NASCAR needs a tweak for fans’ sake

There was very little drama the last two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

For the casual NASCAR fan, that isn’t a good thing. For the hardcore follower of the sport, this really isn’t a good thing.

There were 22 lead changes in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 and the majority of them didn’t come on the track as result of racing.

That’s not very good for a sport that needs excitement. The thrill of bumper-to-bumper, side-to-side racing is what hooked a lot of its fans and NASCAR needs to figure out how to get it back.

This isn’t a call to forego any of the safety improvements NASCAR has developed over the years. In fact, the organization needs to continue to make the sport as safe as possible, but also make it must-see TV again.

In the All-Star race, it was a game of follow the leader around the 1.5 mile-track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. For most of the night, Brad Keselowski was the man to catch. Keselowski won two of the four opening segments and seemed primed to grab the $1 million check for winning it all.

Except for one problem, Keselowski was caught exceeding the speed limit on pit road trying to beat Denny Hamlin onto the track for the final segment. Hamlin took advantage of being able to start from the front and took the checkered flag.

The only challenge to Hamlin during the final 10-lap segment came from Kevin Harvick. The defending points champion attempted to pass Hamlin on the high side, but the leader quickly moved up the track for the block.

This forced Harvick to back off. He lost all of his momentum and was never able to mount another attempt to get around Hamlin.

The same scenario played out for 400 laps Sunday. There was very hardly any passing in the front and just a little more back in the pack. It was more follow the leader as Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. showed the way for 249 of the laps.

For a race that is run in prime time and on a day when it can attract the casual fan, there was very little offered to make that viewer come back for the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks in Dover, Delaware.

Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip did their best to make the fuel gamble by Carl Edwards and his crew chief, Darian Grubb, interesting and exciting. But without another competitor like Truex Jr. or Ryan Newman, which had fresher tires and more gas, chasing Edwards down at the end, it was just a lot of smoke with no fire.

And that is NASCAR’s dilemma right now — finding a way to keep its base happy and at the same time attract new fans. The All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 were good examples of how not to do that. Normally, the All-Star race draws the curious viewer with drivers ending up on their roofs or sliding through the grass during the final lap.

NASCAR is always good at adapting and changing on the fly, sometimes a little too much to the frustration of its drivers, but a tweak here and there could put the emphasis back on racing.

And that would be a welcomed sight for all fans.

Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.