It’s not exactly a closely guarded secret that NASCAR is on a steep decline. Ratings are down, ticket sales are down, and they aren’t attracting new fans. This has led NASCAR to employ a bunch of gimmicks and rules changes to try and attract new fans. NASCAR CEO Brian France is essentially just bailing water out of his NASCAR rowboat with a small bucket and is always mere moments from sinking. NASCAR is ever-changing its format and rules packages to try and shake things up to bring fans back to the sport. With IndyCar and IMSA on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before NASCAR as we know it is completely dead.
But fear not, we have all the answers to fix NASCAR and bring it back to prominence. Here are the 12 things NASCAR needs to do to save their sport.
12. Go Back to the Gen-Four Car
This a complete pipe dream, but it would be amazing if NASCAR somehow was able to go back to the gen-four car of the mid-2000s or something similar to it. The racing in the mid-2000s was some of the best that NASCAR fans have ever been exposed to. Side-by-side finishes, multiple grooves, and great-handling race cars. The introduction of the “Car of Tomorrow” in 2007 and what it has morphed into have gradually produced poorer and poorer racing. NASCAR is even starting to completely change the aerodynamic packages on the cars for nearly every race to try and improve the racing. There are seldom any side-by-side finishes anymore as the drivers just can’t pass each well enough other with the current car. Go back to the old car, and we might just save NASCAR’s on-track product.
11. Qualifying the Same Day as the Race
NASCAR’s lower-tier series already often have qualifying on the same day as the race. Why doesn’t the Cup Series do it the same way? Having qualifying the day before the race, or even two days before the race, has been the norm in NASCAR’s Cup Series for decades but it doesn’t have to continue.
Qualifying the same day as the race would almost certainly help NASCAR’s dwindling ticket sales. For one price, fans can get to the track early, watch the knockout qualifying session and then stay and watch the race. Rather than pay upwards of $100 USD to just see the race, you can also take in the qualifying session for free. How many fans actually show up on Thursday night or Friday afternoon to watch qualifying? Not many because there isn’t much else going on at the track. Move qualifying to Sunday morning, and you might just boost ticket sales.
10. Bring in New Manufacturers
Back in the “Golden Era” of NASCAR, there were countless different makes and models of cars being raced. Now, I understand that you can’t just let any car show up at the track and drive around but it is time for more manufacturers to enter NASCAR.
Currently, Toyota, Chevrolet, and Ford are the only manufacturers in NASCAR and Ford and Toyota have been dominant. A manufacturer like Dodge returning to NASCAR could help liven the field up and create more competition. It could also allow for smaller teams to become more competitive. Most new manufacturers either align themselves with smaller teams or brand new teams like Toyota did with Red Bull Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing back in 2007.
Sure, there are growing pains for new manufacturers as racing is an expensive venture. But new manufacturers would help to add more diversity to the field and give teams more options for the future.
9. Weeknight Races
If you’re a die-hard NASCAR junkie, every year you look forward to the Truck Series’ Eldora Dirt Derby and their Bristol night race — because they are on on a weeknight. It’s the coolest thing ever. It’s the middle of the week and there’s NASCAR on television. NASCAR needs to take this to a whole other level.
Weeknight racing could bring millions of viewers to NASCAR. If the Cup Series ran occasional races on Monday or Thursday nights during the summer (when these nights are usually devoid of sports other than midseason baseball) they could generate buzz and bring new viewers to the sport. If you’re a casual racing fan, what other racing is there to watch on a weeknight? NHRA drag racing on tape-delay? NASCAR could completely corner a market that doesn’t yet exist. It would be revolutionary and I bet it would be highly successful.
8. Move ALL Fall Races to Saturday Night
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT keep competing with the NFL. You just can’t win. Especially with the growing popularity of the NFL, fantasy football, and online streaming. Fans can now get the exact NFL game they want and would much rather watch that than a NASCAR race. I’ll be honest with you, I’m a massive NASCAR fan, but when my NFL team is on TV at the same time as a Cup Race, I’m watching the NFL every single time. The NFL regular season last just 17 weeks and people are mad for it. It’s one of the shortest seasons in pro sports and fans are not about to switch the channel over to watch a NASCAR playoff race when Tom Brady is leading a two-minute drill down by four.
