Where is the passion? That is one area I have heard presented as to why NASCAR is not as red hot as it once was. There was a time a few members of my family would gather for some of the big races, or any race, to cheer and sneer at our favorites. A half dozen of us were in Daytona to see Kevin Harvick claim the race in 2007. Now, we do not gather, or even speak much of the race that was, or the one coming up. Some do not even watch that much anymore. What happened to the passion?
Sadly, that lack of passion might go way beyond my family or yours. Do you remember those old “How bad have you got it” promos? Where did they go? What happened to those great commercials that featured NAPA and UPS and Allstate? Even one of those Enterprise commercials with Junior would be a welcome step back in time, and they once were the poor sisters of those classic productions. Did we all get bored with it, the fans, the sponsors, NASCAR itself and just said to hell with it?
There has been change. The cars are not what they once were. We replaced what was with the Car of Tomorrow in March of 2007 and then the Gen 6 model last season. They were supposed to be safer and less costly, but also provide even better racing. The last model looks better, but I still do not think they got a handle on improving the racing and drumming up the drama. We so often hear how track position means everything, when we want it to be the better driver with the better car with the better team that determines the outcome.
Obviously, the cars had to change. We lost Dale Earnhardt in 2001, and not a single driver since in Cup. However, without the changes, I firmly believe that would not have been the case. Sometimes change is good. Like the points system, where 43rd gets a point and first gets 43, plus one for leading, plus another for leading the most laps, and 3 more for winning. I prefer 25 for winning, but improvement is good as we seek perfection.
The Chase is good. As a traditionalist, I would prefer to reward the best team, and I am sure the 2007 New England Patriots would agree with me. The New York Giants? Probably not so much. Things happen in the playoffs. A change I would make would be to reduce the regular season to 31 races, as it has been in the past, the last time in 1998. Then, I would institute a five race playoff, inviting only the best 20 in points, all starting fresh while everyone else goes home. One to 20 points for the contenders each race, with the winner getting a 12 point bonus, with the best after five races wining the title. If nothing else, it is a proposal that should provide somebody with something to argue about. Maybe even a spark of passion.
By the way, the good old days were not always so great. Ned Jarrett winning the 1965 Southern 500 by 14 laps might be part of NASCAR lore, but imagine the nightmare that would be today. Rookie Buren Skeen died that day, one of 28 who we lost in the top tier in the fifty years from 1952 to 2001. Thank God and some engineering we have gone more than 13 years without another such tragedy in the division.
In the end, it is up to NASCAR and its partners to return the passion. If fans can go berserk over watching a basketball game or a soccer match, surely they can present cars racing in close quarters up to and over 200 miles per hour in such a fashion that passion is rekindled. Where is the fun that was Inside Winston Cup, where three good ole boys invited us to listen to their views on the latest race, to tell their stories, to inform us, and make us laugh. Where is the successor to Ken Squier up in the broadcast booth painting a narrative of the action, almost allowing us to smell the smoke and the fuel? Where are the commercials that defied a fan to reach for the remote and not laugh at the twentieth time as the collector dumped the pieces of the 1990 Bristol car before Mikey’s wide eyes for signing? How bad did I have it? Bad enough to want it again.
Even our little experiment of bumping the win bonus from three to 25 points would fail to keep us all gaping at the tube through to Homestead without some kind of reset. For example, Brad Keselowski has the same number of wins as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr, but would sit a good 80 points back. While that might be indicative as to who is running the best this season, it might leave something to be desired if Gordon or Junior are not exactly your cup of tea. A real playoff for only playoff contenders might prove to be one of the solutions we seek.
1 – Jeff Gordon – 3 Wins – 881 Points
2 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 3 – 879
3 – Brad Keselowski – 3 – 799
4 – Joey Logano – 2 – 758
5 – Jimmie Johnson – 3 – 752
6 – Kevin Harvick – 2 – 731
7 – Carl Edwards – 2 – 723
8 – Matt Kenseth – 0 – 709
9 – Ryan Newman – 0 – 679
10 – Clint Bowyer – 0 – 672
11 – Greg Biffle – 0 – 660
12 – Kasey Kahne – 0 – 651
13 – Kyle Busch – 1 – 642
14 – Austin Dillon – 0 – 638
15 – Kyle Larson – 0 – 636
16 – Marcos Ambrose – 0 – 616
17 – Paul Menard – 0 – 614
18 – Denny Hamlin – 1 – 611
19 – Brian Vickers – 0 – 598
20 – Jamie McMurray – 0 – 596