How to Save NASCAR (In My Opinion)

NASCAR hasn’t been doing so well in recent times, and something needs to change. I don’t think NASCAR itself has any clue what the reason is, which is evident in the fact that they haven’t changed anything other than introducing stage racing (which is not helpful in my view). Here’s what I think should change as soon as possible in order to give the sport a sustainable future, financially and environmentally.

  • Shorten the races by more than half what they are now, perhaps two thirds the distance.
  • Remove stage racing because of the shorter race
  • Different cars which are production based, lighter, as electric as possible. Whether that’s hybrid, REX or full EV.
  • Semi-automatic paddle shift or sequential stick shift.
  • More driving tech and driver adjustments that can be made on the fly.
  • Modern racing steering wheels like Super GT rather than old fashioned removable ones with no buttons.
  • Get new manufacturers to come in. Hopefully these rules will entice them.
  • Less repeating oval races and more road courses in their place. (COTA, Daytona Roval?)

If these changes don’t work then NASCAR would likely have no future, or a very small future compared to being a mainstream sport for so long. But if they keep going as they are, then it appears that they have no future anyway. It’s time for bold action. NASCAR brought in fuel injection, digital drivers displays and so on, but those changes were long overdue and quite small in the grand scheme of things. They now need to take giant leaps if they want the sport to survive and thrive in the coming decade.

NASCAR Season Review and Look Ahead to 2012

The new nose that NASCAR is using for the 2011...
Trever Bayne won the Daytona 500 for Wood Brothers Racing. Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a great year in Nascar. We’ve seen a lot of great stories unfold, new winners and emerging names throwing their hats into the ring for future sprint cup championship contention.

We saw the season open with a very memorable Daytona 500. This race premièred to the masses the new style of racing at the super speedways, tandem drafting.  It may not be so prevalent next year due to various technical changes but this year was certainly exciting to watch.

In the first part of the season, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch really asserted themselves as serious contenders to dethrone Jimmy Johnson in 2011. Kevin Harvick later joined in with back to back wins before he and his team flew under the radar for most of the remainder of the year.

When it came down to it in the chase though, it came down to a titanic fight between two very strong drivers with two completely opposing personalities, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Stewart had appeared out of contention for practically the entire year, only barely managing to scrape into the chase without a single win. Once the chase started however, he and his team simply caught fire, doing the unthinkable and winning half of the 10 races to snatch the title away from Carl Edwards at the final race. They weren’t even separated by a point at the chequered flag and it came down to the most wins, which Tony won at 5 to 1.

It’s tough for Carl but he can still be immensely proud of his effort this year. To finish on equal points to a man who won 5 out of the 10 chase races without winning one himself shows unbelievable consistency to a degree possibly never seen before by both drivers. I hope Carl bounces back and wins the title next year but this year’s championship was completely deserved by Tony. If he hadn’t won after the chase performance he displayed, there would have been outrage and calls for the points system to be further changed before next season so in that respect, the right man won.

There are so many moments from this year that were memorable. Kasey Khane winning in Phoenix for Red Bull in their penultimate race as a team owner was a special one. Kyle Busch’s many ups and downs were a major talking point. He needs to cut out all of the controversies that continue to surround him and maybe next year he can contend in the chase rather than implode. There are too many others to mention but it was a great year filled with excitement and intrigue.

In the Nationwide series, it was great to see Ricky Stenhouse Jr. show what he could do and win the championship in that series. He’s definitely a great talent who should be the future of the sport in sprint cup in the next few years. He and Trevor Bayne should be the next generation of Roush Fenway Ford stars.

Danica Patrick showed in 2011 that she had the talent necessary to succeed in stock car racing. She improved greatly on her 2010 performance and I expect her to elevate her game hugely once again now that her full focus will be on Nascar now that she’s left the IndyCar circuit where she hasn’t been particularly successful in the last few years. It’s also going to be very interesting to see how she can perform in her limited starts in the Sprint Cup. No one will be expecting much from her so she could surprise a few people.

