Tom Time: Cue the Wish List; Five Things I’d Like to See in NASCAR’s Near Future

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CHARLOTTE, N.C.- – Column By Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker – Photo Credit   –

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series banquet took place last Friday, and with the final words from the stage came the checkered flag both on the season and on Jeff Gordon’s “transcendent” (thank you, Tom Cruise) career.

There is still the matter of the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and NASCAR Regional Touring Series banquets, which are coming up this weekend in Charlotte, N.C., but the National Series’ final laps have all been run for the season and those involved are no doubt beginning to enjoy the short break in the action before it all cranks up again at Daytona in February.

All of us as fans have things we’d like to see in the upcoming NASCAR season, and I thought I’d stop for a few minutes in the midst of our own holiday planning and jot down five things on my NASCAR wish list for 2016 and beyond. I know some of them aren’t possible at this point for next year, but that’s OK.  Food for thought for the next half-decade.

Consistent restart rules — Why is it that we’ve gotten away from the principal that the flagger starts the race? When did this whole “restart box” idea ever get to be OK? I think we have enough other things for NASCAR’s race officials to be worrying about besides whether or not someone hit the gas six inches before the box or spun the tires and the other guy was already going forward. Let’s go back to the flagger starts, and if you go before he throws the green, you get a warning the first time and penalized the second time.

Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier than the nonsense we’re having now at all levels of the sport with these silly boxes?

More diversity between the three national series — Let’s put the Trucks back on some of the nicer “short tracks” in the nation and get back to what that series was supposed to be when it was created. How much fun would a NCWTS race at Bowman Gray Stadium be where maybe the Myers Brothers, Tim Brown, John Holleman and some other regulars could jump in and do battle with the series regulars?  Would it be a wreckfest? Probably! But it sure would be more entertaining than some of the 1.5 milers where there’s little passing and still a pretty fair number of yellows.

Greenville-Pickens, Lake Erie (Pa.) Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly Indianapolis Raceway Park), Hickory Motor Speedway and Concord Speedway’s half-mile would all make for some good old fashioned short track racing for this series and, if they would replace some of the intermediate shows, reduce the cost and make it easier for more of the “local heroes” to get involved like the dirt track guys do at Eldora.

And while we’re at it — add the dirt track at Charlotte Motor Speedway to the schedule as well so we have two dirt tracks, and a couple of road courses.

For the XFINITY Series, I’d also like a couple of short tracks, but I’d like to see at least one or two more road courses and I’d also like to see this series have at least one “all-star” type non-points race where you have a “team driving” element to it like the Australian V8 Supercars Championship does at Bathurst. How about at Daytona in July on their road course?  The only rule would be that two Cup racers could not team up together. It has to be at least one XFINITY Series regular and either a Cup regular or a road course specialist. This could be entertaining and, again, something different from the normal format that could give some of the younger drivers a valuable experience for the future.

I am already excited about the new (less) aero package for the Sprint Cup Series for next year, so I don’t know if there’s much to do here with their schedule. In general, I think we run far too many 1.5 mile races and wish they’d run less but that’s just not going to happen. At least with the new package the racing should improve on those tracks, and I am really excited about the rookie class as well.

Chase Elliott vs. Ryan Blaney for Rookie of the Year should be a thriller, and I could see both of them making the, ahem, “Chase” by winning a race as well.

Tony Stewart running up front and being competitive in his final year — I don’t think this is too much to ask for. The new package should definitely help him because it makes the cars more throttle-responsive. A fired-up “Smoke” (see what I did there?) going out on a winning note and looking more like his old self would surely make it more fun for the fans because he’d be that much more relaxed and loose with the media, and you know what that means…great quotes!

It’s going to be hard enough to not see ole’ Gordon in the No. 24 next year. Not seeing Smoke in the No. 14 in 2017 is going to be even worse, although it will be to the benefit of a lot of short track races that he’ll probably go and do once his Cup obligations are no longer a factor.

Junior finally winning a championship — I know there are a number of Intimidator fans who went with Harvick or someone else over Junior in 2001 and that’s fair enough, but those who say Junior cannot drive or doesn’t deserve a title are as wrong as a football bat. From the day Steve Letarte showed up in No. 88 colors, Junior began to mature into the driver and leader that he is today and this sport is much better off for that. He has been on the verge for the past two seasons, and if Hendrick Motorsports can get back that extra little bit that they seemed to have lost this year to the JGR and Penske camps, I definitely believe Junior can get the job done.

I’d love to see Junior get the championship monkey off his back because it would return the Cup to the sport’s Southern roots for the first time since 1999 when Dale Jerrett pulled it off and it would draw a lot of national media attention at the same time.

No Cup drivers in the lower series — I’m going to keep saying this until someone hears me and makes it happen. I don’t think the XFINITY Series benefits one bit from Cup racers winning 24 of the 33 races like they did this year. People keep saying the tracks need those drivers to draw crowds but that’s nonsense because it isn’t working. The top 10 drivers in XFINITY Series points combined for exactly six wins. It’s basically Cup Lite.

Each series should have its own identity and its own stars. Combination races are great but there should be more difference in each one’s schedule, and ways to cut costs in the Truck and XFINITY Series should be pursued as well so the market opens up for more teams to participate and be competitive.

It has been my opinion for many years now that when NASCAR decided to expand their market nationally by building tracks in other markets they did it with the wrong size tracks. They chose to duplicate 1.5 mile tracks because they hold more seats and VIP boxes.  They should have chosen to duplicate tracks under a mile because the racing is more exciting and entertaining. Then, maybe you’d have 20 facilities with waiting lists for tickets like you had at Bristol for years.

Now they’re “right-sizing” at these bigger facilities by pulling out seats that they never really should have had in the first place. The goal in business is always to create a scenario where demand exceeds supply. NASCAR did just the opposite.

To their credit, however, NASCAR began this year to really listen to the drivers in the rules package and trying to correct the restarts. They have also given the tracks a five-year scheduling plan that will help the facilities provide more attractive marketing options for corporations and ensure their stability.

The Chase format, despite the catcalls from those who complain about NASCAR no matter what, has drawn more outside media interest for the championship than ever. Maybe it hasn’t increased the TV ratings as much as some had hoped but I don’t believe going back to a system where all Chris Buescher had to do was finish 13th or better, or all Erik Jones had to do was finish 15th or better, is going to suddenly bring all those Chase critics back to the TV sets for Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead next year.

There you have it. My five wishes for NASCAR in 2016.

Now, the only question that remains is: what are yours?

 

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