|(Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)|
What a calm, quiet week in NASCAR, right? Ha, no.
There are weeks within the sport when it seems like news is released every single day—and there are times when cricket chirps precede thundering racecars.
This week was hectic—and it's made me ask some questions.
As we start the first leg of NASCAR's West Coast swing, I'm discussing the hot topics and giving my thoughts. Let's dive into this week's Five Questions.
Are shorter fields the new norm? Before racing even started last weekend in Atlanta, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the entry lists. The Sprint Cup Series race had 39 cars, short of the new 40-car limit. The XFINITY Series field was short as well. Same story, different week, as we head to Nevada. As some are anxious about this development, we need to wonder whether this is how things will be for the foreseeable future. The short answer is yes; NASCAR’s new charter system has pushed smaller teams out of Cup competition, resulting in fewer cars showing up. With the charters lasting nine years and no signs of adjustments to the system, shorter fields will be the norm for a long time. It may not be the ideal situation, but it is the situation in which the sport is at the moment.
Should we worry about TV ratings? Another thing those within and around the sport are thinking about is TV ratings. Despite the positive reactions after Atlanta from drivers and fans, the race fell 27 percent in viewership from last year’s event. This is concerning, especially with no other sports programming running in the same time slot. It is quite confusing. Though everyone said they loved the race, they turned off FOX anyway. The truth of the matter is that ratings have been declining over the past few years. This time it's noticeable because of the stark contrast between the overall positive reaction to the race and the disappointing ratings. The sport has to be aware of the viewer drop-off and ask TV viewers what they like/dislike about the broadcast. It is something we should all be aware of, and it is something NASCAR has to work on. It can’t fix itself.
What does Brian France’s endorsement of Donald Trump mean for NASCAR? Earlier this week at a Georgia rally, NASCAR CEO Brian France publicly endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. Though every person is allowed to have a political opinion, France’s has garnered a lot of publicity. The rally was all over the news—sport and non-sport broadcasts—in a negative context. Also, tweets indicate that the endorsement will be the basis for a "Saturday Night Live" skit this weekend. As NASCAR struggles to attract a strong, fresh fan base, this endorsement will factor into that cause. Because this year's presidential race is heated and quite controversial, the best thing might have been not to endorse anyone. Though that’s not the path France decided to take, it is important for outsiders to realize his opinion doesn’t reflect the opinions of all NASCAR fans. We can’t control how others interpret France's words, but we can control what image we—fans, media and drivers—portray. Let’s make it a good one.
Can the No. 78 team seal the deal amid appeal? Penalties were handed down on Wednesday for various Cup and XFINITY teams—with one top team receiving a sizable punishment. Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. lost 15 points on both the owner's and driver's side because of roof flap issues. Crew chief Cole Pearn was fined $50,000 and suspended for one race. The latter is put on hold while the team goes through the appeal process. Truex has started this season strong, but can his team close in on a win while under NASCAR’s watchful eye? Although there is extra pressure to follow all the rules, the No. 78 crew won’t have any problem going into this weekend. If anything, they’ll be extra careful. Their new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing is working in their favor and makes them one to watch in Las Vegas. With two great finishes—and two near wins—under his belt, Truex is hungry and ready to defend his team’s honor, so to speak. Watch for the No. 78 to keep the momentum going.
Will the low downforce continue to impress at Las Vegas? As previously mentioned, fans and drivers were vocal about the new low downforce package—and it was overwhelmingly positive. There was competitive racing throughout the event, which is a stark change from the norm. It can only go up from here; Las Vegas’s layout will work in the package’s favor. With variable banking in the turns, there are opportunities for even more side-by-side racing. The other factor is experience. These drivers have a race under their belts—which means we should expect them to start pushing the limits on the track, testing and seeing what they can and can’t do with lower downforce. Because of this, an eventful race could play out on Sunday and bring the low downforce setup to the forefront.