Criticism of NASCAR

Criticism of NASCAR

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. NASCAR also oversees NASCAR Regional Racing, the Whelen Modified Tour, and the Whelen All-American Series. In its role, NASCAR sanctions over 1,500 races at over 100 tracks in 39 states, Canada, and Mexico.

This article summarizes several of the criticisms frequently leveled at NASCAR.

Similar to other professional leagues and sanctioning bodies, NASCAR has been the target of criticism on various topics, from various sources. Some critics note the significant differences between today's NASCAR vehicles and true "stock cars".[1] Others frequently cite the dominance of the France family in NASCAR's business structure, policies, and decision making. Recently, the increased number of Cup drivers competing consistently in the Nationwide Series races has been hotly debated. Another general area of criticism, not only of NASCAR but other motorsports as well, includes questions about fuel consumption,[2] emissions and pollution, and the use of lead additives in the gasoline. As NASCAR has made moves to improve its national appeal, it has begun racing at new tracks, and ceased racing at some traditional ones, a sore spot for the traditional fan base. Most recently, NASCAR has been challenged on the types and frequency of caution flags, with some critics suggesting the outcome of races is being manipulated,[3][4][5] and that the intention is not safety, as NASCAR claims, but closer racing.


Technology far from "stock" or production

Mark McFarland (88) spins at Bristol Motor Speedway, while Kenny Wallace (22) and Ashton Lewis Jr. (25) pass to the inside during a Busch Series event.

The technologies used in "stock cars" bear little resemblance to modern street vehicles. Modern NASCAR vehicles share very few attributes of the commercial models with which they are associated; for example, the production Chevrolet Monte Carlo weighs nearly the same as the NASCAR Chevy Monte Carlo, but the NASCAR vehicle has a cast-iron eight-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels, whereas the production car has an aluminum alloy front-wheel-drive V6 (though some model years offered a V8). Also, NASCAR vehicles continue to use carburetors instead of the now-standard fuel injection; they also use a 2-valve per cylinder configuration operated by a single cam-in-block using push rods, instead of the dual overhead camshafts operating 4-valves per cylinder that are common on production cars.

Supporters note that this is a modern condition: when NASCAR first started in 1948, the race cars were indeed production vehicles, but the safety and performance needs of modern racing have required custom-built race cars. Supporters also note that the strict equipment rules place less emphasis on getting a technological advantage, and thus more emphasis on individual driver skill. All of NASCAR's series also run on spec tires made by certain tire manufacturers such as Goodyear and American Racer. Some suggest that this discourages tire competition and development, which they further assert has led to the absence of rain/wet condition tires, and to races (such as the 2005 UAW-GM Quality 500) where tires seem to self-destruct.[6] The lack of tire competition has also helped lead to a drop in the number of new winners; in 1994 when Hoosier Race Tire participated the sport saw three new winning drivers (Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer, and Jeff Gordon) and the competitive elevation of drivers such as Ward Burton and his brother Jeff.

In 2008, a series of meetings was held in Indianapolis between NASCAR officials and Detroit automakers. According to Autoextremist magazine, automakers demanded the use of Pony cars, in stock bodywork dimensions, on Sprint Cup races by 2010, to help sales in the showroom; using direct fuel-injection, overhead cams and E85 fuel instead of gasoline.[7] E85 fuels were rejected by NASCAR[8] and the dubiousness of promotional claims about them have limited their appeal.[9] Though NASCAR later changed its Nationwide Series to run "pony" cars, and still later announced plans to switch to fuel injection (currently set for 2012),[10] the other demands were largely rejected, as they reflected an unrealistic view of racing as a technology exercise despite decades of banning of technological items throughout motorsports such as Wankel engines, turbines (used at Indianapolis in the 1960s), and traction control, as well as the continued effectiveness (and relative ease of policing) of NASCAR's "antiquated" carburation and pushrod technology.

Business structure and decision-making policies

NASCAR's business structure has also been criticized. Since its founding in 1947 by William France Sr., the overall NASCAR organization has been majority owned by the France family, ensuring that the family controls a majority of the overwhelming revenue that the sport generates (compared to other sports where the owners and players split revenue almost evenly). NASCAR is also criticized for its reluctance to promote some aspects of safety that it would have to pay for (e.g., traveling safety crew),[11][12] and other allegedly monopolistic aspects such as merchandising and race-track ownership. The case for a traveling safety crew was never credibly made by NASCAR critics; it revolved around citing the use of traveling safety crews by Indy car racing, but no case was made that the in-house track safety crews used by NASCAR were in any way inferior in performance to the traveling crew of Indy cars.

In addition, due to its overwhelming influence and lack of drivers' say, NASCAR has even been compared to a dictatorship by some motorsports, political, and economic analysts.[13][14] Examples of such influence included the cancellation of the Speed Channel television show Pit Bull (which frequently criticized many of NASCAR's decisions and policies and enjoyed modest ratings), frequent use of the vague "detrimental to NASCAR" rule, and the creation of rules on whim, especially during a race. NASCAR has taken to penalizing drivers in recent years, with fines, point penalties, and lap penalties in races for drivers or mechanics who use obscene language in interviews to the media.[15]

Because of Speed Channel's heavy affiliation with NASCAR, a good amount of the network's programming is NASCAR-related.

Driver competition in multiple series

NASCAR has long allowed drivers to compete in as many series and events as they like, with few restrictions. However, in recent years, many Sprint Cup drivers have competed in and dominated the lower tier Nationwide (formerly Busch) Series races on a regular basis, earning Cup drivers the nickname "Buschwhackers". The situation is compounded by the close timing of the races in the two series: a typical NASCAR weekend has a Nationwide race on Saturday followed by a Cup race on Sunday at the same track. Some have wondered why "major league" Cup drivers are allowed to compete in the "minor league" races with such frequency, and whether Nationwide is an adequate developmental series. Sportswriter Bob Margolis noted that much of this is due to the similarities between the cars used in the two series (they are mostly alike except for the engines and the wheelbase), and the desire for Sprint drivers to get as much practice time as possible to learn about the track and car setup before the main race.[16]

In the aforementioned 2008 meetings between NASCAR and Detroit automakers, the automakers also called for the Nationwide Series to become strictly a developmental series, with Cup drivers prohibited from running in the junior series.[7] The request was rejected at that time. However, in late 2010, media reports began to indicate that NASCAR may institute a slightly modified version of this rule for 2011, with Cup drivers allowed to run in Nationwide races but not to compete for the series championship.[17] In January 2011, confirmed this, adding that drivers will now be allowed to compete for the championship in only one national series in a given season, a change that also affects the Truck Series.[18]

Environmental effects

Fuel consumption

NASCAR fuel supply truck in 2010

According to NASCAR, about 6,000 U.S. gallons (~22,700 litres) of fuel are consumed during a typical Sprint Cup weekend.[19] For the 2006 season, which included 36 points races, the total for the season would have been 216,000 U.S. gallons (818,000 litres). One environmental critic recently estimated NASCAR's total fuel consumption across all series at 2 million U.S. gallons (7.57 million liters) of gas for one season.[20]

At race speeds, Sprint Cup cars get 2 to 5 miles per gallon.[19][20][21] Consumption under caution can be estimated at 14-18 mpg, based on comparable engines generally available to the public. The rate of fuel consumption tends to be the same regardless of the actual speeds of the cars, as teams change gear ratios for each race to ensure that the engine always operates in its optimum power band; however, the fuel mileage will vary for each race, depending on the maximum speeds attained.

The fuel consumption criticism dates to 1974 and the energy crisis; NASCAR responded by showing data that racing was far less consumptive of fuel than regular air travel, etc.

Emissions and pollution

The consumption figures above provide no insight on environmental impact in terms of emissions. NASCAR vehicles are generally unregulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency‎, and in particular, they have no mufflers, catalytic converters or other emissions control devices. However, some local short tracks which run under NASCAR sanction require certain emissions control devices. Many short tracks run mufflers in compliance with noise ordinances at some tracks; in the early years of the Camping World Truck Series, some races were held at venues which required mufflers, a requirement still used in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series (East and West) and Whelen (North and South) Modified Tours.

Compton Leffler.jpg

NASCAR continued to use lead additives in its race gasoline until the 2007 Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on February 25,[22] which led to concerns about the health of those exposed to the fumes of the cars (fans and residents living near the race tracks). Lead is a well-known environmental risk, but the performance needs of race engines (in particular, the high compression ratios and sustained/repeated operation at high rpm and load) once made it difficult to switch to unleaded fuel, and the actual risk of lead had not proven particularly dire.

In the US, the commercial use of leaded fuel has been phased out since the early 1970s, when catalytic converters were required to be installed on new cars, making unleaded fuel a requirement (leaded fuel will destroy a catalytic converter). The sale of leaded fuel has been mostly banned in the US since 1996, but exemptions exist for auto racing, aircraft, farm and marine equipment.

NASCAR eventually took steps to eliminate the need for leaded fuels. In 1998, NASCAR and then-fuel supplier Tosco (Now ConocoPhillips, the company that produces the Union 76 brand of fuel) conducted an unsuccessful test of unleaded fuel in selected Busch Series races. In July 2006, in the first in a four-week test run of unleaded fuel, the first race since 1998 to run unleaded gasoline, known as Sunoco 260 GT Plus, a commercially available racing fuel, was held during a Busch race at the Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois. The testing in July 2006 was successful with no suspected engine failures or malfunctions from the new fuel. In October 2006, NASCAR stated its intention to transition to unleaded fuel in all three top series (Craftsman, Busch and Nextel Cup) in 2007, starting with the Auto Club 500.

During the first race in which unleaded fuel was used, there were a number of engine failures during the race, leading many to believe that the unleaded fuel is to be blamed. The drivers who encountered failures include Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Kasey Kahne of Evernham Motorsports. The engine failures of both Earnhardt and Truex were attributed in part to the lack of a lead additive, but also to centrifugal force causing improper distribution of oil between the left and right sides of the engine. Evernham Motorsports has not disclosed the reason behind Kahne's engine failure.

The 2008 season marked the first season all 36 races used unleaded racing fuel.

2011 marked one of the largest “green initiatives” in the fifty plus year history of NASCAR when all fuel sources were to include Ethanol in a blend called E15[23] . One unintended consequence of the conversion was higher horsepower and therefore slightly lower fuel economy. It is argued however, that the reduction in fuel economy and the resultant increase in fuel use may offset any environmental impact savings by reduced emissions. Although not connected to the fuel blend, a new “Dry Break” self venting fuel supply can was also adopted in part for safety (reduced the number of people working on the racecar during a pit stop) but also in part to reduce the amount of fuel spilled during a pit stop, which has both environmental and safety implications. The reduced fuel spillage is negligible at best when observing a pit stop as fuel spills are common and during competition there is no real method to determine with any certainty the volume of fuel lost.

In 2012 a complete technology change and shift in thinking will occur when NASCAR switches the Sprint Cup Series to fuel injection from the current carburetor. Arguments have been made about increased efficiency however, race teams will work to ensure they take advantage of the additional horsepower and efficiency to increase speeds so any improvement in efficiency may be lost to competition.

Participation of non-U.S. manufacturers

A Car of Tomorrow body with Toyota Camry decals.

NASCAR's early history included several foreign manufacturers, such as Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Citroën, Jaguar, MG, Morgan, Porsche, Renault, and Volkswagen.[24] At a 1954 road race in Linden, New Jersey, Jaguar cars finished first, fourth, fifth and sixth.[25]

As a matter of policy, NASCAR restricted entry to American car makers from the 1960s until 2004, when Toyota was allowed to enter the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with the Toyota Tundra. The restriction was relaxed in recognition of the fact that the Tundra, while Japanese in origin, is built in the United States. Commentators have also noted that the "American" cars are often built or assembled in Canada and Mexico. Some fans have complained about the entry of a foreign manufacturer into what is perceived as an American sport, while drivers and owners have expressed concern that Toyota's deep pockets, and stated willingness to spend, may increase costs for other teams as well.[26] Also, since NASCAR vehicles are only painted to look like production cars and are team-built, the "American-built" regulation can be considered obsolete.

NASCAR announced in 2006 the addition of Toyota to both the Busch Series and NEXTEL Cup Series for the 2007 season. Toyota supported three Cup teams in a total of seven cars in 2007. As of the 2011 season, drivers that compete in the Toyota Camry include the Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano, as well as Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr., and Bobby Labonte

Four Camrys qualified for and ran in the 2007 Daytona 500, becoming the first foreign make to compete in a Sprint Cup race since the British-made MG in 1962. However, Toyota's debut was marred by a cheating scandal involving owner/driver Michael Waltrip.[27]

It should also be noted Dodge, and its parent company Chrysler[28], were owned by Daimler-Benz a German company, during the period in question when Toyota entered the fray, and is currently held by Fiat an Italian company. Chrysler Corporation is now majority owned by Fiat at 52% ownership[29]. Additionally, China has partial ownership in General Motors who derives a great deal of profit from selling cars made in China to local nationals and to other countries like India. It is estimated the Chinese government owns as much as 16% of General Motors stock.

Criticism of tracks

Changes in traditional tracks

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

From the late 1990s, and into the early 2000s, a number of new tracks were built and became part of the NASCAR schedule, in places such as South Florida, Chicagoland, the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex, the Northeast, and the Los Angeles area. This is part of a publicized trend to make NASCAR a more national sport rather than a regional sport. A consequence of NASCAR maintaining its current 36-race schedule is that the inclusion of these new tracks in the schedule results in some of the more traditional tracks in the Southeast no longer hosting races. Examples include: Darlington Raceway which hosted the Southern 500, North Wilkesboro Speedway which is no longer a part of the NASCAR schedule, and North Carolina Speedway which held its last race in 2004 after being in operation for nearly 40 years. Traditionalist fans argue that this slow attrition away from tracks in those states where stock car racing began causes the sport to move away from its roots, and from uniquely-styled tracks to those of a more "cookie-cutter" design. The counterargument is that these "traditional" venues are in markets whose support for racing had long declined - Darlington failed to sell out races until it was cut to one date in 2005 while North Wilkesboro had no infrastructure and little ability to expand beyond 50,000 seats, and Rockingham failed to sell out its races for over five years. There is also a lack of competitive racing in recent years at these venues.

The 2008 NASCAR-Detroit meetings also saw two automakers call for the addition of at least two new road races. One of these manufacturers also favored reducing the total number of races by at least four while at the same time increasing the number of road races from its current two to at least four. The most obvious way to achieve these goals would be to reduce the number of tracks that host two events a year.[7] These demands were rejected and reflected an unrealistic view of racing and of its markets; adding more road races would add nothing of competitive value to the sport as road racing does not produce any level of positional passing and thus is consistently last in lead changes and position changes.

Decline of road courses

Since the seventies NASCAR has increasingly focused its emphasis on oval courses. Previously, some races were held on road courses, but by 1986 only three road courses were in use: Sears Point Raceway, Watkins Glen International, and Riverside International Raceway. This can be explained by the decrease in handling ability over the course of the vehicles' development. Also notable is the establishment of NASCAR layouts at Sears Point and Watkins Glen. The former omits the Carousel while the latter omits the Boot, again due to handling issues.

