CONCORD, NC - MAY 27: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Quaker State Chevrolet, leads a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27, 2012 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Officials must figure out how to make sure NASCAR's string of uneventful races doesn't become a weekly occurrence.
Close your eyes and take a listen. Can you hear it? It's the ever-growing murmur of disgruntled fans, media and even some drivers grumbling that something is amiss with NASCAR in its current state.
And with each passing week, the whispers are only getting louder.
It's the belief that NASCAR is regressing in terms of popularity and as a viable means of entertainment. That conviction is backed up by the lack of side-by-side racing as well as far fewer cautions than in years past. Maybe more telling: There hasn't been one race this season where we've seen a last-lap pass for the win.
But there is more to it than just what's stated above.
It's these factors, along with a general feeling that a sport whose premier series holds events on 38 out of 52 weeks in the year is oversaturated to the point where it's hard to distinguish one race from another.
While diehard fans may know that all NASCAR tracks aren't alike – even of the 1.5-mile variety – at the end of the day, they too have grown tired of seeing the same form of racing seemingly on a weekly basis.
All that is understandable when you look at the schedule and realize more than one-third of NASCAR races are held on tracks between 1.5 and 2 miles in length that are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Playing into the frustration many fans are currently voicing about the mundane racing that has become prevalent on the intermediate tracks is the fact that none of the four races held this season on 1.5-mile ovals – Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas and Charlotte – has featured either a caution for a multi-car incident.
While fans may not be clamoring for wrecks, the lack of accidents is indicative of a lack of side-by-side racing.
"I think everyone is so used to these cars now," Denny Hamlin said after his second-place finish at Charlotte. "I think at the beginning, these cars were a tremendous handful to drive. Obviously we saw some wrecks because of it, especially on restarts.
"Bottom line, I think everyone is so concerned with points nowadays, you know if you wreck and you finish in the 30s, you're going to take 10 races to get that back," Hamlin added. "I think everyone's just a little bit more patient on restarts, as crazy as that sounds. It's just not as wild on restarts as it used to be a couple years ago. Everyone is minding their p's and q's, trying to get the best finish out of their day, knowing the one thing you can't overcome in a race is a crash."
However, more needs to be done than just NASCAR taking a stick of dynamite to the schedule to trim off some excess fat or changing the way points are distributed. The first item on the change agenda should be a come-to-Jesus meeting with Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton, John Darby and officials from Goodyear.
In this summit, the sanctioning body will explain to NASCAR's longstanding lone tire manufacturer that while they appreciate the incredible efforts Goodyear has made in the name of safety, no longer does the sanctioning body want the company to bring a tire to the track where there is little-to-no dropoff.
One of the biggest reasons there is not as much passing on the track outside of green-flag pit-stops is there is no longer any give in the tires. Because the tire compound Goodyear brings to the track on any given week is so hard, drivers are now allowed to drive as hard on lap one on a new set of tires as they are on lap 40, with no noticeable difference in lap times.
Drivers are no longer are forced to manage their tires or forced to handle a car that, on old tires, wants to jump sideways. While drivers being afforded the opportunity to drive flat-out during a long, green-flag run sounds good in theory, in actuality it's not. With no excessive wear in the tires, drivers tend to separate themselves from one another and passing becomes nonexistent.
Before, on the other hand, during a long stretch of green-flag racing, drivers who pushed too hard and burned up their rubber too soon were passed by drivers who knew how to best manage their tires. All this resulted in a lot of side-by-side racing featuring drivers often trying in vain to control a car that was already beyond the point of being in control.
Yes, there is such a thing as a too soft a tire – think Indianapolis in 2008 – and there is an increased likelihood that more blowouts will occur, but there is a happy medium between a tire compound that is too soft and what Goodyear uses now.
Let's find it.
After NASCAR sets Goodyear straight, officials then need to turn their attention the cars themselves and find a way to get rid of the dreaded "aero push."
Too often, because of the aerodynamics at play, fast cars become average when they get in a pack of cars. Being held up because of traffic is one thing, but not being able to pass because your car is unstable when behind another is not acceptable.
"... When your car is dependent on air and downforce and you lose that, it's harder to pass," Jamie McMurray said last week during a media teleconference. "It is what it is, and when you're running the speeds we are running, you want to be the car up front."
With 2013 bringing the onset of the next-generation car, the hope is this quandary will be addressed and terms like "dirty air" and "aero push" will longer be associated with NASCAR.
With television ratings flat and attendance stagnant, this is a call to arms for NASCAR. Be proactive and not reactive. Fix what isn't working, make the product better and, most of all, take action so that action can return to the track.