NASCAR president Steve Phelps said he thinks the 2019 racing product “has been exceptional.”
“The good news is it’s not just me,” said Phelps, who became the sport’s fourth president last year. “The interaction that we have with our fans … whether you’re talking about our fan council or you’re talking about radio shows that I listen to frequently, by and large, the fans are incredibly excited about what they’re seeing. I would suggest that the data – green flag passes, green flag passes for the lead – are up significantly year over year. That’s exactly what we were hoping was going to happen.
“From that perspective, very pleased with what the 2019 racing looks like, and I think that’s translated to increases in fan interest, increases in fan engagement and fan consumption. I think folks go to ratings pretty quickly (and) we look at, in good times and in bad, we look at ratings, we look at digital and social consumption. They’re incredibly important to our sport to look at holistically, so for us to have numbers up in all three engagement areas is fantastic.”
]NASCAR Cup Series teams have been running two distinct packages this season with either 550 or 750 horsepower, depending on track type – but both with significantly increased downforce. Coming into the season, there were discussions and even concern that the aero package was going to create pack racing and make passing more difficult. Kyle Busch said over the winter that driver talent was being taken out of the equation. Clint Bowyer expressed frustration after Michigan over the effect drafting has on competition. But Phelps said pack racing was never the intention.
“It’s intended to have cars closer together, that can pass each other, that create incredible restarts, that create opportunities to go three, four, and five-wide, which is what the best racers in the world are doing,” he said. “And I think we saw that last weekend in Chicago. I think we’re going to see it in Kentucky.”
More on-throttle time has also been a central topic of conversation around the package. Drivers have often spoken about running wide open at certain racetracks, or the limited amount of time they are breathing the throttle and touching the brakes. Phelps is not against the idea of full-throttle racing.
“What we’re looking for is what is going to be the most entertaining racing that we can put out there, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “If there’s full-throttle racing and that’s what creates great racing, that’s the package we’re going to put out there.”
He acknowledged that not everyone is a fan of the product, but countered that NASCAR’s research shows “there are significantly more fans who like this package than who do not like it. So, are we going to make every fan happy? We are not. I wish we could. I really do. But people like different things. Different styles of racing.
“I don’t know how the majority of races that we have had this year are not passing the eyeball test; they pass it for me. They pass it for the majority of fans who we are talking to. Are you going to have folks on Twitter who attack any particular subject? You’re going to have that. As for the drivers … we’re not trying to muzzle a driver. We want drivers to be authentic. I think that Kyle [Busch] is an authentic driver, and he speaks from the heart. I would suggest that the data would prove that when someone says hey, it’s hard to pass, well they’re passing more than they were, so they always say it’s hard to pass. I think the point is, there is more passing. Is it hard to pass? In some cases it is, and we’ve seen that. With that said, I think the racing is better , and it’s the path that we are no and I think it’s the path forward for us.”
That means NASCAR will not be moving away from the aero package.
“This 550 package is a package that we are going to retain until such time as we think there is an opportunity to have something that will create better racing,” said Phelps. “I don’t see that happening any time in the near-term. We’re committed to it. We’re committed to the way the competition package is put together. If there’s things that we can tweak such as tires, that’s something we will do.”