Manipulating the outcome of races

The flagman displaying the checkered flag with a complete set of stock car racing flags

NASCAR uses a race event called "caution", triggered at the discretion of the race administrators, in which drivers are limited to certain maneuvers. The general purpose of this event is to reduce risk when track conditions deteriorate (for instance, if there is debris on the track). One side-effect of this event is that the cars tend to bunch up.

The number of cautions per race in the Sprint Cup Series has increased from 7.4 in 2001 to 9.6 in 2007 (an increase of almost 30%), while the number of actual crashes per race has only increased from 5.6 to 6.7 (an increase of about 20%).[30] This is likely due to increased caution periods for cleaning debris from the track. Fans and competitors alike speculate whether some of these cautions are for cleaning actual debris or are being used to keep the cars tightly packed in an effort to boost fan interest. An unnecessary caution at the appropriate time could affect a driver’s strategy and the outcome of the race.

In April 2007, driver Tony Stewart said on his own radio show, "It's like playing God. They can almost dictate the race instead of the drivers doing it…I don't know that they've run a fair race all year." Stewart also made references to professional wrestling institutions such as WWE, which have long been known for scripting matches.

In an unrelated interview, driver Matt Kenseth said, "There's for sure entertainment cautions, there's no doubt about that, but we're in the entertainment business and you're going to get some of that and group the field every once in a while." Driver and commentator, Kyle Petty, said, "We're in the entertainment business, if they want to throw a caution every 40 laps to keep everybody bunched up, so the fans have a better experience, more cautions, the better."[31]

The death of Tim Richmond

The series is known for its controversial handling of the illness and subsequent death of Tim Richmond. NASCAR suspended him indefinitely for testing positive for banned substances. NASCAR later admitted that over-the-counter medications had been found in his system. They refused, however, to reinstate him until he released his medical records to NASCAR executives; this request came after two separate tests of Richmond produced contradictory results. Richmond had contracted AIDS and rumors ran rampant through the community about how Richmond may have contracted the illness (after his death, it was revealed that Richmond contracted AIDS from an unknown woman[32]). Richmond attempted to sue for defamation of character, and the case was later settled out of court.[33]

Attraction of drivers from other series

In recent years, drivers from road racing and open wheel racing series have joined NASCAR either full time or part time. This is criticized through NASCAR's "lack of sophistication" in comparison to other series. Also, many drivers are often promoted to the extent that their road racing past is almost forgotten. A major example is former Indy Car champion Tony Stewart, whose success in the Sprint Cup Series has surpassed that of his ICS career.

Despite this, however, many NASCAR drivers do participate in road racing. Former road racer Max Papis has occasionally participated in the NASCAR-affiliated Rolex Sports Car Series along with several NASCAR regulars such as Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Many other road racers have occasionally returned to road racing, such as Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya and IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti.

Race car drivers participating in different styles of racing is not unusual, however. Mario Andretti competed in both open wheel and NASCAR racing. Many drivers in the 1950s and 1960s often changed between Formula One, sports cars, and sometimes NASCAR.

Number of races

The schedule of NASCAR typically includes over twice as many events as most racing series. This is possible due to the inexpensive, team-built racecars of NASCAR as opposed to the factory-supported vehicles of other series. Also dominant in NASCAR is the repeated use of major venues such as Daytona or Talladega, whereas other series seldom use one venue more than once (although the Rolex Sports Car Series often uses Daytona and Watkins Glen twice each, one for the endurance race and one for a standard-length race).

Jeremy Mayfield drug scandal

On May 9, 2009, driver Jeremy Mayfield was suspended indefintely as part of NASCAR's drug policy. Mayfield fought the suspension, saying that a combination of Adderall and Claritin-D caused the false-positive. NASCAR, refusing initially to name the drug he tested positive for, only stated that it was "a drug of concern." In a court hearing on July 1, it was claimed that Mayfield tested positive for methamphetamine. [34]

NASCAR has refused to release a list of banned substances as other leagues have done. Many drivers expressed concern that an over-the-counter medication would yield a positive test and suspension.[35]

