Nascar’s 2015 season definitely had some ups and downs. From Jeff Gordon’s retirement to the disastrous introduction of the high-downforce rules package, it was a wild year for Nascar. Let’s take a look back at some of the things that worked and didn’t work in 2015.
The medical waiver: Worked
There was a lot of controversy after Kyle Busch took home the championship at Homestead. Although Busch missed 11 races after breaking his leg in Daytona, he was able to race his way into the Chase by winning 4 races and finishing in the top 30 in points, after securing a medical waiver from Nascar which guaranteed his Chase eligibility. Kyle’s victory may have annoyed a lot of old-school fans, but there’s no question that Busch was one of the best drivers on track in the 25 races he competed in. Busch’s injury, after all, wasn’t his fault–Nascar could have prevented it by installing SAFER barriers on Daytona’s inner walls. Busch’s comeback was a great story for Nascar.
2015 also marked Nascar’s first year of its television contract with NBC. NBC, in a welcome change, signed on to replace TNT and ESPN/ABC. I’ve already written about TNT’s atrocious coverage, but ABC often did just as poor of a job, rolling out boring broadcasts often relegated to ESPN. NBC, on the other hand, was very good. They introduced new graphics and camera angles, and had solid amounts of Nascar coverage on their sports network, NBCSN. They assembled a strong first-year broadcasting team, bringing in former Hendrick crew chief Steve Letarte and retired racer Jeff Burton. There were some hiccups, but overall NBC did an excellent job, and looks to be a strong partner with Nascar in the future.
Rules package: Didn’t work
Nascar’s Generation 6 cars and its new rules package produced some of the best racing in years in 2014. So naturally, Nascar drastically altered the package in 2015, reducing the horsepower limit with a tapered spacer and increasing the downforce on the cars. The quality of racing dipped noticeably this year–passing was harder and the leader was able to easily pull away from the pack. Nascar’s disastrous experiment with a high-drag package at Indianapolis and Michigan demonstrated the problems inherent to the new setups–most drivers complained that passing was virtually impossible due to the aerodynamics. A low-downforce package, making the cars less stable and more maneuverable, was rolled out at Darlington. Drivers and fans alike enjoyed this setup the most, and Nascar will look to implement it in 2016.
The Kenseth suspension: Didn’t Work
After Matt Kenseth rammed Logano at Martinsville, knocking him out of the lead and the race, many Nascar fans approved. After all, Kenseth was just returning the favor–Logano had popped him two weeks earlier while he led in Kansas. Most fans expected just a fine for Kenseth, or maybe a 25-point penalty. Instead, the Joe Gibbs driver got socked with a 2 race suspension for taking out a Chase contender. The move enraged Nascar fans, many of whom love seeing good old beating and banging on short tracks. It also flew in the face of the precedent Nascar set after previous incidents–when Jeff Gordon took out Clint Bowyer in 2013 at Phoenix, ending Clint’s championship hopes, Gordon only got probation and a points penalty. Nascar’s sanctions against Kenseth were confusing and hasty overreactions. Fans love a villain, and they love seeing drivers settle disputes on the track. Nascar’s ratings could use more of that, not squeaky clean racing. The decision was bad for the Kenseth, bad for the sport, and demonstrated the need for consistent guidelines from the sanctioning body.