CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It has been a challenging season for NASCAR in terms of attendance and television ratings, both of which have turned the wrong way this year.
There are various theories about the causes for the decline, but let's change the focus. Here are some suggestions for how Sprint Cup racing could regain its missing mojo.
A checkered flag for Dale Jr.: If there's a simple solution to injecting a new charge into NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it's an old thought.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to win some races. He leads the sport in fans, T-shirt sales and commercials, but he rarely leads a race. The move to Hendrick Motorsports didn't produce the expected success, but 2011 could be a different story.
Of course, we heard that after 2009, too.
Add bonus points for winning big races: If the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 are truly special races on the schedule, make them more important in the points race. Double the points in those races and triple the winner's points.
Why is winning the Daytona 500 worth the same number of points as winning at Martinsville?
Get Danica Patrick in contention: With the exception of Dale Jr., nobody can energize Sprint Cup racing the way Danica Patrick could if she could run among the leaders. She hasn't been able to do that on the Nationwide Series, which means she may never get the chance in a Sprint Cup car.
While it's been easy for critics to scoff at her skills as anything other than a marketing machine, Patrick could be the best thing to happen to NASCAR since Humpy Wheeler.
Shorten the schedule: There are too many races. Get rid of a few.
Whack Watkins Glen from the schedule. Cut Sonoma, too, since road-course racing doesn't fit NASCAR.
Go to Pocono once — if they must. Dover gets one race. Ditto for Martinsville, Michigan and Loudon. With Kentucky coming on the 2011 schedule, that would be a 30-race schedule.
Shorten the races: Let's stay on the less is more theme — which should be adopted by the NBA, the NHL and the NFL, which should keep a 16-game schedule and ditch two pre-season games.
Except for iconic races — the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 — cut 500-milers to 400 miles. No one enjoys the middle 200 miles of any race.
NASCAR CEO Brian France says shortening races is being considered.
"I think a shorter schedule would be awesome. Shorter races, too," Jimmie Johnson said.
End the season like it starts — at Daytona: The grand finale of the Sprint Cup season comes at Homestead, Fla., located on the edge of the Everglades and near enough to Key Largo to smell the rum and Cokes.
It's not a bad place, but it's not the place for NASCAR's big finish.
If the Chase for the Championship is that big a deal, end it at Daytona. No one will miss Daytona in July.
France says ending at Daytona in late November is too close to the February race to make it happen. It's at least worth a try.
Alter the tracks in the Chase: It's time to change the schedule in the Chase. Keep it at 10 races but go to different tracks. That would require a serious juggling of the schedule, but it's worth the effort.
Put Darlington in the Chase. If they're going to keep racing on road courses, put the Sonoma track in the Chase. Give Bristol a Chase race.
Reduce the field: When did 43 become the magic number? Is it because Richard Petty drove the No. 43?
There are too many non-competitive cars in the field.
If you don't qualify within, say, 4 mph of the pole sitter, you sit that weekend. If you fail to run 20 laps two weeks in a row, you get parked for a week or more.
Give first-time winners a big bonus: If someone wins their first race, it should be worth something extra, maybe an additional 400 points. Give them a reason to chase that first victory, not settle for a top-five finish. The sport needs more winners.
Pick a series: If you're a Sprint Cup driver, you can't drive in the Nationwide Series.
Cherry picking is not allowed.
If the sport wants to develop new stars, do it on the Nationwide Series while the famous guys watch.
Run in the rain: Ever heard of windshield wipers and rain tires?
It's been talked about through the years but never adopted. If it's a downpour, stop the race like they stop football games, otherwise keep going as they do in Formula 1. It beats the sound of jet dryers on the track and adds a new strategy.