I recently read a post on TDN.com from a respected writer about the state of NASCAR and what it could do to improve ratings and fan engagement.
While I agree with some of its points, it had some discrepancies that bothered me. First of all, the writer said that one of the problems was that three drivers had combined to win 16 of 21 races. Later on, the same writer claimed that the battle between the top three drivers should be something to celebrate.
So which is it? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Throughout the history of NASCAR there have been dominant drivers. “Anyone but Earnhardt” was heard often in the 80s. Jimmie Johnson was blamed for fans turning away as he dominated the Cup series on his way to 7 championships. There have only been a few times where three drivers have battled for supremacy in the Cup series and we are witnessing another now. For me, that is something worth celebrating and embracing instead of claiming it is a problem for NASCAR.
Earlier in the year, NASCAR and mainstream NASCAR media were pumping up the young guns as the best thing since sliced bread. Veteran drivers took umbrage with that. While NASCAR does have a talented group of young drivers who have yet to proves themselves, it is the veterans in the prime of their career that are taking it to the rest of the field showing them how it is done. The younger drivers are doing OK, but they have won a combined total of two races this season. Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and Erik Jones won the Coke Zero Sugar 400, also at Daytona. Both are restrictor plate races.
NASCAR is supposed to be about celebrating and promoting winning, not almost winning.
Of course as the season has progressed, the NASCAR mainstream media started asking if perhaps NASCAR promoted the young guns too mush at the expense of the veterans. The thinking is that fans who bought into the youth movement were disillusioned and turned away when they weren’t winning.
Yeah, sure, that happened. All three fans that were in line.
This was not just NASCAR, but the media who feed at the NASCAR trough who bought into this hook line and sinker without proof the youth movement was ready for all the hype. They are just as, if not more, responsible for the storylines we heard and any loss of fans that happened because Chase Elliott hasn’t yet won a race. Close but no cigar is about as well as the young guns have generally run, second place is just the first loser.
Instead of writing about the lack of other winners, how about pumping up the intensity of the current battle, history in the making folks! Build up some drama around the fact that there are just a few races left for someone, anyone, to knock off the Big Three. Sure, winning in the playoffs still means you won a race but is anticlimactic if you are not in the playoffs. Kind of like kissing your cousin. If a driver who hasn’t won can pull a Tony Stewart on the way to Homestead, now there you have even more drama.
While I am not a fan of the current playoff system, one thing it does provide is that it is not a given the Big Three will be among the final four competing for the title. No one is handing the trophy to Harvick, Busch or Truex quite yet. They still have to battle it out with the rest of the field for wins and points to advance through each round.
While having great young talent is good for the future of the sport, right now we need to take pleasure in watching three of the best drivers vie for 2018 supremacy.
To quote the great Bill Walton, “enjoy the season.”
(Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media)