By moving fall races to Saturday night, the NFL could avoid direct competition with the NFL and garner more viewership. Now yes, NCAA football is also on Saturdays but in the prime-time slot, NASCAR would likely only be competing with one marquee college football game per week. That’s much more manageable than competing with almost a dozen 1:00 PM (Eastern Time) NFL games. Also, everyone loves night races, and if you don’t, you’re wrong. Night racing is awesome. You can stay up late and watch the race and don’t have to work tomorrow. It’s win-win.
7. Eliminate the Crash Clock
NASCAR’s “crash-clock” rule is ridiculous. NASCAR recently added this rule to help keep damaged race cars off the track. Essentially teams have six minutes to fix their car and get back on the track to run one lap at the minimum speed. If they do so, they get another six minutes to keep fixing the car. Makes sense right? You get six minutes to fix it. If you can’t, you get parked for the day. This keeps damaged race cars off the track and prevents them from slowing down the actual competitors. But there’s more to it than that.
Due to this new six minute rule, teams are now rushing to get the car back out for a lap before its fully repaired. In several cases, debris has come flying off of cars and caused further caution flags which slow the race down. The crash clock also prevents teams from repairing the car in the garage and returning to the race to gain a few positions over other cars that have retired. Every championship point counts and now teams miss out on those points.
The crash clock has caused more problems than it’s fixed.
6. Eliminate the Charter System
I am one of the people that whole-heartedly believe that the the introduction of the charter system was a big step toward NASCAR’s decline. It essentially made NASCAR an “old boys club.” If you aren’t familiar with the charter system, here’s the background on it. In the good ol’ days of NASCAR, the top-35 cars in owners’ points were guaranteed a spot in every race. The points were fluid depending on race finishes all season and teams that had a string of good finishes could move up in points and be locked in to future races. It all changed in 2016.
In 2016, NASCAR introduced what they dubbed “The Charter System.” If you had been a team competing in NASCAR full-time over the previous four seasons, you were given an automatic starting spot forever, or until you closed your team or sold your charter. In all, 36 charters were given out and the field was limited to 40 cars from 43. This leaves only four “open” spots for non-chartered teams to earn based on qualifying speed.
I hate this system, plain and simple. It is the real-life representation of American capitalism (I’m Canadian, by the way). It prevents low-budget grassroots teams from starting up and finding success. Unless you have millions to rent or lease a charter from a powerhouse team, you may end up missing several races. NASCAR is never going to redistribute charters, so you better come up with some dough.
America is supposed to be the land of opportunity. A place where the downtrodden can go and climb their way up the ladder with hard work and stick-to-it-ism. That dream is now dead in NASCAR. The family-owned teams have all but disappeared and now the powerhouse teams rule with an iron fist. Will we ever see another true underdog story in NASCAR?
5. Change Up The Schedule
I am big critic of NASCAR’s current schedule. There are too many boring race tracks and not enough variety. NASCAR title-contender Kyle Larson said it himself when he said if you want to improve the racing “build more Bristols.” In 2018, both races at Bristol Motor Speedway had some of the best racing of the year. Adding more short tracks and less “cookie cutter” 1.5 mile speedways would spice up the schedule and garner more fan interest.
My ideal NASCAR schedule would drop the race at Fontana (because it’s always crappy), drop one date from Pocono, Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas, and Michigan, and drop the Charlotte Roval (because it’s a terrible idea). This leaves us six races to fill. I would add three road courses to bring NASCAR’s total to five road course races. Road racing in a seminal part of auto-racing and it should be bigger part of NASCAR’s schedule. Ideally, I’d add races at Road Atlanta, Virginia International Raceway, and Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. I’d give the other three races to Darlington, (giving them a second date), bring back Rockingham Speedway, and the final race would go to Iowa giving them a Cup Series date.
Whether you agree with my choices above or not, you can definitely agree that NASCAR is in immediate need of a schedule shakeup.
4. Allow Open Competition in Lower Series
In 2017, NASCAR’s sanctioning body decided that full-time Cup Series drivers would only be allowed to run seven races per season in the two lower-level developmental series, the Xfinity and Truck Series. This decision was made to stop veteran Cup Series regulars from stealing all the wins from younger, developmental drivers. This rule has done exactly what NASCAR intended — younger drivers are winning more races but there has also been a drawback. Some sponsors have left the sport because they’re scared to commit to young drivers that haven’t proven themselves.
