but in this case I do — I would take away rear downforce.
Nate Ryan (USA Today; @nateryan): On aesthetics, it earns an A-minus. On action, it’s a C. Green-flag passes were up in 2013, but lead changes — the true currency of competition in NASCAR — were down. The answer to improving it is whatever makes it easier for drivers with strong cars to retake the lead after a mediocre pit stop or restart, instead of getting stalled in traffic as many are now. Less downforce seemingly might help despite the vociferous objections by drivers (and in the inversely proportional world of racing, what’s good for them often is bad for fans). The current tinkering with slowing the cars also might bear fruit.
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro