NASCAR Hits Head On With Safety, Misses Boat on Excitement

By Shane Phillips
Justin Tooley-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last decade and a half NASCAR has worked diligently to improve the safety of stock-cars and do everything they can to protect the drivers. With the death of Dale Earnhardt launching the sport into the global spotlight, they have done their best to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again. Mechanics and engineers have changed the design of the cars inside-out and out-side in. Doctors have done better to understand the science behind impacts and inertia. Basically, NASCAR has worked like a well-oiled machine to guarantee safety.

Of course, there has been the occasional setback such as the Jerry Nadeau crash at Bristol or the several restrictor-plate crashes that have launched cars into the fence, debris in to the grandstands and fans to the hospital. After each incident, NASCAR has launched investigations, research, solutions and preventions. Overall, they have done an incredible job with safety development for drivers and fans.

But as I sat there Sunday and watched the second race of the 2014 season at the Phoenix Raceway, I found myself rather bored. Actually, I had found myself yawning through races for at least the last year or so. Even the races at anxiety-filled tracks like Bristol, Martinsville and Talladega had become boring. It wasn’t because the cars weren’t going fast or the drivers weren’t racing hard, it was because the cars handled too well. Side-by-side racing and the fender-rubbing that use to get our hearts pumping had become virtually non-existent. Not to mention the crashes had shrunk into mere cautions for debris or because a car pirouetted through the infield.

Thomas Hobbes had developed a theory that humans, in nature and at heart, are brutal savages turned on and cradled by violence. Hobbes called his theory the state of nature. So, it makes sense that as NASCAR increases safety and lessens the number of crashes, the viewership decreases. It is not that fans want to see a driver get hurt, it is the fact that the carnage of twisted metal grabs the attention of the average human.

When there is an accident on the interstate, traffic comes to a halt, not because all the lanes are blocked, but because everyone wants to get a look at the action. It is the same thing in NASCAR. Fans sit there twiddling their thumbs hoping that there will be a crash, but their favorite driver will sneak by.

If NASCAR wants to revitalize the sports and increase viewers, they need to stop changing the Chase because that won’t do anything. What they should be doing is looking into a way to increase the competition and make cars capable of racing side-by-side for 400 laps. NASCAR and its teams don’t want crashes, so give the fans the next best thing: side-by-side, fender-bending racing. Safety is great, but they must also keep up the excitement.

Shane Phillips is a NASCAR Writer for Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneRantSports, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also email Shane at

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