After years of working hard to control the drivers on and off the track, NASCAR may have realized that most fans don’t want to turn out or tune in to watch polite drivers drive around a track. The cry from fans to bring back the passion and conflict that made NASCAR fun to watch has been heard.
NASCAR announced Thursday that it will relax some on-track rules, putting racing back in drivers’ hands in 2010. The changes, which begin with next month’s season-opening events at Daytona International Speedway, will allow drivers to be even more competitive.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said the loosening of on-track reins is another step in enhancing competition and back-to-basics racing.
“Over the past 10 years we’ve dramatically increased safety and that mission continues. However, it’s time for us to allow the drivers to drive. We don’t want the rules and regulations to get in the way of great racing and fantastic finishes,” said France. “NASCAR is a contact sport – our history is based on banging fenders.”
One big change is that drafting rules will be eliminated at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway. That puts responsibility for on-track moves squarely back in drivers’ hands. Teams also will use a bigger restrictor plate at Daytona, which will give drivers more horsepower.
NASCAR also announced a significant change to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series new car, which will include replacing the wing currently mounted on the rear of the car with a spoiler. Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers became the first drivers to conduct an on-track test with a new aluminum spoiler package at Tuesday’s Goodyear Tire test at the Texas track.
A full-field test is scheduled for March 23-24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Following that, a decision on when to implement the spoiler will be made based on teams input. The switch from wing to spoiler will return to a more traditional stock-car look.
“Over the last couple of years, there have been dozens of changes to this car, with this being the most visible change,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition.
Fans have been slowly drifting away from NASCAR races as the economy got worse and the racing got predictable. Drivers were discouraged from expressing their displeasure with their fellow competitors.
At the end of the 2009 season a few driver feuds started brewing and the racing got more interesting for the fans. Although Jimmie Johnson claimed the title at Homestead, the race was as talked about for Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart bumping and banging each other as it was for Johnson’s feat.
NASCAR is trying to win its fans back with lower ticket prices, encouraging local hotels to lower prices and shorten required stays, and offering food and parking specials at the tracks. Putting the driving back in the hands of the ones who get paid to do it might just be the move that is needed to stop the fan exodus and restore the fun to the sport.