Martin on NASCAR’s issues: Product is not the problem, the changing world is

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Hall of Famer Mark Martin talks about the state of NASCAR in the media center prior to the start of the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Former driver and NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin said Sunday that while he’s embraced the changes to the sport in recent years, he is not in favor of the restrictor plate package that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tried at the All Star Race at Charlotte last month.

“There is some integrity that I feel needs to be maintained in the sport,” Martin said during a media appearance before the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway Sunday. “There are some issues that could be addressed. Artificially making the racing exciting for a portion of the fans, to me, is not what — I’d rather see that in yesterday’s race, not today’s race.”

Martin was referring to the NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250 the day before, which featured a similar package including restrictor plates and front air ducts designed to keep the cars closer together. The same package was run last weekend in Pocono, where it was met with criticism, and last year at Indianapolis where it was praised.

“I bought into many of the changes,” Martin said. “I bought into the Chase. I’m good with the playoffs. I’m good with the double-file restarts. I’m good with the segment racing. I like it.”

But he said he didn’t like the All Star package.

‘I think there’s a lot of people who agree with me,” he said. “Fans. I’m not a driver anymore.”

Martin echoed statements made by Brad Keselowski earlier in the weekend, that by making the changes to the cars, NASCAR was taking a lot of the skill out of the hands of the drivers.

“I would say at most plate tracks, first through fourth has control of their own destiny and have acquired that finish based on talent, skill, etc.,” Keselowski said Friday. “From there on back it is a random bingo ball. That is my approach to that kind of racing. I think the top four or five generally dictates their finish and the rest do not. I think with this current package, you are looking at more depth to the field in terms of being able to determine your own finish based on your team’s skill and talent from the driver on back.”

Martin said looking back on the history of the sport, NASCAR wasn’t built on choking cars off and slowing them down.

“It’s not the same kind of racing,” he said. “It’s hard to win at Daytona and Talladega. And they’re interesting races. I like watching them. But I don’t want to see that every week, and I’m a fan. And I have some other fans that feel the same way. I’m not speaking as a driver, I’m speaking as a fan.”

“Fans that are bashing the racing, in my opinion, are not real fans,” Martin said. “They’re looking for something different than auto racing.”

He said in the past, people who loved racing loved racing, whether everyone was on the same lap or there were only three cars on the lead lap, and NASCAR should continue to be true to what brought it to where it is.

“I think we should continue to be true to what we are, where we came from, and I think the racing is really good now,” Martin said.

After reaching its popularity in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, NASCAR has seen a decline recently in attendance and ratings. Most tracks on the circuit have gone from building more stands every year to tearing them down. Michigan International Speedway just removed several sets of bleachers in turn one prior to this year’s races, adding premium camping spots along the fence to replace them. Martin said while NASCAR is losing some popularity right now, it’s something all forms of entertainment are facing.

“I also recognize that NASCAR is not the only sport that is struggling with their fanbase,” he said. “All sports are. There’s a reason for that. Because young people have different interests. The competition for their interest is a thousand times over than when we grew up. Every kid from who knows what age has a phone and an iPad and they can do any infinite kinds of things.”

He said the number of choices people have for entertainment is more of a factor than the racing on-track.

“I think we ought to recognize that that is part of it,” Martin said. “The product is not the problem. The problem is the world’s changing and our generations are changing and what they do and what they’re interested in changes. You can do your best to fight that, but it’s definitely a tough battle to try to bring new people’s eyes to our sport and keep them there.”

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