NASCAR’s New Direction Will Risk Everything
By Matt Weaver — NASCAR is steering itself into dangerous territory with a flurry of changes to the Sprint Cup Series that may leave the sport nothing but a shell of what it used to be.
The most recent change may come to the championship format with the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Utter reporting that NASCAR is finalizing a plan to expand the Chase field to 16 teams while also featuring an elimination format over the course of the final 10 races.
Thematically, the Chase will now resemble the NCAA Basketball tournament with the final race at Homestead always ending in a four-way winner take all spectacular.
Fan feedback has been overwhelmingly negative to the rumored change with NASCAR having to release a statement that essentially stated that nothing will be officially announced until the sport’s ‘stakeholders’ are addressed.
The problem is that fans are seemingly excluded when NASCAR decides on the future of the sport.
The Sanctioning Body has touted its new ‘Fan and Media Engagement Center’ in Charlotte but it feels inevitable that changes are coming to the sport no matter how much fan vitriol spews from the various social media platforms.
The sport has set its proactive and liberal direction in stone, and in true Vince McMahon fashion, fans will be force fed the “New NASCAR” even if they are kicking and screaming in the process.
The professional wrestling parallel is fitting given the overall personality change that NASCAR has started to adopt in trading integrity for the sake of manufactured and gimmickry drama. NASCAR CEO Brian France, while a gifted marketer, has never displayed a true understanding for the sporting side of racing.
He is so desperate for the “Game 7 moment” and recognition from the mass media that he is willing to script his own — even to the detriment of the legitimacy that NASCAR was founded upon.
Just last week, NASCAR released the new format for the Sprint Unlimited, a 75-lap exhibition race held annually at the Daytona International Speedway to kick off Speedweeks. Under the new format, fans will essentially be able to determine the starting lineup for the final segment of the race, given that the polls will not close until the conclusion of the second segment.
While the Unlimited doesn’t pay championship points, it is a further insight into the madness of the mindset of the current regime at Daytona and Charlotte.
Unable to build a race car that can compete side-by-side on large superspeedways, and mostly unwilling to return to the short tracks that have always produced the best racing, NASCAR is placing all of its eggs into gimmicks like fan votes, eliminations and winner takes all events.
NASCAR, which has slowly become mutually exclusive to ‘racing’ over the past decade, is at risk of crossing a line in which they may not ever return.
Should they implement this new knockout championship procedure, it will be done against the will of the very fan-base that has been the foundation of the sport’s continued growth. The changes are yet another example of France’s flirtation with a stick-and-ball community that will never embrace motorsport.
For better or worse, racing will always be an island unto itself.
By ignoring the diehards, and placing all of his faith into the ESPN demographic, France has risked losing everything, retaining only an empire of dirt and sand — the new NASCAR.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Popular Speed. Contact the author on Twitter @MattWeaverSBN.