NASCAR needs to go back to allowing open competition in the Xfinity and Truck Series. The veteran drivers provide entertaining racing and an extra opportunity for their fans to cheer them on. Fans are more inclined to buy tickets to a Truck Series race when they know their favourite Cup driver is competing. Allowing open competition would also bring an influx of sponsorship dollars from companies looking o align themselves with proven drivers that have a shot at winning races. America is the land of opportunity. Handicapping veteran Cup Series regulars just seems un-American.
3. Limit Overtime Finishes
OVERTIME!!!! WOOOO!!!!!! Free racing!!!
No, just no. Overtime is auto racing just doesn’t make sense. NASCAR needs to either abandon or severely limit the number of overtime finishes.
Currently, the rules state that there will an unlimited number of overtime periods or “Green-White-Checkered” attempts if caution flags keep coming out. This rule exists due to NASCAR’s extreme desire to have races end under the green flag. Before overtime finishes, if a crash happened with a few laps left in the race and the caution flag came out, the race would end under caution and the leader was awarded the win. Yes, that’s anti-climactic and kind of lame but it happened rarely and didn’t exactly tick people off. With the current overtime rules, drivers have been running out of fuel due to all the laps being added, are being more aggressive and causing even more wrecks, and races are being extended by sometimes 15-20 laps. It’s just getting ridiculous.
Go back to the old way and just let races end under caution. Or, have ONE ATTEMPT at an overtime finish, if the caution comes out, the race ends. All these overtime periods are doing more harm than good and needlessly extending races.
2. Abandon Stage Racing
Yeah, so stage racing was cool for a few races but it’s really starting to grow stale. If you aren’t familiar with “Stage-Racing” it all started back in 2017. NASCAR decided to split races into three stages. The top-ten finishers in each stage would be awarded additional “Stage Points” added to their total. At the end of each stage, the caution flag would fly and the field would come to a slow down for pit stops and a resetting of the grid.
Now, I’m not sure how stopping the race an additional two times was supposed to make the racing more exciting, but NASCAR admitted that in the past they had been throwing phantom caution flags for debris on the track (that really wasn’t there) to bunch up the field and prevent one driver from pulling away. There have been very few positives that have come from stage racing. The only real positive is that bonus points are now awarded to the top-ten finishers. This has changed strategy for several teams which has added some excitement at the end of each stage. But the reality is that stage racing is terrible.
Stopping the race an additional two times is pointless. It’s also pointless that the caution laps run between stages count. So the next stage is actually several laps shorter than advertised. I’m in the old-fashioned camp that believes that drivers shouldn’t be rewarded for happening to be in the top-ten 100 laps into a race. Stages have slowed races down and made them that much more boring.
1. Get Rid Of The Playoffs
Back in 2004, NASCAR adopted a playoff system. At the time, it was known as “The Chase for the Cup.” After the first 26 races of the season, the top-ten drivers in the points standings became the only drivers eligible to win the title and they’d race each other over the last 10 races to determine the champion. The format has changed dozens of times since then. Now it involves 16 drivers earning playoff berths by winning a regular season race and includes three elimination playoff rounds. The season-ending racing now pits the remaining four drivers against each other in a one-race shootout, whoever finishes highest in that race wins the title.
Here’s the problem: It’s a really, really dumb system.
NASCAR is not football, baseball, or hockey. It doesn’t need a playoff system. How many other forms of motorsports have a playoff system? No, seriously go look it up, I’ll wait. IndyCar, Formula One — neither or them have playoffs. It’s just a full season battle to see who is consistent enough to win the championship. NASCAR used to be this way. Sure, it was annoying when Jeff Gordon would clinch the championship with like six races left, but that was part of it. NASCAR is a sport with way too many variables to have gimmicky playoffs. Drivers can be wrecked intentionally by another malicious driver or they can suffer mechanical failure that’s no fault of their own.
But my main hatred of the playoff system is that you get locked in by winning a race (you also have to also finish top-30 in points, but that isn’t very hard). So you can be a completely terrible team with bad equipment and pull off a miracle win in the draft at Talladega and be locked into the playoffs. That’s so dumb. Sure, you’re in the playoffs — yippee, what an upset! But you’re just going to be a road block for the rest of the playoff contenders and never be in real contention for the title, ala Chris Buescher in 2016.
In conclusion, NASCAR’s playoff system is just a giant gimmicky mess designed to hopefully make people tune in. Auto racing is all about season-long consistency. Not pulling off a miracle upset win and then immediately being called a title-contender. Get rid of the playoffs, and get rid of them soon.