Friday, September 17, 2021

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NASCAR Just Opened Pandora’s Box

When the rules package was first announced for the 2018 running of the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway I was ecstatic. I have been screaming for NASCAR to slow the cars down so they can more easily run side-by-side. When they announced this package it was met with a lot of doubt from the general public, with many saying that the cars would be either in one big wad just like Daytona or Talladega, or unable to pass at all in what some call “draft lock.”

Well, after what was a rousing and thrilling All-Star Race last night, this modified rules package is getting tons of praise from most everyone. It’s not perfect, and I will get to that in a bit. But the most interesting part of this entire subject is what NASCAR has done; they have essentially opened Pandora’s Box. In other words, they’ve squeezed all of the toothpaste out of the tube, and there’s absolutely no way to put it back in once it’s out there.

NASCAR just showed the general public what this type of package is capable of producing on the track. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. This package, ran with Monster Energy Cup cars, was an overwhelming success in the All-Star Race. I can’t even count how many All-Star Races it’s been since I was genuinely excited for the race, but I was bursting with excitement for this year’s running. I sat on the edge of my seat from lap one of the Open to the checkered flag of the feature, often squirming with excitement over what I was witnessing. I even uttered the word “wow” several times while watching the event unfold.

Now, NASCAR really has put themselves in a box. I even said this would happen several weeks ago when I predicted the race would be full of excitement. Once you put this out there and people get the taste for it you simply cannot go back to the norm. Many NASCAR beat writers, media, and others in the sport were clamoring for NASCAR to amend the rules for the Coca-Cola 600 before the All-Star Race had even concluded.

You have Chicagoland Speedway Tweeting, “If at all possible, we’ll take this package on July 1. Y’all cool with that?” with a GIF saying, “I’M BEGGING YOU. PLEASE.”

This is exactly what I thought was going to happen. Tracks, sponsors, and TV are going to be clamoring for the change to happen immediately. Drivers and some owners are going to resist it to the bitter end. But, the cat’s out of the bag. No matter how much kicking and screaming some of these drivers and owners do, I can’t see NASCAR not jumping on the opportunity to modify the racing as soon as humanly possible.

You have a few of the writers who will start yelling about the Charter rules say they can’t change the rules during the season. To that I say, “Just you watch!” At the end of the day if this rules package can produce better racing across the board, put more fans in front of the television sets, get more butts in the seats at the tracks, and even have tracks begging for this package there’s no way NASCAR can ignore this.

What I think will happen is that NASCAR will announce, due to the overwhelming positive feedback from the fans of this package, that they will modify a “portion” of the remaining races in 2018. I would bet on Chicago, Indianapolis, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pocono to get this package. Possibly even something similar at Daytona. This will be a happy medium that the series will try to get by with to appease both fans and owners/drivers. They will make modifications to this package as they go to try to get a better pull in the draft so it’s easier for the second car to actually pull out and pass the leader. NASCAR won’t implement this package in the Chase or many of the other events in 2018, but will look toward using a similar package throughout 2019 is what I’m predicting right now.

For those that were worried that it would be just like Daytona and Talladega you couldn’t have been more wrong. This honestly reminded me of the racing I loved in the 80s and early 90s. The cars can still spread out but they can also race very tightly with one another. The best cars still rise to the top but the drama is there with the close quarters racing and actual drafting and slingshotting the cars are capable of doing utilizing this rules package.

Usually you say the line in the sand has been drawn. However, I’d say it’s more appropriate to say that the line was just washed away by a tidal wave of positive feedback after the 2018 All-Star Race. If the drivers don’t like it, they can go find another hobby. I’m sure any of them that want to complain about it has hundreds of guys behind them that would love the opportunity at the big time. At the end of the day the current package is not getting it done. It’s really subpar and produces horrible racing in my opinion. The drivers should be looking at the stands and TV ratings and realizing that if something isn’t done it won’t matter what they think. They also should realize that more fans in the stands and more people watching on TV will lead to more merchandise sales, bigger TV contracts, and more sponsors wanting a piece of the pie. All of that equals more money in their pockets.

NASCAR, some say you unintentionally created a big problem. I say that NASCAR knew exactly what was going to happen at the All-Star Race. It’s a lot harder for drivers and owners to resist this change once it’s out there on display. What better place to display it than your All-Star Race? Now that you’ve cracked the door NASCAR, you don’t just need to kick it in. You need to blow that door right off the hinges. A shakeup has been needed for years, and this package, or a version of it, is the key to your long range success. You’re at the table holding a Royal Flush. Don’t blow this chance at turning NASCAR in a positive direction now. The decisions made over the next few days could have ramifications for years to come.

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