Travis Pastrana Leaves NASCAR: What NASCAR Needs To Do For Younger Fans

12 Nov

Well, here’s some lousy news for NASCAR fans.; Travis Pastrana is quitting NASCAR due to a lack of sponsorship, support and results (as well as other factors).

This year Pastrana has had a rough go, which is no surprise when you consider his only experience racing on pavement was via rally car with an average finish outside the top-20, several crashes and a lack of improvement as the year wore on.  The action sports icon could’ve been a huge boon for the series which is currently in dire need of personality but instead will likely go back to rally and his Nitro Circus tour.

Its a shame really when you consider it.  Pastrana flashed some potential but always seemed to find the wall or an accident which prevented him from closing the deal.

I was a NASCAR fan growing up but as I grew older, I stopped caring to the point where I pretty much quit following races.  It was too stale, too predictable and I was not going to pick NASCAR over the NFL or the Phillies.  But being someone who grew up watching the X Games, I followed every Nationwide race (and by extension every Sprint Cup race as well) to see how Pastrana would fare and slowly started to get dedicated to the sport again.  Even though he didn’t do that well, it was something that made me excited for Saturdays.  I even started to look forward to 2014 to see if there would be any improvement or if he would look at ARCA or another series to speed up his learning curve.

Now though, without Pastrana, I don’t see myself really caring to watch Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano win about 85% of the races next year.  Call me crazy, but I am not someone to be captivated by the owner’s points championships.  I don’t think Roger Penske is thinking “Man, sucks Brad couldn’t win another championship but AT LEAST I WON THE NATIONWIDE SERIES :Gronk spikes Miller Lite:”.

Pastrana’s fans never really came but at least there was interest.  None of my friends like NASCAR in the slightest but if I was watching it, they would all ask “hey, how’s Travis doing?” and would watch for about ten laps.  Ten laps of watching for a non-NASCAR fan is pretty impressive and at the bare minimum, he brought intrigue to a series dominated by Cup regulars.

His fans, who are used to at most watching a few heats of the Global Rallycar Series, aren’t conditioned for the long grind of NASCAR.  It was simple fantasy that the crowds would be mixed between Southern “good ole’ boys” and straight-billed wearing, Monster Energy chuggin’, bros.  Then they would sing a musical number and cheer on their favorite driver while respecting each other’s differences and interests!  But there was potential to at least some overlap and propel NASCAR into a newer audience.

That’s what NASCAR needs.  Thankfully I have free time to talk about what NASCAR could do to grow the series more and maybe even acquire the fanbases that Pastrana was supposed to bring in.

Perception

First let’s look at NASCAR’s perception.  Boring, older white guys (only two Chase drivers are younger than 30) who race in circles are corporate drones (always thanking sponsors!) with fans who are old conservatives.

The stereotype is mostly true.  But you can’t force drivers out of the series just because they hit a certain age.  So you have to combat that and make some changes.

The Chase

Scrap the Chase would be the viewpoint that most traditionalists have.  Its gimmicky, its failing and it really hasn’t created much drama outside of three Homestead races.  But NASCAR has made its bed with a playoff system so I propose a change.

First, 10 races is way too long for a playoff system.  Think about that.  Ten weeks?  That’s two and a half months of playoffs and in the NASCAR world; its really an eternity.  The cream tends to rise to the top when you have that big of a sample size.  First change the Chase to the last 5 races.  Yes, that could really screw over a driver but other sports have bye weeks as well and the best driver should be good all year.  I understand the possibility that someone could have the championship locked up but again; does the #1 seed always win?

Twelve (or thirteen when NASCAR feels like it) seeds are way too much as well.  No one who is 20th in the standings should be competing for a championship just because they had two wins.  Scrap that, it pisses off traditional fans and new fans who like other sports won’t fully grasp that concept either.  Change it to 5 drivers and if you MUST, take the driver who has the most wins from positions 6 through 10.  If they all have the same amount, then #6 gets to join in on the festivities.

Playoffs are supposed to be harder to make.  When you look at the field, there are probably about 20 drivers who have any real shot at winning (sans restrictor plate tracks) a race on Sundays and really do you think Paul Menard or Aric Almirola will win?  The current Chase guys plus  injured Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and an unlucky Brad Keselowski were pretty much the only surprises to miss the playoffs.  You have a good idea on who is going to make the Chase each year with the limited amount of drivers who are threats to win weekly.  So let them fight amongst themselves to make it.

The tracks are also the problem.  I understand that media markets and corporate entities are hard to please but if you want a true playoff system, the tracks need to change.  End the season at Daytona, its basically the only track that non-NASCAR fans have heard of anyway and maybe you can start something like the Super Bowl there where casual fans end up watching regardless.  Start the Chase at Chicagoland, then send it to the road course of Sonoma, the short track of Martinsville and then Phoenix before heading off to Daytona.   Five different tracks, five different disciplines and five different variables.  Seems good, right?

Maybe you can move Homestead to July 4th weekend, and you should move Darlington back to Labor Day.

The Point System

I support a tier point system.  Drivers who finish 35th to 43rd should only get one point.  Drivers who finish 30th to 34th should get three points.  21st to 29th should get ten points.  15th to 20th should get fifteen points.  11th to 15th, how about twenty points?  6th to 10th should get twenty five points.  5th should get 28, 4th should get 33, 3rd should get 38, 2nd should get 45 and winners should get 50.  I’m not a fan of bonus points for leading one single lap but I wouldn’t be against a bonus point for leading five laps or more.  Then you can throw in a token point for leading the most lap.

This is only a rough draft obviously and totally flawed.  Why would you race if you are 9th place?  No need to push to get 8th if it all rewards the same so I am open for arguments there.

Racing

The one appeal about NASCAR is well, the racing.  Racing is fun no matter what the sport is and the possibility of passes and crashes is captivating to anyone.  But NASCAR has gotten way too tekkie for a lack of a better term, and while the improvements in safety have been amazing and nothing short of astounding; racing has suffered.  No one wants to watch “clean air” win and hope that a pit miscue will be the only chance of a race being exciting.

I have no idea how to fix the racing but there’s a reason why I can imagine NASCAR losing interest to people.  If there are no cautions (“debris”), no passes for the lead and just dominance by the first place car; why bother showing up?

The Season

500 Miles and 36 races might be too much for a lot of people.  I know diehards will be pissed off but on some tracks, do we really lose much if we shorten the race by 100 miles?  The season is a grind and I don’t think it needs much alterations because we all know what tracks would lose out if we shortened the season (i.e. Dover, Pocono?).

The Price

Racing is getting fairly expensive and I don’t know what NASCAR can do to somewhat level the playing field but there’s a lack of intrigue right now with almost everything.  All 43 cars make the races or at most, one fails to.  Entry lists continue to be robbed as independent teams continue to decline (unless they operate as satellite teams) and really, only about two teams have one sponsor as everyone needs to rely on multiple sponsors paying the bill.  That’s a pipe dream but I’d like to see something change with NASCAR.  Maybe not revenue sharing but….something.

Gimmicks

Yes, I’m going to suggest NASCAR needs some gimmicks.  How about a “Winter Thunder” season?  Take the top five in driver points in Cup, Nationwide, Trucks and a few K&N drivers, throw them into a four-race circuit and televise it.  How about thirty laps in modified cars at Phoenix, Homestead, Sonoma and a dirt track somewhere South?  The only benefit is bragging rights, some purse money and accolades.  Make it low risk.  This could maybe excite non-traditional fans who might be more prone to GRC or Motocross which are far shorter races and could open up the older guys in NASCAR to younger demographics.

Plus who wouldn’t like to see Dylan Kwasniewski race with Jimmie Johnson or Sam Hornish, Jr. alongside James Buescher?  It would add some spice, help some guys find rides maybe, and could be a boon for winter sports at Fox Sports 1.

Maybe NASCAR could team up with GRC or RallyCar at some places.  Twin bills could be fun.  Watch the Truck race in the evening, Nationwide in the afternoon on the next day with GRC at night if Cup is off or at Pocono.

Another gimmick might be making the Nationwide Series more….Nationwide.  I understand sponsors WANT Kyle Busch to race or Joey Logano/Brad Keselowski too but maybe we can put a bandaid on it.  How about a car eligible for owner’s points can have a Cup driver in for only 25 races?  At least Ryan Blaney could get eight races in the #22 or Drew Herring could get eight in the #54 which would open some races up for Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Jr., Trevor Bayne or Kyle Larson to win thus they could get a better fanbase when they go to Cup because they actually win instead of being bum-rushed into the Cup Series.

But maybe, not.  All I hope is to see Travis Pastrana give it another go.

 

 

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