NASCAR finds itself in a midst of a familiar debate – and one it may not be able to win.
What is good racing? And how do you go about producing it?
NASCAR officials have gone to great lengths to answer those questions in recent years. Whole departments within the organization are working on that very question. That has led to changes to the Sprint Cup cars’ aerodynamic packages that NASCAR hoped would lead to “better racing.”
Changes implemented last year produced good results, for the most part.
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Another wave of changes this season has been less successful. The growing consensus is that the product on the track is not as good. And more sweeping changes planned for next season, may now be on hold, drawing drivers’ ire.
There are many issues – cost being a big one – NASCAR has to consider when making changes to the designs of the cars. The more comprehensive the changes, the higher the cost, and that hits smaller teams particularly hard.
But there is a larger impediment: NASCAR’s schedule. Even when NASCAR has suggested it could make significant changes to the Cup series schedule, the results have come up short of that.
But the the unwieldy Cup schedule needs a vast restructuring, if for no other reason than to allow downtime to work on the product.
The NASCAR race schedule runs from mid-February to mid-November, with at best two true off weekends. The offseason – what there is of it – includes a banquet weekend in Las Vegas and a Media Tour in January (and occasionally preseason testing in Daytona Beach, Fla.).
In a perfect situation, a significant offseason would provide NASCAR time to conduct extensive testing, on the track and off.
And that testing needs to include a full field. Does anyone believe tests of eight to 10 cars on the track effectively simulate races that include 43 cars? Computer simulations are effective tools, too, but they can’t fully mimic real life.
The changes this season were intended to produce more downforce and reduce horsepower. They were expected by virtually all involved to lower speeds. But qualifying speeds have increased.
If the current testing and computer simulation programs were so good, why did the practical effects catch so many by surprise?
NASCAR has a difficult situation. The vast majority of the tracks on which it competes are owned by two publicly-traded companies whose goal it is to ensure they continue to host those races.
Yet, the same schedule that once defined NASCAR’s reach and success now seems to be hampering its efforts to improve the product.
NASCAR hands out penalties
NASCAR penalized two drivers Wednesday – Trevor Bayne in the Cup series and Jennifer Jo Cobb in the Truck series – who violated a rule adopted last season that prohibits drivers from exiting their cars and walking onto a “hot” track following an accident.
Bayne was fined $20,000 and Cobb $5,000. Both were placed on probation through the end of the year.
The rule was adopted in the aftermath of the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr., who was struck and killed by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart during a race in upstate New York. Ward had been involved in a wreck, exited his car and was walking on the track while the race was under caution when he was killed.
Also Wednesday, NASCAR suspended crew chief John Monsam and car chief David Jones, both of the No. 97 Xfinity Series team, for one race for having improperly attached weight that fell out of their car. Monsam was also fined $15,000 and both were placed on probation through Dec. 31.
NASCAR also issued a penalty to Kevin Harvick’s Cup team for receiving written warnings on two consecutive race weekends. Harvick will have the last choice of pit stalls this weekend at Pocono regardless of where he qualifies on Friday.
Where: Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Motor Racing Network
Last year’s winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.