Looking ahead to next year, I think it could be another classic season. It’s unlikely that the chase will live up to this year’s but you never know in this sport. I would expect Stewart and Edwards to be strong again, and Jimmie Johnson will have a point to prove after he couldn’t make it 6 in a row this year. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin should be contenders for Joe Gibbs and if Joey Logano can step his game up a bit, then you never know. Brad Keselowski was a revelation this year and he won’t be as under the radar in 2012 but should still be very good. A.J. Allmendinger takes over from Kurt Busch in the other Penske car and with a better car may be up to challenging for wins but the jury is out there.

Kurt Busch himself has just been confirmed with Phoenix Racing in 2012 after he was dropped by Penske for his poor behaviour. He’ll replace Landon Cassil from what I understand. I don’t know if that car will be fast or reliable enough to make him a contender but if not, he’s shot himself in the foot. There are so many other great drivers to watch: new Hendrick recruit Kasey Khane should be a contender with a strong car, and Jeff Gordan and Kevin Harvick can never be counted out. I’m probably forgetting a few but it just goes to show how strong and competitive the sport is when you compare it to F1 for example.

I’m looking forward to the Daytona 500. It should be fantastic.

NASCAR The Game 2011 PS3 Review

Over the last season I’ve turned into a Nascar fanatic. I love the sport. The skill and precision required, the drivers, the noise and the competitiveness are things F1 can only dream of. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge F1 fan, but there are some things that Nascar does that no other series can match in quite the same way.

As far as games go, the series hasn’t really been represented as well as it could have been in the past in some ways. This game, while it does up the ante in gameplay and graphics terms from the last EA Sports title back in 2008, also lacks in some areas when compared to that game.

The driving mechanics, controls and graphics are all very strong in this title. I have no real concerns there. Where it fails to impress is predominantly in the presentation and career mode. The career is very linear, you simply play through each event of the 2010 Nascar Sprint Cup season, and that’s it. During each race you earn NXP which unlocks new liveries for you to use in single player quick races. It also unlocks special challenges with varying objectives which you can complete to earn trophies and other rewards, but they didn’t really do much for me. I would have preferred a far more immersive and interactive career mode instead.

During the career, you can attract sponsors by completing a list of requirements on the sponsor page in the career hub. These range from finishing in the top 10 to qualifying on pole a set number of times, as well as the obvious ones like win a certain number of races. You never really have to work hard to obtain sponsors and you can’t pick and choose, you simply seek to acquire all of them over the course of the 36 race season.

In EA Sports Nascar 09, you signed contracts with teams and sponsors, and you had to complete your objectives to keep them and progress up the ladder to the best teams and sponsors. You felt like a racing driver struggling to make it in the sport, and having to work to progress, and here you never feel like that.

Another major omission from this game that was present in Nascar 09 are both of the other major national series’ of Nascar, the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide series. This is a huge loss in my opinion as it means the career mode can’t allow you to progress through the ranks over a number of seasons like you could previously. It also means that you lose out on the experience of driving the different cars with their unique handling, as well as all of the drivers and liveries from each series. Not only this, but not all of the 43 Cup Series regulars are in the game, and some drivers are substituted from the Nationwide series, such as Danica Patrick. I think for this type of game, they could have done a better job of including the full roster of drivers and I really hope to see far more content in next year’s game as well as a much stronger offering for the career mode.

One area where the developers do go out of their way to give something cool back to the fans, they model many different liveries for a lot of the drivers, sometimes as many as four different ones per driver. For guys like Denny Hamlin who has a different FedEx service on his car each week, this is a nice addition.

Strangely, despite the variety of cars and the effort that went into creating those extra liveries, that effort and variety sadly didn’t carry over to the presentation. After each race win, your driver celebrates with champagne on the roof of their car, while the same droning crown cheer sound repeats. It’s enough to drive you mad after a while, especially because it’s so cheap that they didn’t mix things up with variations at all. I’ve seen quite a few celebrations in victory lane by this point too, and I don’t recall anyone spraying champagne at all, so maybe they were getting their wires crossed when they designed that woeful animation.

