MIELE: NASCAR Reminds Us That Change Is The Only Constant

Josef Miele Josef Miele Blog, NASCAR, Staff Columns 1 Comment

NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell announced NASCAR’s 2017 competition changes on Monday. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In present day NASCAR, it seems that change is the only thing that remains the same.

Seldom does one see a sport reinvent the way it is played, but NASCAR (in a way) did just that on Monday. To be fair, over the last decade, the sport has seen itself be totally revamped in a valiant effort to curb declining T.V. ratings and sagging interest among key demographics.

While “playoffs” and ever-evolving aerodynamic rules packages have helped to bring some of the excitement back to the sport, they have simply failed to move the needle when it comes to renewing interest in the sport. Whether you look on Reddit, Twitter or Facebook, the consensus is generally the same: the on-track product is lackluster and the playoff format fails to appease the fan base.

For years, they’ve begged for more exciting racing and a points system where the regular season means more.

After a year of testing different formats in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, it was obvious that Brian France and the powers that be were looking towards the future. Sprint’s departure and Monster Energy’s arrival made it all but clear that more change would come to our sport.

Cryptic tweets about bringing “the party” back to NASCAR coupled with hints of a format change threw NASCAR nation into a frenzy, but it didn’t at all come as a surprise.

When the long-anticipated changes dropped Monday, however, the surprise was palpable anyways.

The last living, breathing root of the sport was the format. Four- and five-hundred mile endurance races have been what defined NASCAR since its inception nearly 60 years ago.

But not anymore.

Instead of endurance racing, those long races are now being broken up into three segmented stages of racing.  Bonus points will be awarded to the top 10 finishers and segment [stage] winners. Playoff bonus points will be carried through to the Round of 8 in the playoffs. The regular season will mean more, and racing your guts out will become absolutely mandatory.

So, in a way the sport is losing its roots, but keeping them all at the same time.

The change is a bold one, one that comes with a great many risks in hopes of a sweet reward.  Many might argue that this is a catastrophic change – that you don’t just change the way the game is played.

I disagree.

NASCAR is a victim of the smartphone generation.  Few millenials can maintain their focus for an extended period of time, let alone for a four hour race, where passing is at a premium and wrecks are a rarity. NASCAR had to do something, and they did it right.

This wasn’t some deal thrown together by businessmen in a boardroom in Daytona or Charlotte, this was the work of a collaboration between the drivers, the tracks, industry leaders and the sanctioning body – people who see more than just the dollar signs.

On paper the format sounds foreign, but the reality is we really won’t notice that drastic of a difference. Cautions have always broken the events up. NASCAR has been running its races in stages for years.

The first example that comes to mind is from 2013, in the playoff race at Dover Int’l Speedway.  The 400-lap event saw four caution periods: three for debris and one for possible fluid.

400 laps divided by those four cautions equals (by the numbers, at least) four segments of 100 laps each. No one complained then. Why should they now?

Continued on the next page…

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