Back to Basics What NASCAR Needs
Boys, have at it and have a good time. Those were the words of NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton last week as the sanctioning body announced new rule changes designed to re-energize the sport.
NASCAR announced that it will relax some on-track rules, putting racing back in drivers' hands this year, and at the same time encourage drivers to show more emotion and aggression. The moves are in response to complaints from fans and competitors that the competition had grown stale.
The first rule change that fans and competitors will see will come in two weeks when the season kicks off at Daytona, where the ban on bump-drafting has been lifted and the cars will have the largest restrictor plates in over 20 years, meaning more horsepower there and at Talladega.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said the loosening of on-track reins is another step in enhancing competition and back-to-basics racing.
>"Over the past 10 years, we've dramatically increased safety, and that mission continues," he said. "However, it's time for us to allow the drivers to drive. We don't want the rules and regulations to get in the way of great racing and fantastic finishes.
"NASCAR is a contact sport. Our history is based on banging fenders."
Now that is something that I can get behind. The racing sans bump-drafting at Daytona and Talladega has been downright boring.
NASCAR also is addressing the fan complaint that the drivers have become way too sponsor-driven and vanilla, not allowed to show any real emotion. Any little dust-up between drivers was met with swift and decisive retribution from NASCAR President Mike Helton. "Being called to the trailer" became part of the NASCAR lexicon that meant someone was in trouble - like being called to the principal's office.
Quite a departure from the halcyon days of old, when it wasn't a race until some driver or crew chief got into a scuffle in the pits with some other driver or crew chief.
France assured the assembled masses at the media tour last Thursday that he would "loosen it up" when it came to dealing with drivers who show emotion and a little aggression on or off the track. But Helton said it won't be a free-for-all.
"It doesn't mean that you get a free pass-out-of-jail card," he said. "But it certainly means that what we are encouraging the competitors ... for their character and their personality, within reason, to be unfolded."
In an effort to move away from the freaky matchbox car look of the last couple of years, NASCAR also announced a significant change to the Sprint Cup car, including replacing the wing currently mounted on the rear of the car with a spoiler. Goodbye Fast and Furious crap.
I know I may probably be one of the more cynical race fans who still calls himself a fan, but I am going to give NASCAR a great big kudos for these moves. NASCAR grew by being a slightly roughneck sport featuring men who weren't afraid to mix it up a bit on and off the track, with cars that didn't have big gaudy wings on the back (except for the Superbird. That thing was awesome).
Moving back to those roots may just be what the sport needs right now.
Contact Andy Cagle by e-mail at email@example.com.
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