Welcome to the debut of Forward Bite where NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan and Dustin Long debate various NASCAR topics and share their unvarnished (and sometimes unpopular) opinions. Some days they might agree with each other. Other days? Not so much.
Just like how it often is in the media center at NASCAR races across the country.
Here’s their take on pressing topics this week … what’s your take?
Does the sport need the Sprint All-Star Race?
Dustin: No. Every weekend all of NASCAR’s top drivers race together. The All-Star race has outlived its purpose. If NASCAR is going to race, make it a points race. While there would be complications with taking a race from Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR should find a way to make such a move worthwhile and replace the event with a points race at Iowa Speedway or add a third road course to the schedule.
Nate: No, but there also is going to be intractable resistance to eradicating an event that has been a fixture for 31 years in NASCAR’s premier series. The All-Star Race’s primary flaw is redundancy, and it’s become more pronounced since last year when the Chase for the Sprint Cup was restructured with an emphasis on wins over points. The major selling point of the All-Star Race – go-for-broke with prestige and purse outweighing any concern for points – lacks more distinction than ever, and as you note, Dustin, every race already is an all-star event – a problem that NASCAR has wrestled with since its inception.
So how to fix it? Blow it up completely and start over. Don’t waste time tinkering with formats. Think big and start by stripping it from Charlotte Motor Speedway, whose smooth and supersonic surface is a fine layout for hosting a 600-mile marathon but couldn’t be less conducive for a sprint race. (This, of course, will prompt major hollering from track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. about losing guaranteed millions. OK, then move the event to SMI’s dirt track and drag strip across the street, testing driver’s hand-eye coordination in other disciplines. Or let SMI promote an All-Star Race through the streets of Uptown Charlotte, keeping all of the race’s revenues in house and in market.)
Dustin: Wait a minute. I hear what you’re saying Nate but please no street courses. Yes, it’s time for NASCAR to act and be bold in altering this event but not that bold. Shoot, if NASCAR really wanted to do something big, take the event to a place like South Boston Speedway, use it to promote the sport’s ties to the local tracks, put drivers on a track they’re not as familiar with and test them that way.
Nate: This is a worthy idea, and a concept worth broaching at a short track such as South Boston, Bowman-Gray Stadium or Hickory Motor Speedway. But creativity also should be encouraged, so the bolder the ideas, the better for NASCAR. In that vein, a measure of irreverence would help. Unlike other professional athletes, NASCAR drivers know how to laugh at themselves and are accustomed to getting outside their comfort zones as savvy spokespeople sometimes asked to do wacky things in the name of promotions. Let’s try some goofy competitions – best Victory Lane speech (judged on weaving in a recitation of sponsor plugs with a glib and charming delivery), best helmet toss, best rivalry-stirring interview (rip a competitor to shreds after pretending you have been wronged on track) – that celebrate the unvarnished moments of unbridled emotions that hook fans.
Did NASCAR make the right call to grant Kyle Busch a waiver to the requirement that a driver must start every race to eligible for the Chase?
Nate: Yes, and the reason is because the ruling also kept the top 30 in points requirement. If Kyle Busch manages to win a race and make the top 30 in points after spotting the field an 11-race head start, he might be the most deserving qualifier in the 11-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Will it be fair that he would be allowed to race for a title despite missing 42 percent of the regular season? Perhaps not, but the circumstances that left him sidelined weren’t fair, either. The Chase primarily was created to restore drama to the title race. Allowing Busch a shot should be celebrated for adding depth to the roster of potentially compelling storylines.
Dustin: I’m disappointed NASCAR didn’t waive the top 30 requirement and say if Kyle Busch wins a race before the Chase, he’s in. My reasoning is that the sport failed to do all it could to protect him. As Brian France said about Kyle’s injuries – “it’s on us.” Yes, it is. See how simple it was to put tire barriers up where Kyle hit the day after his accident? Why wasn’t that done before? Why not elsewhere? Kyle Busch should be in the Chase if he can win one of the next 15 points races regardless of where he is in the points when the Chase begins.
Nate: Can’t argue with any of those points, Dustin. If there was an instance in which the top 30 requirement were to be waived, this would be it. But leaving it in place strikes a good compromise – and it likely will be a moot point anyway. If Kyle Busch can win a race in his return, he likely will be running well enough to make the top 30 in the standings over a 15-race stretch. Granting that “superwaiver” mostly would be a symbolic gesture of admitting culpability in Busch’s wreck, and NASCAR already has stressed that point repeatedly. Keeping the top 30 stipulation allows for a modicum of sanctity around the existing rules for making the Chase (satisfying purists) and lessens the perception that Busch is being afforded an easier route to the title because NASCAR is overly sympathetic to his plight.