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WAID’S WORLD: Talladega Great Show; Ideas On How NASCAR Can Have More

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The Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was widely praised as a great race.

It had all the ingredients: High speeds, three-to-four abreast racing and, alas, the “big one” that has become a part of Talladega tradition, though not a popular one.

And it had, in Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a first-time winner. That happens a lot at the 2.66-mile track and is a decidedly popular tradition.

I do not know what tactics the folks at Talladega used to lure fans, but they were obviously good ones.

I add two thoughts: The wild, unpredictable races at the speedway always attract attention.

And Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a titan to fans at Talladega.

All that aside, the point is NASCAR, indeed, CAN stage good races in front of packed grandstands. It has to do so regularly to escape the doldrums.

Brace yourself. Here are some more ideas as to how that can be done:

 

— Shorten the races that need it, even some that may not.

 It strengthens the importance of segment racing and can, logically, cut down on long periods of a lack of competition and fan boredom.

Charlotte Motor Speedway has always done an excellent job of making the Coca-Cola 600 a spectacle. It will do so again this season.

But it could easily lop off 200 miles in distance. Drivers will tell you they spend at least that many miles doing nothing.

Incidentally, tracks that do shorten races should trim ticket prices accordingly – or add more fan entertainment.

 

— Reshape the schedule so that a race on a road course is included in the 10-race playoff. Yes, there are different styles of tracks involved, from short tracks to superspeedways to a preponderance of “cookie cutter” facilities of a mile and a half.

Fans have clamored for a road course. To have one in the playoff clearly establishes it as one that requires drivers to compete on the full diversity of NASCAR’s speedways.

And thus it is a stronger challenge for a potential champion.

 

— I do hold the opinion that NASCAR’s drivers have to be able to be themselves, to speak freely and react to adversity on the track as they please – confrontations, fisticuffs (mostly attempted) or virtually anything else man-to-man.

I think the sanctioning body agrees to a point and therefore generates no consequences when there is a scuffle in the pits.

However, speaking of consequences, they must be the harshest ever when competitors use cars as weapons of revenge. There is no place for this no matter where it is done – the track, on pit road or even the garage area.

Cars as weapons can, and do, create serious damage. More frightening they can cause injury – not only to a driver but also to anyone else who, unfortunately, came within striking distance.

NASCAR has to make a judgment as to fault and apply a strong ruling that penalizes and sends a message that such tactics will not be tolerated; not tolerated by any measure.

The rule has to be applied unfailingly and to every driver, even Austin Dillon.

 

— Revamp qualifying. I’m not sure the new system has created any more excitement or interest. It’s somewhat awkward to follow.

Let’s add a fact. With rare exceptions, qualifying has never been a real fan favorite or a speedway moneymaker. In my estimation only the Can-Am Duels at Daytona offer any kind of punch.

Over the years speedways have tried to spice up qualifying. At Martinsville, for example, H. Clay Earles held time trials for the top 10 positions on a Thursday with the remainder of the field filled the next day.

It was an adaptation of the two-day qualifying system NASCAR utilized for years but was eventually, and thankfully, scrapped.

Recover the old qualifying system, the one in which cars singly go out and try to post the fastest speed.

But why not spice it up? Why not consider rewarding points to the top five drivers? Sure, top qualifiers have perks, but, hey, this might make it more compelling.

Speedways will certainly inquire how a return to the old system will put fans in the stands.

To be honest that is up to them. They have to consult “Humpy Wheeler’s Guide To Imaginative Track Promotion” and take some lessons. Not sure they have done that lately.

Maybe NASCAR could get in on this. Why not require three drivers to sign autographs for ticket-buying fans on qualifying day at an agreeable time? And it needs to be sure some of those drivers rank among the elite. Sound crazy? It has been done – but not on a regular basis.

Yeah, yeah, I know. All of this might sound a little far-fetched. But the truth of the matter is that qualifying cannot stand alone. It has to have means to lure the interest, and attendance, of the fans.

 

— Finally, I add this:

When corporations and other businesses – especially those that are publicly owned and under the control of a board of directors – see a downturn in production and profits, one method used to reverse the situation is to install new leadership.

When things aren’t going as they should eventually a company determines that it needs to replace one or more of its officers.

You have read or seen many times reports that a company sliding down a slippery slope has replaced its CEO  – perhaps others.

Or the CEO, and others, see the inevitable and voluntarily step down.

I am suggesting that the time may come when NASCAR, even though it is not a publicly held entity, has to shake up its leadership.

This is not a condemnation of its CEO, Brian France, or any other top official.

It is only to say that eventually NASCAR may realize it needs to be infused with a new direction, complete with fresh ideas and strategies that will allow it to rise to what it once was – and routinely have races that match what we saw at Talladega.

And perhaps the only way to do that is to find and install new leaders.

Perhaps.

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.