Opinion: NASCAR Needs to Continue to Mix It Up

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

opinion nascar needs to continue to mix it up

DuSable Lake Shore Drive is back open. The flooding has, hopefully, receded. The drivers are no doubt thinking about Atlanta.

Yet the Grant Park 220 that took place here in Chicago last weekend is still very much on my mind.

Not so much the race itself, though I think the event generally went well, and it was cool seeing a NASCAR rookie win in his first start.

Yes, sure, I am still thinking about what I saw and heard, and it was fun to go back and watch the broadcast replay to see what I missed as I roamed looking for photos. But I am also thinking bigger picture.

NASCAR’s first street race was a gamble, and it would’ve been no matter which city got the honor of hosting. Other series like IndyCar and Formula 1 have plenty of street-race experience, but NASCAR doesn’t.

Like with racing on dirt, racing in a football stadium, and expanding the number of road courses on the schedule, NASCAR decided to step out of its comfort zone a bit.

And I am all for it.

Yes, I am biased – as a semi-casual racing fan and Chicagoan, I was of course happy to see a race here. I hope the event remains part of Chicago’s social calendar for years to come. And if the street course goes away, I hope Chicago remains on the tour – and as a separate stop from Wisconsin-based tracks like Road America*. Maybe the Cup cars can return to Chicagoland Speedway.

*I love Road America and I believe NASCAR Cup cars should be racing there AND in Chicago. It sucks that the Cup skipped Road America this year, though Xfinity will still race there later this month. The Milwaukee and Chicago markets must be treated as separate Cup stops, in my opinion. I know the schedule is packed but NASCAR should make sure to have a stop in or near both cities each year.

Moreover, I want to see NASCAR continue to drift away, at least to an extent, from ovals.

In an ideal world, the Cup cars would race at several road courses – Road America, Watkins Glen, and Sonoma at a minimum, though I’d love to see Laguna Seca added to that list – while also having a street race or two, a few dirt-track races, and the Clash at the Coliseum. It is nice that the Cup series is now also racing at the Circuit of The Americas in Texas and had, by my count, six road/street/roval races this year.

Maybe an international race or two would be nice, especially after the Garage 56 experiment/experience at Le Mans.

I’d be fine with remixing some things to make this happen – maybe some rovals are swapped for some true road courses. Maybe the Indy stop is only on the oval, not the road course, as one example. On the other hand, I do enjoy roval racing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking NASCAR to abandon its oval-track roots. The bulk of the schedule should remain oval-based.

But to become a truly national series and grow the sport, NASCAR should be looking at giving over 25-30 percent of its schedule to different types of tracks. NASCAR’s phenomenal growth in the ‘90s and Aughts was fueled in part by a willingness to bring the top series to new tracks in new towns.

It’s not just about snagging new fans, though. It’s also about making the racing more interesting to all spectators. I am not saying watching cars go fast and turn left on a banked track is boring – it can be, but it can also be quite entertaining – but I gotta say, it’s fun to watch these stock cars slide around a road course. Or a street course, in the case of Chicago.

I bet street courses will be even more fun in the future – Chicago was a bit of a mess. A lot of that is obviously thanks to the rain making it difficult to find traction, but it was also narrow. Assuming next year’s race goes on as planned – either NASCAR or the city can back out of the contract – and the weather is sunny, imagine how much fun it could be if the barriers are moved around a bit to create a wider track.

I also think the racing would be more fun because the drivers would learn to be more versatile. A big reason rookie Shane van Gisbergen won in Chicago is that he had experience driving large racecars with stock car bodies on such courses. Some of the clumsiness expressed by NASCAR regulars was related less to the rain than it was to just not being used to that type of racing.

We see the same thing on road courses – Chase Elliott and a few others dominate. Some of this, of course, is that certain drivers just thrive on certain types of tracks, and some teams know how to set the car up just right. Other drivers get the chance to drive in other series as they climb the NASCAR ladder. But I suspect that some Cup drivers just don’t get enough non-oval experience. Add in more road and/or street courses, let these guys get comfortable, and the racing will be better. Same for dirt racing, or super short tracks like what we see during the Clash.

It's not just about growing the sport – it’s also about keeping the long-time viewer interested. And creating new traditions to go along with the old.

NASCAR should be careful to avoid doing anything too “gimmicky” and the series should still retain races that had tradition and history on their side. And NASCAR should be aware that when it tries something new, and that goes well, soon enough what’s new becomes tradition and history itself.

It’s a fine line that NASCAR, or any sports league, really, must walk. It’s about balancing the new with the old, and about adjusting once the new becomes familiar. If NASCAR can walk that line correctly, it will gain new fans, keep the current ones happy, keep the drivers happy, and perhaps shed the stereotype of being a sport for Southern rednecks.

The good news is NASCAR has already spent the last several years trying new things. I applaud the series for working to avoid getting stale. Now, if it can just keep it up.

[Image: NASCAR]

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3 of 14 comments
  • DungBeetle62 DungBeetle62 on Jul 07, 2023

    Some will simply not be satisfied until the reanimated corpse of Dale Sr. is driving again.

    • Syke Syke on Jul 08, 2023

      You have a gift for understatement.

  • Syke Syke on Jul 08, 2023

    I was just happy to see them actually racing in the rain just like . . . . . . . bloody every other racing series out there, four wheeled or two? One of the first NASCAR races I've seen that I respected, and that includes the 9-10 Richmond races my wife and I used to do. I hate short tracks.

  • Pianoboy57 My family had the '71 1900 2dr hardtop. That car was sure a lot of fun. My brother wrecked it and Dad found another one w/o an engine. We spent the next year making one 1900 out of two.
  • Tassos Your title says FORD to offer blah blah, but on the photo there is a DAMNED KIA instead What gives?
  • Dukeisduke There were aftermarket ac/c systems for these - they used a plastic duct with vents that sat atop the transmission tunnel.
  • GrumpyOldMan I had a '73 for around 18 years. It had a foot operated windshield washer pump, four grease fittings (one on each each door hinge), and coil spring rear/transverse leaf front suspension. No trunk, but a good size luggage area behind the seats. Almost made it to 200K miles, but the tin worm got it.
  • Dukeisduke As far as I'm concerned, the jury's still out on the new Tacoma. I've read about too many new Tundras with mechanical problems like failed wastegates. I'm not confident these won't have similar teething problems. Toyota should just stay away from turbos.