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.
NASCAR continues to search for a more exciting form of racing. On this topic, Jack Roush stated that, “It's an impossible thing (NASCAR is) looking for, to make the (racing) increasingly exciting. Because there is only so much you can do with four tires and a 3,400-pound car.” Aside from simply trying to improve its “on-track product,” is NASCAR reaching for an intangible goal that’s simply not attainable? Or should this be the sanctioning body’s priority?
Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Fascinating question. NASCAR is never going to be able to have every race finish with two cars mere inches from each other, nor will it be able to eliminate fuel mileage races and other things that a vocal bunch doesn’t care for. And that’s fine. Every other sport has blowouts and unentertaining games, and it’s those events that make the close and exciting ones so special and breathtaking.
Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine; @ESPNMcGee): Mr. Roush isn’t wrong. There are a lot of folks out there who think that every finish — heck, every lap — should be like the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. But here’s the thing about that race … it was awful until the last few laps. If they ran that race today, Twitter would collapse under the weight of all the complaints. You can’t blame the sanctioning body for wanting to make everything awesome all the time, but no matter whether you are at your local short track or the Bristol night race, “riding around” until you get the car right or the checkers are in sight is just part of a real race experience.
Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): NASCAR has to bring in new customers to an aging fan base, and if it means changing some long-standing practices or procedures, so be it. The 3-point shot, designated hitter and shootouts in hockey were born out of the same goal, and big-league stock car racing simply has to change with the times in order to entertain and remain relevant.
Nate Ryan (USA Today; @nateryan): Roush makes a hugely incisive point. Jimmie Johnson has made it more subtly in noting that NASCAR should consider fixing racetracks after putting so much of the onus on teams and Goodyear to ‘fix’ the cars with the aim of improved racing. Rather than expend so much effort on chasing an unattainable goal, it might be wiser to launch a clever marketing campaign that would redefine competitiveness and help manage the unrealistic expectations of incessant excitement in a sport that can be inherently boring.
Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News; @bobpockrass): Yes and yes. Much like safety, there is only so much one can do. But NASCAR must continue to find ways to improve the product. There’s no harm in trying.
Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): This is a difficult issue for NASCAR because its “playing field” changes so much from week to week — from very short tracks to gigantic ones, from fresh asphalt to aging surfaces, from 200 miles per hour to half that. Developing the perfect car for such a wildly varied schedule is virtually impossible. The best approach would be to fit the car to the 1.5-mile tracks — because there are so many — and let teams work out the resulting issues at other tracks.
Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; @mikemulhern): Jack is wrong, and considering the problems Team Ford had last season, it’s understandable why he’s is aggravated.
One easy way to make the racing more exciting is to eliminate the rules that give such an advantage to the race leader — drop the wave-around, for one, and leave pit road open the entire race, for another. There is no good reason for closing pit road; that is a rule that dates back to the early 1990s when scoring miscues at North Wilkesboro, Pocono and elsewhere, led NASCAR to just “stop pit stops” until the scoring tower could sort out the running order. That is no longer an issue. Keep pit road open and let the teams take their chances when the caution comes out. There’s nothing wrong with “chance” playing a role in this sport, the way it did for so many years.
Another way to make racing more exciting is to slow the durn cars. The slower a car, the “wider” the track, thus the more opportunities to pass, and the less the effects of aerodynamics. Simple physics.
Yet another way to make racing more exciting: Cut into the Chevrolet advantage. Check out how many races Chevrolet has won the past 10 years, compared to Ford and Toyota and Dodge. And maybe ask Dodge execs why they really decided they didn't need NASCAR marketing any more. When a performance car company drops NASCAR, there’s something wrong somewhere.
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro