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Sprint Unlimited Ballot: NASCAR Gets it Right (Kind Of)

Updated on June 19, 2013
Time to line 'em up and go racing!
Time to line 'em up and go racing!

As a part of the effort to get fans more involved, Nascar announced during the recent media tour that fan voting will determine the format of this year's kickoff event in Daytona. In my opinion this is one of the better moves the France family has made in recent years. Frankly, anything that gets fans emotionally invested in the product is a good thing and the Sprint Unlimited voting does precisely that. After all, how many times do you as a fan have the ability to shape the very rules surrounding a sporting event you're watching?

Would I feel differently if this were a points-paying event with the potential to shape the championship race? Hell yes. Since it doesn't, so what? Bring on the ballot!

Question 1: Race Format

  • 40/20/15 Laps
  • 35/30/10 Laps
  • 30/25/20 Laps

To me this question is very much six on one hand, half a dozen the other. Regardless of the distance set for the opening two segments, this race (like all others at the plate tracks), will likely come down to a green-white-checkered finish with sheet metal all over the infield. Anything else will be a disappointment to the vast majority of fans watching at home. Depending on the number of eliminations (more on that later), the first two segments may end up looking a whole lot like the Sprint All Star race early segments; follow the leader with a bit of banging right at the cut line but not much excitement otherwise. Why risk tearing your car up for the finish just to win a segment? And there's no point in giving segment winners up front starting positions in the finale. Daytona isn't the kind of track you need to start up front at to win.

Ultimately my vote went to option two; 35 laps in segment one, 30 laps in segement two, and 10 laps in segment three. That option has similar distances for the first two rounds, enabling the crews to have a consistent read on how their cars handle over the course of a run. More importantly, it sets up the classic ten lap “dash for the cash” to close the night. Ten laps is long enough to get where you're going in the Daytona draft and short enough that there isn't time to hang out in the back and avoid the big one

Question 2: Pit Stop

  • No Pit Stop
  • 2 Tire Stop
  • 4 Tire Stop

This one doesn't require much in the way of analysis. While the tires themselves likely will have plenty of wear left, this is an exhibition. Drivers are at their most aggressive when they feel most comfortable and little makes a car more comfortable than fresh rubber. Give me four fresh Goodyear Eagles, please.

Question 3: Eliminations

  • No cars eliminated
  • 2 cars eliminated
  • 4 cars eliminated
  • 6 cars eliminated

This one actually had me torn. On the one hand, I hate to see anyone eliminated after the second segment. As noted before, moving from last to first is something that can be done at Daytona and it makes for a great race to see someone charge forward from the back of the field. Moreover, chances are pretty good that at least one car will be damaged our out of commission long before the second yellow flag waves. What's the point of “eliminating” a car that spent much of the race on jackstands in the garage? It doesn't change the outcome nor does it add any element of suspense to the end of the second segment. So ultimately I went with the final option, to eliminate six cars. Even if a car or two isn't in the running at that point, it's unlikely that six of them will be gone. So someone will have to pick up the pace at the end to stay in the running.

Question 4: Fire suit

  • Design 1
  • Design 2
  • Design 3

The less said about this question the better. So let me get this straight... I can take the blonde dressed yellow and black, the blonde dressed in yellow and black, or the blonde dressed in yellow and black?

Let's make this thing interesting... JPM up front?
Let's make this thing interesting... JPM up front?

So while one of the items we as fans are voting on adds a measure of drama to the event, for the most part the options put on the table won't really impact the race itself. Don't get me wrong, I like the concept. Letting fans have a say in the exhibition is a good thing- especially for a sport that has done so much over the last decade to divorce itself from its core fanbase. But while the concept is good, the execution needs some work. That being said, if you're going to identify a problem, I've always been the kind of person who believed that offering a solution is an essential part of doing so. If Nascar maintains the fan voting aspect next year, these are some of the things that can making the voting process not only entertaining to the fans but really matter to the event itself.

#1. Field Inversion

It doesn't have to be a straight inversion putting worst in first and punishing segment winners by sending them to the back. But you have to do something to the field over the course of the race if only to give some of the struggling drivers a chance to run up front. What better way to see just how much “clean air” matters in the new car than by putting a back marker up front and seeing whether or not they can succeed beyond speed-bump status?

One out of the box idea would be to set up fan voting for the second segment starting grid. You KNOW Junior Nation would show up to try and put their man out front. If she's eligible, Danica Patrick would be another driver with a lot of support. Let's make the voting interesting though. Let the fans pick the first place and last place spots, i.e. the ballot would list all of the drivers in the race. You as a fan would be able to pick who you want to see first and who you want to see last. The driver with the most first place votes would take the pole, the driver with the second most votes would be outside pole, and so on. The only catch is that the driver with the most votes for the other half (last starting spot) would get booted to the end of the longest line. Would it be Kyle Busch? Jimmie Johnson? Or maybe even Nascar's most popular driver, whose haters banded together to vote him to the end? The drama would be outstanding.

Would Junior Nation come through and put their man up front? Or will his critics send him to the back?
Would Junior Nation come through and put their man up front? Or will his critics send him to the back?

#2. GWC or not?

While ensuring a competitive finish, many traditionalists look down their noses at the concept of a green-white-checkered finish. As we hear repeatedly on race broadcasts, cautions beget cautions and rarely does a restrictor-plate race end with simply one GWC restart. So put it up to a vote. Let the fans vote on whether a GWC finish would be an option and if so, how many attempts Nascar should make (0-3 GWCs essentially). Then keep the results secret until the scenario presents itself. Drivers wouldn't be able to hold back at all during the final laps because there's no way to know whether or not they'd have the chance to make up ground in overtime. Imagine the radio conversations between crew and driver going into the finale not knowing how many laps truly remained in the race.

Pit Stops play a critical role in any race. But what if you didn't know when you could make one?
Pit Stops play a critical role in any race. But what if you didn't know when you could make one?

#3. Pit Stops

Sure, being able to choose how many tires someone has to take may end up having an impact on the race. But instead of that, let's give the fans a chance to truly impact the race. Put the conditions under which pit road will open up for a vote. Will pit road be open throughout the race? Only under green? Only under caution? Only in between the segments? The fans will decide. I can make an argument for any one of those conditions and that makes for a great fan vote. Naturally, cars damaged on the track would be able to come in at any time and pit road would be closed if an accident occurred on or around the area. Aside from those caveats, it's all up to the fans!

#4. A REAL Choice For Ms. Sprint Cup

I can't imagine a reason for having the fourth fan “vote” be for any other reason than blatant sex appeal. That being said, if you're going to sell the concept of attractive women, at least give us a choice. A blonde, a brunette and a redhead work just fine for me.

Will the real Ms. Sprint Cup please stand up?
Will the real Ms. Sprint Cup please stand up?


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