Driver Kevin Harvick, front right, leads the pack coming out of a caution with 30 laps to go in the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on Sunday. (AP Photo)
There really isn’t another way to say this, so I’ll just put it out there. The race on Sunday in Kansas was horrible.
All the hype surrounding NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car rings hollow when the same problems that have plagued the sport for the past five years keep bubbling up to the surface. Passing was nearly impossible on Sunday. Heck, just keeping cars from spinning out was a challenge for most of the drivers in the field.
Sprint Cup races once offered the best drivers on the planet a stage to pull off bold moves that kept fans on the edge of their seats. Now the races have been reduced to a mad scramble to gain track position in the pits and hold on for dear life when the green flag falls. Winning races isn’t about charging forward anymore; it’s about not falling backward.
That doesn’t exactly make for must-see TV.
What we’re watching here is NASCAR regulating its way to mediocrity. The obsession to create parity on the track, a movement that led to the creation of the Car of Tomorrow, which gave way to the Gen-6, has completely backfired. The cream still rises to the top as the mega-teams still battle for wins week in and week out. The only difference is that races typically unfold in the most uninteresting way imaginable.
What makes the current state of NASCAR more unfortunate is that some of the best drivers who have ever competed in the sport are in their prime and locked in an intriguing race for a Cup championship. Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch — even an aging Jeff Gordon is in the mix. But they are stuck driving race cars that handle more like UPS trucks.
So how does NASCAR improve the on-track competition? The first step is to bring innovation back to the sport and allow some cars to be faster than others.
Let the crew chiefs roll up their sleeves and find a way to make the cars get through the corners faster. Right now, clean air is everything, and the car up front has too big of an advantage over the rest of the field. One way to fix that is to allow crew chiefs and drivers to put together race cars that stick to the track better, making passing under green-flag conditions more than just a freak occurrence.
Sure, the underfunded teams will suffer, but it’s not like the guys at Front Row Motorsports or JTG Daugherty Racing are challenging for wins anyway.
The other area NASCAR needs to explore is the tires being used in Cup competition. Goodyear brought a new compound to the track on Sunday, and it was too hard to put on a good race. A hard tire makes a race car feel like it is driving on ice. Not only is passing difficult, but the lack of tire wear takes a lot of the strategy calls that used to shuffle the deck out of the sport.
Somehow, some way, Goodyear and NASCAR have to get together and figure out how to get softer tire compounds onto Cup cars. Softer tires give cars more grip, but they also allow for some fall-off after a few laps. Drivers who don’t manage their tires will fall back while drivers who do will move up in the field.
And that, boys and girls, is where passing comes from.
But for now, the battle for survival will continue in Charlotte this week as teams try to figure out how to nail one late-race pit stop in order to be in position to win the race. There may be very little innovation left in NASCAR, but come Saturday night, I’ll likely find myself thanking whoever dreamed up a DVR with a fast-forward button.
Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:05 on “Good Morning Tri-Cities” with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.