NASCAR filed affidivits claiming that drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon both expressed concern about Mayfield being allowed to compete. [36]

On July 1, 2009, US District Court Judge Graham Mullen granted a temporary injunction, lifting Mayfield's suspension. Mullen concluded that the "likelihood of a false positive in this case is quite substantial." In granting the injunction, Mullen ruled that the "harm to Mr. Mayfield significantly outweighs the harm to NASCAR".[37] Mayfield has been unable to find a ride, and the court case against NASCAR, coupled with his team not competing in his absence, has caused Mayfield to lay off 10 employees, sell off personal effects and borrow money from his family.[38]

In May 2010 Mayfield's lawsuit was dismissed on six grounds, including lack of evidence.[39]

On November 8, 2011, Mayfield was indicted by a grand jury on drug possession charges following a November 1, 2011 raid on his property in which police exercised a search warrant and found Methamphetamine and $100,000 of items reported stolen.[40]

See also


  1. ^ The REAL Reason NASCAR is less "stock"
  2. ^ NASCAR a waste of resources
  3. ^ Skinner joins Stewart in exposing NASCAR manipulation
  4. ^ Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon: Did NASCAR Manipulate Phoenix Results?
  5. ^ Does NASCAR manipulate its races in any way?
  6. ^ Report on tires at 2005 UAW-GM Quality 500
  7. ^ a b c De Lorenzo, Peter M. (2008-08-06). "Fumes #457 – The Detroit Three get down to the business of NASCAR". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  8. ^ Biofuels or Bio-Fools?
  9. ^ The Ethanol Trap
  10. ^ Rodman, Dave (January 22, 2011). "NASCAR defers fuel injection to 2012 season". Retrieved July 15, 2011. 
  11. ^ CBS
  12. ^
  13. ^ CNN Money Magazine (online)
  14. ^ USA Today, June 20, 2005
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Blount, Terry (November 23, 2010). "The best and worst of 2010". Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  18. ^ Rodman, Dave (January 11, 2011). "NASCAR drivers must elect championships in '11". Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  19. ^ a b Finney, Mike (January 2, 2006). "Like the cars, fuel goes fast in NASCAR". The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  20. ^ a b Gerard, Jean. "Motor Madness: Gas Guzzling is Business as Usual at NASCAR". E/The Environmental Magazine. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  21. ^ Servino, Natale. "NASCAR goes green? New tracks touted as good for the planet". Earth Island Journal. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  22. ^ Bob Passrock (October 21, 2006). "Nextel Cup going to unleaded fuel in 2007". Retrieved 2007-06-17. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ NASCAR Fans, Be Careful When You Talk "Tradition"
  25. ^ Statistically Speaking: Road warriors - NASCAR - Yahoo! Sports
  26. ^ A year after disastrous start, Toyota making inroads at Daytona - NASCAR - Yahoo! Sports
  27. ^ Apologetic Waltrip nearly quit Daytona - Motor Sports -
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ USAToday"2007 NASCAR Crash Data" Retrieved Dec. 22, 2007
  31. ^ "DESPAIN: My Take on Phantom Cautions" Retrieved Dec. 22, 2007
  33. ^ More than Tim Richmond died in 1989
  34. ^ "Mayfield Test Positive for Methamphetamine". Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  35. ^ "Expert questions lack of banned substances list in new drug policy". ESPN Sports. ESPN Sports. 
  36. ^ "Drivers file Concerns about Mayfield". CBS Sports. CBS Sports. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  37. ^ "Judge lifts suspension, says Mayfield can race". Associated Press. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2009-07-01. [dead link]
  38. ^ Fryer, Jenna. "Jeremy Mayfield considers selling race team". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  39. ^ "Judge dismisses Mayfield's lawsuit against NASCAR Rules owner/driver waived rights by joining NASCAR". NASCAR. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  40. ^ "Mayfield indicted on drug charges". Fox Sports. Fox Sports. Retrieved 09 November 2011. 

External links

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