NASCAR pulling off a balancing act

BY Jeff Hammond • January 14, 2010

Even though we are only at the middle of January, 2010 has been a breath of fresh air. I truly believe that NASCAR Chairman Brian France and President Mike Helton understand that our sport needs serious changes.

It looks like NASCAR is going to loosen the reins up and let these guys race. Additionally, you are going to see that constant eye sore addressed — and yes, I am talking about that rear wing.

Sure, we haven’t seen an official release yet, but I think it’s safe to tell everyone to “stay tuned.”

You already see it coming with how NASCAR designed the new Nationwide Series car. Not only will there be some cosmetic changes to the front of the Sprint Cup car that will make it more attractive to the manufacturers, but you will also see the rear wing go away and the spoiler come back. It’s refreshing to see that NASCAR is learning and listening. You have to respect and thank NASCAR for taking major steps to make things better.

When I was coming up in this sport guys were driving high, wide and handsome and as fast as they wanted to. NASCAR is going to let these drivers be drivers. The drivers will settle it themselves, trust me.

Now as far as the car goes, always remember that when you make a change, it creates another change. You hear us talk all the time about the balance of a race car. So if you make a change in one area, it will mess up the balance in another area on the car. So when you start making aerodynamic changes to the car, well naturally it’s going to affect the balance on the whole car.

I believe the engineers on these teams, along with the manufacturers as well as the NASCAR engineers already have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen overall to the car when they do something. The key is doing what they need to do, without basically turning the car upside down from a setup standpoint.

That’s where they need to be careful. This thing needs to be tweaked. It doesn’t need to be reinvented. Reinventing the wheel at this point does absolutely nothing. Give NASCAR credit for trying to address the concerns of the competitor while at the same time listening to the complaints of the fans.

So in addition to the balance of the race car, the goal is to have a balance within our sport. Our sport is not whole without the fans. You can have all the balanced race cars you want, but if we don’t have the fan support with the things we are trying to accomplish, then we are wasting our time.

I am excited about things. These are the changes we have all been asking for. If it doesn’t work, well by golly we have to look in the mirror and realize we were the ones asking for these changes. Go back and look at every 10 years as this sport grew and expanded. I challenge you to show me a time where the competitors and the fans were 100 percent happy.

It’s just human nature. Any time you make any changes, some of the competitors and some of the fans aren’t going to like it. The best thing we can hope for is with the changes come some better racing. You don’t know until you try and I give credit to NASCAR for recognizing there is a problem and attempting to fix it. Like always, the proof will be clear on the race track. Then we’ll know how far we’ve come.

In talking to the teams, it seems like a lot of them are restructuring and trying to improve their performance. It reminds me somewhat of the way it was back when I was coming up. It seems like there is a shift to make mechanics be mechanics again as opposed to having specialists for only certain areas. It seems like we are getting back to the days of when a mechanic can put brakes on a car, work on the suspension and also wire up a car. It just seems like we are getting back to the way it was in the beginning. For that reason, guys that can and are willing to multi-task are much more in demand now from these teams.

As tough economically as these times are right now, hopefully this will make our sport stronger. It’s a team effort and it looks like we are getting back to where everybody on the team does a little bit of something.

That is refreshing.

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