Monday, August 03, 2009

Commissioner For A Day: NASCAR

Commissioner For A Day is an ongoing series which will spotlight possible changes to improve the sports we all love. Today, The Ciskie Blog tackles issues facing NASCAR.

When NASCAR started phasing in the Car of Tomorrow in 2007, it seemed like a really good idea. They trumpeted the safety of the new car, while also making it clear that the rules regarding the COT would make it easier for smaller teams to remain competitive.

In the third year of the new car, it's obvious NASCAR only got it half right.

Unfortunately, that's not the only major problem NASCAR is trying to deal with as they try to adapt their sport to a crappy economy that's affected race teams, race tracks, and race fans.

It's time to make NASCAR better. Here's the plan.

Take the COT back to the drawing board.

There is a new car model that will be used in the Nationwide Series starting in 2010. Reviews are positive so far, and perhaps NASCAR can use things that have been learned from that design to modify or overhaul the current Cup car.

It's bad enough that NASCAR seems to run 30 of its Cup races on 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks (no, it's not really that bad), and the COT generally sucks on those tracks. What's worse is when they try to race at Indy, Pocono, or Michigan, and the racing gets drawn out and relatively boring.

A good example of the problems facing NASCAR is last weekend's Brickyard 400. From lap 44 until around 110, it was a struggle to find any quality racing for position or green-flag passing. Oh, and pretty much that entire segment was run under green-flag conditions. That doesn't work for paying customers, television viewers, or broadcasters.

The car model is a big part of the problem. So is ...

Set up a rotation of racetracks on the Cup schedule.

Sorry, Long Pond. Pocono Raceway has not produced a compelling, interesting, entertaining race in years. It's time to try something else.

The same can be said for Auto Club Speedway in California.

There's no denying that these are important stops for NASCAR. Anything within a short flight of the New York and Los Angeles areas have an advantage, no matter how bad the racing is. Can the sport do better, though, than two stops at each during the season?

If you ask NASCAR fans, there are a few tracks they'll talk about as being perhaps not worthy of hosting races every season.

Others want more road courses, short tracks, or big ovals for their favorites to race on.

This idea is simple. You designate "untouchable tracks", places that will keep their races on the schedule every season, and will not have to worry about rotating off at any point. These tracks would be:

Daytona (2 races per season)
Las Vegas (1)
Bristol (2)
Martinsville (2)
Phoenix (2)
Richmond (2)
Dover (2)
Darlington (1)
Chicagoland (1)
Indianapolis (1)
Sonoma (1)
Watkins Glen (1)
Kansas (1)
Talladega (2)
Charlotte (2)
Homestead-Miami (1)
New Hampshire (2)

That's 26 races. 10 races remain in a 36-race season. The following tracks that currently host races are not on the above list.

Pocono (2)
Michigan (2)
Texas (2)
California (2)
Atlanta (2)

Let's not stop. There are some other tracks that could be worthy of hosting Sprint Cup events, just not every year. Among them:

Iowa Speedway
Kentucky Speedway
Road America

Also, account for tracks that already have one race, but could justify hosting two.

Las Vegas

NASCAR has options. Instead of running the same schedule every year, and allowing its Sprint Cup dates to be handed out to the same, boring tracks, they can mix things up.

It's not about abandoning traditional stops. It's about letting some new tracks into the rotation to freshen things up.

One year, go to Kentucky instead of a second California race. The next year, maybe let California have two races.

There's no reason to send two races a year to tracks like California and Michigan that can't sell out races. Similarly, there's no reason to hold back Nationwide tracks like Kentucky that are getting great support.

It's an idea that would not be popular with the establishment, which is another reason to make it happen.

Start seriously discouraging Sprint Cup drivers from working the Nationwide Series.

It's simple. Drivers scheduled to run more than 20 Sprint Cup races in a season are not eligible to win the Nationwide points title.

The Nationwide Series doesn't need to be a minor league, necessarily, but it also doesn't need to be Cup Light. It operates at its best when Cup drivers compete part-time, and drivers like Brad Keselowski and Jason Leffler get a chance to shine.

Obviously, as long as points titles and races are won by Cup competitors, the series isn't ever going to reach its full potential.

Find television partners that give a crap about the sport.

When TNT airs races, they might be called by a relatively annoying presence in Bill Weber, but it's clear that they are all-in trying to have some fun covering the race. They let the fans into the broadcast booth with more interaction than any other NASCAR TV partner.

And after six races, they fade back into re-running bad movies and Law and Order.

Before them, you have FOX. They may have the best NASCAR play-by-play man on television in Mike Joy, but they employ two blowhard analysts in the booth, and their "Hollywood Hotel" is manned by one guy who is decent (Jeff Hammond) and a guy who usually looks like he's being tortured with this horrific racing duty (Chris Myers).

FOX's idea of innovation is an animated gopher, and they spend most of their races fellating Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

After TNT's "Summer Series", ESPN takes over. They like to show the points leaders, regardless of their position on the track, and they've taken quite a liking to in-car cameras and close-up shots that don't show any racing.

Maybe they don't think fans can see the car numbers, because their announcers are constantly referring to guys by their car number instead of just their name. Of course, any fan who has watched more than three races probably can figure out that Kyle Busch drives car No. 18.

Fans could get past boring play-by-play announcer Jerry Punch were it not for whoever it is in the truck that insists on showing all the closeups.

The fact that none of these problems have gone away in the time FOX and ESPN have carried races shows that neither network cares much for the product they are airing. Either that, or they're listening to the wrong focus groups.

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