For our regular readers, you might remember that we published an article a few weeks ago titled “What do NASCAR fans really want?” — an op-ed that was based on the negativity, complaints, and contradictions coming from both casual and longtime fans of the sport. However, it’s clear the fans aren’t the only ones spreading cynicism and mixed messages because some of the drivers are every bit as guilty. Not only do they contradict each other, but a few of them also have a habit of contradicting themselves.
While the fans seem happy to slam almost everything about the sport (as we discovered within our last op-ed) the drivers are still fixated on debating the 2019 rules package which has included bigger spoilers, tapered spacers, and aeroducts. The thought process was to create cars that handled better and were more competitive on the track since NASCAR was striving to address fan complaints of single-lane racing, predictability, and boring outcomes. But now that fans finally seem ready to get on board with the 2019 changes (especially with the spectacle of last weekend’s Digital Ally 400 race at Kansas which accomplished almost everything the package had set out to do), it seems more than ever drivers are wrestling with their acceptance of it, and several have been vocal about their disapproval.
Perhaps their frustration is that some teams are figuring it out, therefore invalidating some of the complaints. So the question becomes — if some teams are making it work, is it as bad as others are saying it is?
One of the biggest critics of the 2019 rule package is Kyle Busch, who has always been a polarizing figure due to his outspoken nature. To that point, NASCAR recently chose to overlook the potential to fine him for his comments of, “This package sucks. No fucking question about it. It’s terrible“. This is in addition to prior comments that have included “(the package) is taking driver skill away from the driver“. But let’s not forget he’s on the radio every week, complaining that it’s impossible to pass even when he’s rebounding at lightning speed from a penalty that’s put him at the back of the field. He’s also bemoaning that his car is “ploughing, ploughing, ploughing,” and unbearable to drive, even when he’s racking up Top 10 finishes and 3 wins so far this season. Winning, as he did at AutoClub, instead comes with praise — “Awesome race car!” and “All I do is win, win, win, no matter what,” So clearly, the package does not make passing and winning impossible and his comments are consistently inconsistent.
To be fair, however, some other drivers feel every bit as frustrated. For example, Martin Truex Jr. voiced his preference for cars that were not easy to drive, yet later pointed out that passing was “definitely really difficult“. And when securing the pole at Las Vegas, Kevin Harvick appeared to express his approval of the package but ultimately said it wasn’t for him to judge. Nine races later and zero wins to show for it, he’s definitely judging as he echoes Busch by saying, “There’s a little frustration on the driver’s side because it has fallen on deaf ears,” — ‘it’ meaning the drivers’ concerns and complaints to NASCAR’s sanctioning body.
Seemingly, they feel their voices are not being heard. But how can they make their case when they’re contradicting themselves, or when others are clearly working it out and winning? How do they expect fans to stop complaining when they are setting an example? More importantly, how does the sport cater to the fans and the drivers at the very same time?
It seems whenever fans are happy, drivers are not. And vice versa. The fact is, there hasn’t been a package in recent history that has managed to please 100% of the drivers. Nor has there been a scenario that has completely pleased the fans.
Perhaps the drivers that understand this most are Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. Both have approached the rules package from a much different perspective, with Logano acknowledging that it’s impossible to please everyone (drivers and fans) so, ultimately, the rules need to be reflective of whatever is best for the sport.
Elliott takes a similar stance in saying, “Just make the rules and be done with it. We’re racing. Either you like it or you don’t“. He has also recently said, “We get paid to go fast,” acknowledging that the job of a driver comes with the expectation to drive and adapt. It’s an old school mentality that warrants thought because it’s difficult to imagine old school drivers complaining about rules. Earnhardt Sr, Pearson, Bonnett, and Allison had too much pride and dedication to the sport to have clapped back at NASCAR for their rules.
Like we said in our sister article concerning what fans want, NASCAR is the only sport that actively listens to its fans and tries to address their complaints. Likewise, they listen to the drivers and attempt to find ways to appease them. At the end of the day; however, there’s a lot to be said for the lyrics of the 1972 song ‘Garden Party’ by Ricky Nelson, when he so eloquently sang:
“You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself”
So maybe the take away is that NASCAR needs to parent more effectively by making the rules with the understanding that the drivers can like it or lump it. If something truly is not working, they can make a change if necessary. Ultimately, the end goal is to please the fans and grow the sport. So as long as the grandstands are looking full, as they have been lately, they’re right on track.