Each week SB Nation’s NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t get fans. All I’ve heard for the last several years is that they no longer cared about NASCAR because the racing wasn’t good, but even now with a bunch of great races this season not many are watching. What gives? I’m starting to think NASCAR fans just like to complain for the sake of complaining and unless everything is like it was 25 years ago they’re going to be upset.
Welcome to NASCAR in 2017, Brian. Thanks to the prevalence of social media, never before have fans had a stronger voice than they do now whether it’s expressing their displeasure with a particular rules package, officiating decisions, the length of races, etc. Same as it is with all sports.
To its credit, NASCAR not only listens, it’s shown a willingness to act in accordance with what its customers want — even if said fan base often has wishes that contradict what it sought previously.
But why television ratings and attendance continue to go down despite the improved on-track product, cannot be explained by simply stating fans are fickle and prefer to complain above all else.
The issues facing NASCAR are complex, without a magic cure-all. In addition to the heightened quality of racing, which it has, there is also a need to entice those who’ve grown disenfranchised with the sport to return, develop marketing campaigns to attract a younger audience, and satisfy factors with competing interests (tracks, television, sponsors, car owners, drivers, and manufacturers). Everything is a delicate balance with myriad moving parts, and each having a domino effect often bringing unintended consequences.
Yes, more needs to be done; particularly concerning the overly long schedule that stretches from February to November. And yes, NASCAR would like to see a more immediate positive impact related to ratings and ticket sales, as would many diehard fans who are worried their favorite sport is rapidly heading off the cliff.
What’s key through in is this era of transition is patience, with also the acceptance things may get worse before they get better.
Dale Jr. pretty much has to win now if he’s going to make the playoffs, right? And is this even a possibility with how this year’s gone?
Heading into Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. repeatedly said he didn’t require a win, stressing a string of good finishes would be enough to vault him up the standings into playoff contention. An understandable belief when taking into account how many points a driver can earn in a given race between stage bonus points and finishing well overall.
But coming off a disappointing 22nd-place finish Sunday on a track where he’s expected to do well and now 25th in the standings, it’s clear Earnhardt’s most straight-forward path to a playoff berth is via winning. Sure, he could start racking up a bunch of points, except there is little evidence to suggest the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team has this kind performance in them. Evident by Earnhardt having just a single top 10 and an average finish of 24th through 10 races.
Beginning with this weekend at Kansas Speedway, what the No. 88 team needs to do is replicate the aggressive, go-for-broke mentality Steve Letarte employed while calling races during his final year as Earnhardt’s crew chief in 2014. In addition to producing Earnhardt’s best season in a decade, that blueprint instilled overwhelming confidence where any adversary would be faced head on and successfully overcome.
Although some of Ives’ aggressive decisions may end up backfiring and costing Earnhardt additional points, so be it. Winning is what matters at this juncture if a spot in the playoffs is to become a reality. And with plenty of upcoming races where pit strategy often factors into the outcome (two races apiece at Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway, plus two road courses) there is no shortage of opportunities for the No. 88 team to grab a victory.
Is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s win a fluke or it an actual sign that Roush Fenway Racing is on its way back?
Considering Talladega’s deserved reputation for seeing unlikely winners — 11 drivers have scored their first win at the Alabama speedway — it’s fair to wonder if Stenhouse’s triumph is an accurate indicator of whether Roush is coming out of its long drought. Only time will provide the definitive answer to that question.
Supporting the belief that Roush has turned around its fortunes, there were indicators before Sunday that a breakthrough was afoot. Propelled by the team building faster cars, Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne have improved their average finishes by five and three positions, respectively, and Talladega represented Stenhouse’s third consecutive top-10 and fifth in seven races.
It’s entirely possible Roush levels off after a promising opening to the season, similar to what occurred a year ago. But until that happens, let’s give the organization the benefit of the doubt and let the team enjoy its moment in the sun.