In The Pits: NASCAR limited 2021 with future growth in mind | Motorsport


NASCAR will end its season this week with a three-day celebration in Nashville, ending with the coronation of three new national serial champions in Kyle Larson, Daniel Hemric and Ben Rhodes.

NASCAR will host burnouts on Lower Broadway near the popular Honkytonk Doc Holliday’s Saloon and Bootleggers Inn. His 2022 cars will be on display at Riverfront Park, and drivers will attend Q&A sessions at the Music City Center before the finale on Thursday night.

Then attention turns to the crucial upcoming season.

Among the issues NASCAR is facing is the next-generation car, which is slated to hit the market in February after a year-long delay during the pandemic. The series also wants to further tweak its expanded, 38-week schedule, which now includes more short runs, more street courses, and a dirt race – but the season finale at Phoenix Raceway next season for the third year in a row despite calls to switch the championship event.

NASCAR recognizes the need to improve its on-track experience for fans and recognizes the urgent need to showcase its competitors and generate interest in its current generation of drivers, which has been since Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick have retired.

The answer could be a behind-the-scenes documentary, and cameras could potentially be in Nashville this week collecting footage.

Many racing series have pursued the documentary series idea since Formula 1 and Netflix worked together on the “Drive To Survive” program, which helped make the sport increasingly popular in the United States. NASCAR President Steve Phelps hoped earlier this month that talks with NBC Entertainment could lead to a show that will record the 2022 season, which begins as early as the February exhibition race in Los Angeles.

“I think if we can get a couple of deals signed in the next few weeks, they’ll start production in December,” said Phelps. “They will be at the LA Coliseum. There is a good chance that they will not just see us as a segmented period of time like they would in the playoffs, but they might extend it to cover the entire season. We are encouraged.”

NASCAR needs its fans who care about its drivers, and its superstars need to be accessible to those who invest – both emotionally and financially – in the sport. Although NASCAR was one of the first sports to resume competition during the pandemic and the first sport to complete its entire 2020 season, its events were far from normal.

To get to the finish line a year ago, NASCAR canceled all qualifying and practice sessions and three-day weekend events turned into one-day shows in front of fewer fans. The drivers mostly went straight from the motorhome to the racing car, with little engagement with their own racing teams, let alone with the spectators.

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The guidelines have fluctuated due to virus positivity numbers – and Phelps himself admitted that the vaccination rate in the garage “isn’t high enough … of the season. Martinsville had one of the biggest crowds in years, and Phoenix saw the return of practice, qualifying, and the spectators who roamed free through the Arizona garage area earlier this month.

Phelps wants the same Phoenix energy level in all NASCAR races, and the series hopes to make sure fans get the most bang for their buck.

“We have to make sure that the marketing and advertising are as strong as possible. We need to make sure we’re pushing storylines, ”Phelps said. “We need to make sure the event experience is better than ever. Are we happy with where that is? Were not.”

In Nashville, the second year NASCAR selected The Music City for its awards show, restrictions will still apply this week. The week-long event in 2019 was hugely popular, and drivers could be seen up and down Lower Broadway at many of the popular downtown bars.

The award ceremony was canceled last year. His return to Nashville promises plenty of opportunities to see the next generation car, but few organized opportunities to get close to the drivers. No public tickets were sold for the coronation of Larson as Cup Series champion, Hemric as Xfinity champion and Rhodes as truck winner on Thursday night.

But until NASCAR opens the 2022 season, a week before the NFL Super Bowl in February at the Coliseum for the Busch Clash exhibit, Phelps expects excitement for the new season to rise.

He believes NASCAR will attract “an incredible crowd to the Coliseum” and that more than 40% of the grandstands will take part in their first Cup race. NASCAR has shown in 2021 that it will make bold changes to the schedule – Phelps called this season “the most aggressive schedule we’ve had in 50 years” – and its plans to continue growing came the day after Larson’s first Cup title in Los Angeles so he could promote the Busch Clash.

Larson is NASCAR’s first champion of Asian descent, and the Cup series now includes Mexican driver Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace, the only full-time black driver nationally. Larson, Suarez and Wallace have all graduated from NASCAR’s diversity program, and Phelps said the series leadership will continue to reach new fans.

“We’re going to increase the fan base. We do this by meeting people where they are, be it physically on a racetrack or through other media. There are such great opportunities for us, ”said Phelps. “Going to the LA Coliseum to make our debut with our next-gen car is frankly evidence that we will be brave in what we do – it is the schedule or the car … us take calculated risks. “

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