042_RA0310 1/27/10 9:51 AM
NASCAR GETS A MAKEOVER
42 MARCH 2010
043_RA0310 1/27/10 9:52 AM
What made NASCAR great – the quality of the
racing and the inter-driver and inter-marque
rivalries – dwindled in 2009. Changes were
needed now, and NASCAR has responded.
By Tom Jensen
Main Image Nigel Kinrade/LAT
or most of its history, NASCAR’s stance on problems and public
F controversies has been to emulate Dr. Pangloss, Voltaire’s philosophy
professor from Candide: Or Optimism. When times got tough, NASCAR,
like Pangloss, tended to fall back on the belief that everything happens for the
best in this best of all possible worlds. Or at least that was their public position.
And that makes the afternoon of Jan. 21 all the more remarkable. Coming off a
year when television ratings declined for the third straight season, attendance
sagged and public criticism intensified that the Sprint Cup Series had become
boring and predictable, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian Z. France stood up at
the sanctioning body’s Concord, N.C., research and development facility and
announced not only drastic rules changes, but an even more drastic philosophical
shift: Let boys be boys and race the way they used to back in the day.
NASCAR being NASCAR, France stopped well short of admitting the
sanctioning body had a problem, but it was clear that the changes were in direct
response to fan complaints that the racing had gotten sterile.
“We have got the best racing in the world, and what are the things that we
can do to make it better?” France said. “What are the things that we can do to
open it up a little bit? What are the rules packages that are available to us, with
all of the things that we have to balance, but what are those things?”
In the short term, NASCAR is replacing the rear wings on Sprint Cup cars with
more traditional four-inch blade spoilers, giving the drivers bigger restrictor
plates to create better throttle response and greatly loosening the grip on drivers.
Bump drafting is OK now, and so is showing some emotion, even anger.
Also under consideration are further changes to the car, including possible
modifications to the front splitter. But the fact that NASCAR would entertain
modifying the new-generation car it introduced in 2007 was an indication just
how serious the sanctioning body has gotten about re-engaging fans.
“To change that [wing to a spoiler] is a huge step for NASCAR because
Bumper to bumper, but what
about fender to fender? The lack of
true racing was painfully obvious
at the usually thrilling Talladega.