February 26, 2024

What do NASCAR fans REALLY want?

NASCAR fans are a passionate and diverse group, and as with any sport, it’s unlikely that any single change will please everyone. As proof, fans are famous for being consistently inconsistent. This shows up season after season in a variety of ways, including how they view the drivers that are selected for available rides, what they think of penalties handed down by NASCAR, and how they respond to questionable actions on the track. For example, what they see as tactical and fair maneuvers from any of their favorite drivers, they conversely define as “dirty driving” when other drivers do the very same thing. Certainly, their commentary on all these subjects is contradictory. BUT it can be easily explained by fan loyalty to drivers, teams, and even manufacturers. What isn’t as easy to explain is what they want specifically from NASCAR because it often changes as quickly as the sponsors on the cars.

When it comes to matters directly controlled by NASCAR, the issues include such things as the rules package, stage racing, the schedule, and the playoff format—all are significant aspects of the sport that can greatly affect the racing experience for both drivers and fans. And unsurprisingly, fans are vocal. But again, they are also contradictory. Here’s a breakdown of some of the complexities:

The Rules Package: Fans typically want a package that allows for competitive racing, close finishes, and genuine passing opportunities. But many argue for no rules and stock cars remaining as stock cars.

Fans generally want to see a fair and competitive field where talent and strategy are the primary keys to success, not just superior equipment or budget. But these same fans are quick to dismiss teams that shine occasionally but can’t rack up a win and are overjoyed when their favorite teams become dominant. However, when it comes to dominance, it only goes so far before fans label repeat winners as lackluster and tiresome.

Stage Racing: This was introduced because fans complained that races felt long and tedious and that drivers tended to sandbag until the very end. So, stage racing was intended to create more “race within a race” and to keep the mid-race interesting with drivers striving for much-needed points. However, traditionalists argue for a return to non-stop racing, where strategy and endurance are key. Given the blowback for stages and to give teams more control over their pit strategy, NASCAR decided to test the removal of stages at road course races in 2023. But we soon discovered that teams essentially retained the same stage-break pit strategy and that fans were moaning online that cars became so strung out without restarts that the races were once again boring. So, NASCAR reintroduced stages for the Roval, and again, fans complained.

The Schedule: NASCAR has tried to vary the schedule to maintain interest and reach different markets, but many fans have strong attachments to traditional tracks and dates. They often want a balance between innovation in the schedule and maintaining the sport’s heritage. Confusingly, however, they undermine their requests by suggesting more road courses until they’re finally added to the schedule, at which point they say it’s too many and alter the request to include more ovals.

Playoff Format: The playoff system in NASCAR is quite different from the typical seasons seen in other forms of motorsport, and opinions on it are mixed. Some fans like the excitement and unpredictability it can bring to the championship, while others prefer a season-long points battle without a playoff.

So, true to form, there are very few things that fans will agree upon. But everyone is unified on the following:

Transparency and Consistency: Fans want to understand the rules and see them applied consistently. When rule changes are made, the reasoning should be clear, and the outcomes and penalties SHOULD be predictable instead of seemingly random.

Fan Experience: Whether at the track or watching from home, fans want an engaging experience. This includes access to drivers and interactive elements that bring them closer to the sport. But perhaps even more so, given online feedback for race commentary, they want insightful, unbiased, and correct comments and pronunciations coming from the booth and fewer scripted storylines.

The challenge for NASCAR is to establish the right mix of innovation and tradition. It’s a delicate balancing act to introduce changes that improve and update the sport while maintaining the essence of what has made NASCAR popular for so many years. We can’t imagine that it’s an easy task.

So what do YOU want? Sound off in the comments section of our YouTube version of this article, found HERE.