NASCAR is set to return in 2023 with the second ever Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. NASCAR has grown and shrunk over the years, at one point being second to the NFL in ratings before losing fans over the years. As a fan of NASCAR for more than 25 years, there’s a lot to love about the sport, but there’s also a lot that needs to change. While I don’t expect very many changes going into 2023, there are plenty of ways to improve the sport long term.
CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT CHANGES
The biggest change that needs to happen is a change to the championship format. The idea that the person who finished in the best position in one race has been terrible for the sport. In 2014, Ryan Newman nearly became the first NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion to win the title without winning a race. Had he finished the best of the Championship Four, he would’ve been champion. If he had been the most consistent finisher that year, it would’ve been fine, but he wasn’t. He just had a great final ten races. While I would love for the return of the season-long points system, I’ve accepted there will be some kind of playoff in NASCAR, but this gimmick needs to change.
NASCAR has put a focus on winning races over the past decade but it has come at the expense of consistency. There were 16 winners in 2022. If Kurt Busch had not had to stop driving mid-season due to a concussion, Ryan Blaney would have missed the playoffs despite sitting in third place in the points after 26 races. As it is, Martin Truex Jr., who was fourth in points after 26 races, missed the playoffs. Meanwhile, someone like Austin Cindric who had a great Daytona 500, but didn’t have a playoff worthy season made it based off one win. I’ve got a suggestion to still reward wins without punishing drivers having good seasons but haven’t broken through with a win.
MY CHAMPIONSHIP PLAN
My plan would involve 16 spots, just like the current playoff system. But I would require the top ten in points to automatically qualify for the playoff. Their consistency should be rewarded. The final six spots would be filled by winners not currently in the top ten. That would mean if someone won three races, but had a lot of DNFs, they could still make the playoffs. We would use the total number of wins for seeding 11 through 16, then go back to the points for tiebreakers. This way, both wins and consistency are rewarded and number four in points isn’t left out.
CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND CHANGES
NASCAR must also make changes to championship weekend. Phoenix is a wonderful race track that makes for some exciting racing. But the truck series gets the shaft when racing out west. The Camping World Truck Series final race began after 10 pm Eastern time. East coast fans are unlikely to stay up and watch the race. Either the Truck and Xfinity series should run doubleheaders on Saturday, or the final race should be somewhere other than Phoenix. I would argue for Charlotte since it’s NASCAR’s home track. Atlanta and Homestead both hosted the finale previously and have provided exciting racing over the years. Either way, if the Truck series is supposed to be a major series and not viewed as the minor leagues, it can’t start that late on the East Coast.
ELIMINATE STAGE RACING
Stage racing has been another controversial decision NASCAR has made over the past decade. NASCAR has announced that it is doing away with stage racing at road courses. Why stop there? Get rid of stage racing. I had no issue with the decision to introduce points in the race where you can earn championship points for doing well, but I have major issues with the mandatory cautions. It removes any chance for a race to go green to checkers with no caution. I remember the 2001 Talladega Spring race and how awesome that was with no cautions. It’s impossible to predict what races will go caution-free and if they will be the same quality of that 2001 race. But it’s also impossible for a race like that to be a possibility if we are still throwing cautions at arbitrary points in the race.
VARYING STYLES OF TRACKS
NASCAR also needs to continue varying up the tracks that host races. There was a stretch where we were getting way too many cookie cutter race tracks. I like having five road courses on the circuit. Any more than that would be too much for the type of cars that are racing. I like the dirt races, but I don’t like converting Bristol to a dirt race. I’m in favor of going to an actual dirt track to race and keeping Bristol with a Spring day race and a Fall night race. I would add two street races to replace some cookie cutters. Two is enough to introduce something different without being too much.
Keep the super speedways like Daytona and Talladega and the tracks with different designs like Pocono. Keep the short tracks like Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville. Also, try to bring back North Wilkesboro for more than just the All Star race. And get rid of the road courses that are at ovals. Charlotte and Daytona road courses can be used for exhibitions, but they shouldn’t be points races.
CONSISTENCY IN PUNISHMENTS
Something else that needs to be tackled is driver punishments. NASCAR has been inconsistent for years and 2022 was no different. Bubba Wallace was suspended one race for a retaliatory crash. I’m fine with that, but during the same season both Noah Gragson and Carson Hocevar intentionally crashed fellow drivers in a retaliatory manner. Neither was suspended. I’m old enough to remember Kyle Busch wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution in a truck race and being suspended for both the Xfinity and Cup races that weekend. I remember Kevin Harvick’s actions in an Xfinity race getting him suspended for a Cup race. Before the 2023 season, NASCAR’s competition committee needs to set a firm standard for what leads to a suspension and what doesn’t. End the inconsistency.
Those are just some of the suggestions I had. I’m certain there are plenty of other changes that need to be made to improve the sport. I want to love it like I did when I was younger, but the sport has changed and not always for the better.
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