With NASCAR at a crossroads after a decade of declining popularity, its time for the drivers to get a larger say in the direction of the sport. Did the Formula 1 drivers just lay the groundwork for change?
When NASCAR drove its way from being a niche sport to a mainstream sport, its drivers where at the wheel. Their personalities and emotions on and off the track connected to people all over the country. It translated to ticket sales and massive television ratings. At its peak, NASCAR made the decision to reel in the personalities to try and keep its new fans. A decade later that decision is still holding back the sport.
As one of the few sports leagues that is privately owned, they have run the sport without having to negotiate with a players union or powerful team owners. What NASCAR says goes, and there is no one to question them. While team owners have had some influence with NASCAR, the drivers voice has gone mostly unheard.
In Formula 1, a new qualifying format was instituted this year that was a disaster. FIA was content to see it out longer, but the drivers unified and demanded a change. Their unified public stance forced FIA to change direction quickly, something previously unthinkable. This show of power is setting the stage for the drivers to have more a say in the future of Formula 1.
NASCAR drivers should take note, strengthen the drivers council and use it as a vehicle for change. NASCAR was able to quash a divers union decades ago by bringing in unknown drivers to compete in the place of regulars. That was a different time where there was no media coverage and drivers were relatively unknown. With many of the drivers bringing their own sponsorship to the teams, they now come from a position of strength they never had before.
The new lower downforce package has been credited with greater racing on the track. It was done after years of recommendations from drivers to make the cars less aero dependent and more drivable. Even when they finally did test the new package, NASCAR forced teams to try a higher downforce package that, according to Tony Stewart, a non racing engineer from Chevrolet suggested. History is written and the low downforce package is a success, the high downforce package was a failure.