The presentation before and during the race however is actually top notch. They have nice introductions to each race with a description of the track and a look through the grid positions. In the race, the sport itself is translated into game form very well. Engines sound incredible which is fantastic as it’s one of the most important audio aspects to get right in any racing game, and many of them fail spectacularly. The spotter audio isn’t quite so great as he can get a bit irritating at times, especially when trying to be funny. I still don’t understand a couple of the things he says.

Rather than go further into the gameplay side of things, I’ll just summarise by stating that it’s very strong and racing in a pack really feels fun. When you’re alone on the track it can be less fun but it really depends on how much of a fan you are. Some will crash into the wall because of not having a car in front to use as a reference for when to slow down or brake, but others will relish the challenge of driving the perfect racing line, which is harder than it looks when you’re pushing hard.

Driving long races of around 10 to 15% length is very fun when you play on higher difficulty levels (medium or above), especially when you have fuel and tyre wear on and at the max 4x the normal rate. You can sometimes use strategy and tyre and fuel management to pit less and win the race that way. I’ve had a few races that I’ve pitted only once and had a practically empty fuel tank while crossing the finish line which was a great feeling as you think you’re not going to make it through the last lap at racing speed.

The game is a bit buggy at times which is frustrating, but luckily these bugs appear to plague the online aspect of the game far more than the offline portion which is good. Sometimes you get bugs when in career but luckily they’re few and far between. The next patch should fix most of these issues too so I’m looking forward to that.

Overall, Nascar the game 2011 is the game fans of the sport have been waiting for since 2008. It is a solid first entry from Eutechnyx which they can build on in the coming years. It is lacking in several key areas and that’s a shame, but the gameplay is so fun that it should certainly give true fans a lot of enjoyment and the pros definitely outweigh the cons. If you’re not a massive Nascar fan, then it’s probably best to start with Gran Turismo 5 as it’s overall a far superior game and better value for money. If you play the limited Nascar portion of GT5 and are left wanting more, then this is a solid purchase especially if the price drops which I would suspect is pretty likely by now.

Nascar the game 2011 will go Unreleased in UK

Eutechnyx looking into region-free release of NASCAR 2011 in the UK

Thanks activision…. Good thing I was just able to snag a cheap copy of EA’s last attempt at the license, NASCAR 09 to quench my thirst for the sport for the time being. The game is actually not bad, especially considering what I paid for it.

However, that doesn’t stop me being fed up at this news. There are multiple reasons this is happening. The first is that Activision aren’t willing to take any risks whatsoever, even on a small scale release. EA sold Nascar games in the UK, not to mention Madden NFL. Baseball games don’t come out here which is another travesty but that’s a topic for another day.

The second reason in my opinion is that because Brits are generally so hostile towards Nascar in mocking it’s supposed simplicity that only the most hardcore of fans will want to try it. It’s a great shame that people want to ruin it for the rest of us who appreciate all forms of racing, including the predominantly oval variety. Admittedly, I was one of the doubters at one time but when you grow up you realise that you are brainwashed into a certain way of thinking due to the culture.

The third and final reason I can think of that would cause Activision to not release the game here is because Gran Turismo 5 features Nascar, albeit to a fairly limited degree. You get only two tracks, even if they are the two most famous tracks. You also have access to pretty much all of the top drivers you could want.

Because fans here are very sceptical of the sport, they may not see the value in a standalone game as they don’t understand that the season takes place on many different tracks of varying shape and length. I agree to a point, but just from playing the 3 year old Nascar 09 I can clearly see the benefits a full game brings. An in-depth career mode, customisation and many more cars on the track at one time. You also have access to all of the Nascar divisions and can work your way up the ranks.

Apparently Eutechnyx, the ironically UK based developer working on the game are said to be thinking about a small scale distribution themselves if demand is high enough. They will also be making the game region-free so that UK Nascar fans will be able to import the title from the states. It’s not an ideal situation, but at least there will be some a way to play it if all else fails. This is all providing that the game is good and worth playing, which I really hope it is.