The NASCAR season debuts in less than one month at Daytona International Speedway, and while the 2018 season has the potential for an exciting year, the problems from 2017 didn’t simply disappear.
NASCAR isn’t in jeopardy of shutting down or anything drastic, but it does have some issues that are concerning. Perhaps the good still outweighs the bad, but this upcoming season will reveal a lot about the sport moving forward.
Here are the five biggest questions facing NASCAR entering the 2018 season.
1) Will Monster Energy opt back in its contract for the next two years?
Monster Energy just finished its first season as the primary sponsor for NASCAR, and it will be the primary sponsor again for 2018. But beyond that is up in the air, and there is reason for NASCAR to worry about maintaining its relationship with Monster Energy.
Monster initially signed a two-year deal with a two-year option, and NASCAR has given Monster Energy two different extensions to mull over the decision. The fact that they are taking so long to decide isn’t a good sign for NASCAR, and the sport can’t afford to lose a primary sponsor after only two years. Sure, there have been growing pains with Monster, but there will be more growing pains if they have to find a new primary sponsor.
Expect Monster to make a decision in the next couple of months. It would be great news for NASCAR if Monster opted in for the next two years.
2) Will TV and attendance ratings continue to decline?
Ratings dropped on TV and attendance decreased in the stands for many races last year — even in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell season (more on that in minute). There isn’t a clearcut reason for ratings and attendance to suddenly improve in 2018, especially without its biggest star.
Martinsville has adjusted by taking seats out of its stands. Other tracks could follow suit. If NASCAR wants to continue shortening race weekends to only Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate drivers, it will likely continue to hurt attendance.
As far as ratings are concerned, it’s unlikely that sees a massive improvement in 2018. NASCAR executives should at least hope for stability and hope the issue doesn’t worsen because the sport can’t afford to take another hit when it comes to ratings.
This will be a major issue to monitor this season. Daytona should produce good ratings, and it will be intriguing to see if NASCAR can build on its opening race.
3) How will NASCAR replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
This issue ties in to the ratings and attendance concern. If ratings were already on the decline last year, how can they improve without Dale Jr.? Earnhardt was certainly NASCAR’s most bankable star last year and has been for the last 15 years. Replacing him won’t be easy.
The hope is that a new star will emerge relatively soon. Chase Elliott makes the most sense, and he has the potential villainous rival that every superhero needs in Denny Hamlin. But it’s impossible to ask Elliott to turn into a star amongst fans overnight. It will be a gradual process, and it would help if he was in contention for a championship.
It could take multiple seasons to see a driver or drivers take over for Earnhardt, and he will certainly leave a void in the short term.
4) How will the changes to pit crews affect teams?
NASCAR officials elected to decrease the number of pit crew members who can go over the wall during a race from six to five. The reasoning behind the change is simple: it will save teams money and it will be safer since less people are going over the wall.
But it will certainly provide a challenge to teams, especially early on in the season. Every team is undergoing the change, but having one less member will take an adjustment from teams.
If a certain team has an easier transition or can figure out the best strategy before their competition, it could provide a major advantage. Martin Truex Jr. was one of the first drivers to discover the importance of stage wins, and that helped him win the championship last season. If a driver or team can figure out the best pit strategy quickly, it could give them an advantage in 2018.
5) Can NASCAR sustain another season of Toyota dominance?
Speaking of Truex, the defending champion is likely hoping his Toyotas continue to be faster than the competition this season. The rest of the NASCAR world is likely hoping either Toyota comes back to the pack or everyone else catches up.
Let’s face it: watching Toyota dominate all season was boring for many NASCAR fans. Toyota’s dominance could have impacted ratings and attendance. It didn’t feel like any other manufacturer had a chance to win the championship.
Can NASCAR sustain another season of that level of dominance? Probably not. Executives and fans have to be hoping that the new Camaro will make Chevy more competitive or that Ford finds an edge for this season. Because if Toyota obliterates the competition again, it’s hard to imagine that being a positive for NASCAR.