NASCAR: Chase Hasn’t Helped As Much As Low-Downforce

Edwards pulled out a great win over Brad Keselowski in Darlington over the weekend.

Edwards pulled out a great win over Brad Keselowski in Darlington over the weekend.

This coming weekend, Richmond is the last NASCAR domino to fall before the chain of qualifying events start to come into play. Has the Chase format and it’s subsequent tweaking over the years really helped NASCAR? My opinion is no. The numbers seem to support my opinion. Make the racing better with low down-force and tire packages for the tracks and tell everyone who hasn’t heard, how great the racing is. There is a formula for this sort of issue.

NASCAR suffers from the same problems that befall large corporations, whether they are public or private, and that is gridlock on decision and strategy. Why? Because everyone in their meetings is, no doubt, the smartest guy in the room.

There was a point, roughly two to three years ago, that it appeared as if the Chase would be effective in reviving the numbers of television viewers and those who might consider attending a NASCAR race. It had appeared to stop the bleeding, but the wound is open again and NASCAR is in full triage to stop it.

According to Sports Media Watch: “NASCAR Sprint Cup racing from Darlington drew a 3.4 overnight rating on NBC Sunday night, up 13% from the comparable Atlanta races last year and in 2013 (3.0 both years). Those telecasts aired on ESPN. According to NBC, the 3.4 is the highest for NASCAR on Labor Day weekend since 2007.”

The major networks do matter to NASCAR and it’s ability to effectively reach it’s fan base. Here’s the kicker: NASCAR is slowly returning to it’s status as a regional sport. It may never live in the obscurity that it once did, but make no mistake, the demographics are Southern.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 5, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 5, 2015 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)

What to do? You have to look around carefully at the way we consume media. Mobile and non-traditional means of sports consumption are rapidly moving to mainstream. The cable networks are sweating bullets over freshly minted pimply faced kids creating the next Hulu, Apple TV or Netflix to come along and poach the domain they thought would never end.

My opinion on the racing so far in the 2015 season is that it is demonstrably better and Darlington proved that out. Less down-force has a lot to do with it, however the reduction in horsepower, while designed to cause the drivers to roll faster through the corners, has had a slightly negative effect. They would be much more of a handful with that 100 HP back.

But is that all it takes? Put out a great product and the eyeballs will show up? Not a chance. IndyCar is the perfect example. Some of the best balls out racing on the planet right now and yes, they are growing. They had to, they had no where to go but up and upwards they’re headed, albeit slowly.

But, you have to start somewhere and low down-force seems to be the answer de Jour. According to Carl Edwards, winner at Darlington: “I think we’re at a bigger crossroads than most people realize,” Edwards said after winning the Southern 500. “We can go with a package that makes our cars easier to drive and have a (boring) Talladega every week.

“Or we can make them harder to drive and show off the massive talents of our drivers and crew chiefs in these races. I hope they go with the latter and stay with this package.”

Most drivers believe if NASCAR starts 2016 with the current package and then removes more down-force, the racing will be even better. If you remove enough down-force, then the horsepower issue is diminished.

We should all be looking to see who is going to be the breakout kid in the Chase segment of this years Championship, but we should also be concerned that NASCAR is marketing the improved product with a vengeance.

One can only hope.

 

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