Like any good partner, NASCAR keeps trying to made amends in a relationship in which passion is waning. They want to make nice with fans. You know who you are. You are tired of NASCAR going corporate more and more each year, squeezing out the small-town tracks steeped in tradition. You are frustrated with the playoff format that has turned into dudsville, courtesy of four consecutive titles by Jimmie Johnson.
There's hope. We think.
CEO Brian France recently said that NASCAR is considering a significant overhaul to its championship Chase.
"If we have the perfect Chase that we would love to see, it would be just like every commissioner would tell you," he told reporters before Sunday's Brickyard 400. "They'd like to see great playoff events ... action-packed, close games, great story lines. That's what anybody's after. We're no different."
France didn't delve into a lot of details, but he likes the idea of a system that would eliminate drivers from the playoffs. One idea involves eliminating drivers halfway through the Chase, trying to replicate the drama of the fall race at Richmond, which sets the 12-car field for the Chase. Under that scenario, five drivers could be eliminated after the first four races and five more drivers knocked out four or five races later.
"It comes with some version as you go along where certain races in the Chase, you have to win or do very, very well, to in fact move on," France said. "When you peel that back and look at it, it's not that different."
The possible tweaking of the Chase format — much like the Chase format itself — is a reactionary move by NASCAR to continue to manufacture drama. In attempts to think bigger, NASCAR has shrunk with TV ratings that are stagnant and attendance that is sagging.
It's understandable that France and company want to continue to look for ways to spark interest. But it's also fair to suggest they also have a hand in that decline by shifting the dynamics so drastically that many fans walked away.
"I don't really have a problem with the way it's structured," said David Reutimann, driver of the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota in the Sprint Cup Series. "Obviously there could be some little tweaks here and there, but I don't think we need to go in and overhaul it, either. It's not perfect. Nothing is…but if NASCAR can continue to make it better and add more excitement I think it will be a win-win."
To his credit, France said he will attend focus groups with fans in a few weeks to gather perspective, as well as gauge reaction from insiders in the garage.
He wants to make it right. A bouquet of flowers simply won't do.
More changes coming with track dates? International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc. are petitioning NASCAR to alter the 36-race Cup schedule to accommodate date or track changes. ISC is lobbying for a second Cup date in Kansas. SMI wants a second race in Las Vegas venue and give its 1.5-mile track in northern Kentucky the Cup race its former ownership group has long coveted. SMI president Bruton Smith said NASCAR should feel "morally obligated" to bring a second Cup race to Las Vegas.
If we want your opinion we will ask for it: The Associated Press reports that NASCAR has fined at least two star drivers— one as much as $50,000 — for comments considered destructive to the industry. NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston confirmed that some action had been taken, but didn't discuss details. "It is the sanctioning body's obligation on behalf of the industry and our fans to protect the sport's brand," Poston said. "Any action taken by NASCAR has nothing to do with the drivers expressing an opinion-it's focused on actions or comments that materially damage the sport. We have specifically discussed this in meetings with teams, drivers and stakeholders." NASCAR officials warned teams during the offseason that public criticism of the sport would no longer be tolerated.
Baby Boomers: The wives of Ryan Newman and-Sam Hornish Jr. are both pregnant, both drivers recently confirmed. The wives of Jeff Gordon and recent Brickyard winner Jamie McMurray are also pregnant. Gordon's wife is due in the coming weeks. Hornish's child is due Dec. 30.
Pets and Hockey Pucks for a cause: Thumbs up to Ryan Newman. His foundation recently formed a partnership with the Southern Professional Hockey League, focused on educating people about animal welfare. The partnership will feature special, game-night events with each of the SPHL's eight teams, in addition to a league-wide contest that includes a trip to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Newman and his wife Krissie, established the Ryan Newman Foundation in January 2005. Their focus is to "educate and encourage people to spay/neuter their pets and to adopt dogs and cats from animal shelters; to educate children and adults about the importance of conservation so the beauty of the great outdoors can be appreciated by future generations; and to provide college scholarship funding through the Rich Vogler Scholarship program to students interested in auto racing careers."
Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times