We're now less than a month away from the Blob's traditional first sign of spring, the Daytona 500, which revives again what's become an annual debate: What Do You Do When The Thrill Is Gone?
This is, of course, a reference to NASCAR itself, which once was big enough to fancy itself the fourth major sport in the U.S. and now is leaking oil like an '82 Ford Escort. Attendance is down, TV numbers are down, interest in the product is down: It's a trend now. And has been for almost a decade.
NASCAR's solution to this was to announce this week more sweeping changes to its format, which as near as we can tell is Sweeping Change No. 342 in a series. This time the NASCAR poobahs have decided essentially to turn every race on the schedule into a series of sprints, dividing all races into three segments. At the end of each, the caution will come out, cars will pit and drivers will be available for interviews.
How this will do anything but prolong races that are already too long to hold the public's interest is an excellent question. As is how, by doing so, it will improve the quality of the racing.
It's been noted in this space before that NASCAR's continual tweaking and tinkering is less a product of reality than perception. The sport's outlandish (and unrealistic) success in the 1990s-early 2000s has become its own worst enemy; though it remains, and will remain, far and away the most successful racing series in America, NASCAR continues to chase the unicorn of its glorious but unrecoverable past.
Contrivances such as the Three Races In One plan are unlikely to help much. Far more sensible are the proposals put forth here by the Blob's colleague and fellow racing writer Justin Kenny.
Everything Kenny says here is absolutely on the mark. The fields are too bloated with hopeless back markers. Races are too long, and there are too many of them, with the consequence that NASCAR's playoffs wind up getting lost in the immense shadow of the NFL.
No one's going to pay attention to the Showdown at Homestead in November. But a Showdown in late August or early September, before the NFL truly gets ramped up, stands a far more likely chance of being noticed.
And the Brickyard?
The Blob would only add that, in addition to running it every three or four years instead of every year, you move it to the road course. It's hard to believe that wouldn't be a better show than what we're getting now on the oval.
Or so NASCAR could only hope.