Friday, January 27, 2012

Finally, a NASCAR season without major changes

After years and years of changing nearly every aspect of the sport, NASCAR believes the 2011 season went well enough that everything will be pretty much the same for 2012.

Thankfully, during this year’s preseason media tour NASCAR officials didn’t announce any big changes to the points system or schedule, and it didn’t any issue mandates on how drivers should act.

Sure, the cars will run new electronic fuel injection engines, but that likely won’t create a noticeable difference in the racing.

Beyond that, the cars, points system, schedule and rules will be nearly exactly the same as last season, and that is a very good thing.

NASCAR has always been a sport that embraces change, but it really kicked the changes into high gear during the last decade.

Since 2000, the sport has brought in new tracks while eliminating others from the schedule, it has a different car model, a playoff format, new title sponsors in all three national touring series and a new points system, just to name a few.

Back when NASCAR started to make all of these changes, the sport was still growing in popularity and gaining more and more fans each year. Much of the talk at the time was how to make changes to the sport to continue to bring in new fans.

So, NASCAR dove in head first to making changes to spice up the sport. The competition changes began with the introduction of the Chase format in 2004 and ended with the double-file restarts that began in mid-2009.

In between, rules such as the Lucky Dog, wave-arounds and green-white-checkered finishes crept into the sport.

Now, not all of those changes are bad, and the sport will still be exciting and fun to watch regardless of the rules NASCAR puts together. The biggest problem with the changes was the amount of changes that happened in a relatively short period of time.

During that time, some fans simply became fatigued from all of the changes and decided to throw their hands up and skip out completely. It would likely take several races for a fan from 10 years ago to understand how the sport works these days.

It is difficult in any sport to build a fan base when the sport changes so much.

Yes, some fans go to races just for the experience of watching 43 racecars charge around the track at the same time, but a lot of fans have a passion for the sport that goes deeper than the simple sights and sounds of a race.

They want to understand what is happening in all aspects of the sport, from the drivers personalities to how the cars work to how teams prepare for a race, as well as the strategy involved throughout the event.

Unfortunately, the changes of the past decade have made it difficult for even the most die-hard fans to keep up.

The sport would likely be just fine if many of these changes had never been made. The sport survived for 50 or so years before everything changed, and it would have survived without them. There will always be a market for stock car racing, even though the size of that market could surely be debated for years.

NASCAR may have made more money during the 2000’s in part because of some of its changes, but it also shook up the fan base.

The only changes that absolutely had to be made were the introduction of the SAFER barriers at all tracks and the Car of Tomorrow. As much as people hated the look of the car, it has saved several drivers from serious injuries or worse. Plus, NASCAR will fix the ugly problem next year with the new 2013 car models.

For those who liked last season, get ready for what NASCAR hopes is more of the same.

For many, just having the same rules for two consecutive years will be a welcome experience.

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