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WAID’S WORLD: NASCAR Not Dead Yet But Treatment Is Needed

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The departure of Lowe’s as the principal sponsor for the Hendrick Motorsports team and driver Jimmie Johnson means, judging from some opinions, that another nail has been driven into NASCAR’s coffin.

Lowe’s has been in stock car racing since 1997 and its logo adorned Johnson’s Chevrolet through all seven of his championships.

So for the company to leave NASCAR after all the time it has been a part of it and after such immeasurable on-track success – which translated into millions of dollars in free advertising and marketing – is another indication of how the sport is on life support.

That might be, but don’t pull the plugs yet. NASCAR ain’t dead. But it does require resuscitation.

owe’s told us that it was going to develop new strategies when it came to spending its money and hence, its departure from NASCAR.

I believe that. NASCAR’s attendance and television numbers are down and the retail industry is suffering. It’s logical that Lowe’s concentrate on different, and perhaps cheaper, means of marketing.

Its decision is nothing new. Sponsors have done the same for years. But there is cause.

I think NASCAR’s slump from its heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s comes from several sources, most of which were, and are today, in the sanctioning body’s control.

After Matt Kenseth won the 2003 championship in a season in which he won only one race, NASCAR was again criticized by fans that railed the point system needed an overhaul.

The next season NASCAR came up with the Chase, a 10-race playoff that was designed to inject drama into a championship battle while, at the same time, become a means for combating football’s TV dominance in the fall.

As you are aware, there have been numerous changes since, none of which has tempered the mood of the fans that claim gimmicks are not the way to determine a title.

Perhaps in 2004 a simple adjustment to the way points are awarded could have made a more welcome difference.

That said, I offer the opinion that if not in 2004, sooner or later NASCAR would have had to change its championship format. Television would force its hand.

I maintain that no matter how points are awarded the specter of a championship won before the final race of any season would be present.

It has been that way throughout NASCAR’s history, with rare exceptions. TV is not going to spend the kind of money it is for exceptions. And I daresay fans would not be happy with exceptions.

A controversial championship format is not the only thing that has alienated NASCAR. The admittedly noble rule and technical changes it made after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 did not end there.

It seems that an uncountable number of alterations have made since – in the offseason, during a season and to the race car itself. Consider the ill-fated Car of Tomorrow.

Rule changes may be good for safety and competition (and thus needed) but to many fans the high number of them give the appearance that NASCAR doesn’t really know what it is doing. It can’t get anything right the first time

Expanding its venues to places like Las Vegas, Kansas City and Chicago might have increased NASCAR’s base, and its lure for television, but to chop off events in the Carolinas alienated its core fans that felt they were snubbed after years of loyalty.

These are the same fans that do not like format or rule changes. They will also tell you they miss the “run what you brung” days, the constant duel between owners, crew chiefs and NASCAR inspectors and the time when drivers had real personalities.

Speaking of personalities if more of them were to emerge it could only benefit NASCAR. As successful as Johnson has been, many fans suggest he is boring.

Personally, Johnson may not be a firebrand but he’s not boring.

Still, NASCAR’s most riveting personality in the past, among many, was Earnhardt. His son filled the role but was never as successful. Danica Patrick might have been criticized for a lack of success, but she was a female and marketing magnet.

The sanctioning body has its villains but it needs its future icon – a driver with charisma who can win races. You know there are young candidates already out there. If one of them emerges it could mean a bump in popularity for NASCAR.

There are many more theories from many more sources about NASCAR’s seemingly imminent demise.

But put all of it aside.

Let’s not disregard those diminishing veteran fans. In addition to their disapproval of so many NASCAR changes they remember the days of The King, The Intimidator, The Silver Fox, The Alabama Gang, The Skoal Bandit and Awesome Bill.

Their numbers are shrinking. And younger fans are not replacing them. This is a fact.

I am certain the sanctioning body knows this.

And I am also certain it continues the hunt to find solutions.

Before it may be too late.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement   

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.