Flourish or Flounder: Five Questions for the 2017 Daytona 500

(Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
by Kristen Schneider

The offseason wasn’t so offseason-y this time around, and that’s OK – until you realize that almost everything about the sport changed.

Don’t worry, it’s still NASCAR, and they still turn left. The sanctioning body altered other elements, though. For example, the highest level is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS), which I will misspell approximately 19,424 times throughout the season. Also, there is no Chase anymore – it’s now referred to as the playoffs. A lot of other things changed, too, but you’ll hear about those over the course of the entire weekend.

I haven’t changed whatsoever (that’s either good or bad, depending on who you ask). I have my Five Questions ready to go, so let’s get the 2017 NASCAR season underway.

Why do we complain about the rain every freakin’ year? This is a throwaway question, yes, but it’s also legitimate. Fans, media and drivers are always peeved at the weather when the Daytona 500 rolls around – but it’s Florida, and Florida isn't exactly the driest place in the world during the early Spring. Some track action always gets rained out. SO WHY DO PEOPLE GET MAD? Just accept it and have NASCAR bring another AirTitan. Sheesh.

Showing too much skin? NASCAR hit the mainstream media – with a misleading headline. With Monster Energy sponsoring the Cup Series, their promotional models will be mainstays at the tracks all season long. Their uniforms follow the Monster brand, but some fans took offense to the leather tops that accentuate their assets. The handful of questioning tweets prompted an article from USA Today about "outraged" fans. A tad overexaggerated, right? I don’t see an issue with their outfits; I know what breasts look like (duh), and I’d show off my midriff if I had their abs, too. I do see a conflict between the promotional models’ appearance and NASCAR’s diversity efforts. However, as I discuss later on, the sport has bigger issues to handle. All in all, if the models are OK with their uniforms, I am, too. Let’s hope this doesn’t distract from actual racing.
Shop for 2017 Daytona 500 Fan Gear at Store.NASCAR.com
Who is this Earnhardt Jr.? Hot dang, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver is back in the saddle again. Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to Daytona after undergoing long-term treatment for a concussion. This is the day we’ve all been waiting for – and not just because he draws attention. This sport is a family, and one of our members healed. This is a fantastic weekend no matter what kind of racing we see on Sunday. You can tell Earnhardt is feeling better, too. He’s smiling more, chatting it up with the media, enjoying the spotlight. This is a side of him we haven’t seen in a while, a side that is without burden. When I started watching NASCAR, he was secluded and stoic. His wife, Amy, brought him out of that dark place when they began dating. The biggest fear among the NASCAR community wasn’t that Earnhardt wouldn’t return – it was that he wouldn’t be the same guy from the past few years. If the Duels were any indication, we don’t have to worry about that. Welcome back, Junebug.

Is this sport in a zombie state? Everyone and their grandmother has read that story by now. You know, the Wall Street Journal one that rips the faintly beating heart out of NASCAR’s chest? At first, I admired the effort and detail put into the story; a lot of stories talk about the sport dying, but this one explored the "why" and "how" of it all. Once that passed, I wondered if its writers are on to something. Is this sport a sinking ship, and we’re all just drinking tea on its upper deck? It’s not that dramatic, yet parts of the piece ring true. Rising costs are impacting the attendance count, and that’s an issue many drivers highlighted over the last few seasons. Other factors contribute to the decline, like mistakes in officiating and ignoring key demographics. These won’t kill the sport – but it pushes it closer to its death bed. This sport isn’t flourishing, but "floundering" is not the right description, either. It’s hanging somewhere in this weird middle zone where NASCAR can go either way. Monster Energy could be the answer to its prayers; who knows? It has to work to stay afloat right now. There is always room for growth in whatever you do. At this point in time, however, the sport must work on surviving rather than thriving.

Does NASCAR need new leadership? That scathing WSJ piece not only dragged NASCAR through the mud, it also threw Brian France under the bus... backed over him and hit him again. It detailed the disconnect between him and sister, Lesa, with whom he once shared 50-percent of the sport. That’s in past tense because France sold his chunk. He’s the Chairman of NASCAR, and he doesn’t even have a stake in it. That’s puzzling to me, and not just because of his divestment of power – he’s also divested his interest. France said he went to half the races last season. These facts led Jeff Gluck to wonder if a leadership change is needed, and I think these actions speak for themselves. If he can’t muster the energy to attend each event but can carve out time for a political rally, there is a bigger problem on the horizon. Maybe NASCAR could get out of its middle zone if someone who cared called the shots. The sanctioning body altered everything else – why not try the switching out the man in charge?
Flourish or Flounder: Five Questions for the 2017 Daytona 500 Flourish or Flounder: Five Questions for the 2017 Daytona 500 Reviewed by Anonymous on Friday, February 24, 2017 Rating: 5