Humpy Wheeler: NASCAR needs more villains, less “pretty boys”

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It’s been established that former Charlotte Motor Speedway president and legendary racing promoter Humpy Wheeler is not afraid to state his opinions on the sport.

Last November, Wheeler prescibed what he believed were the cures for what’s been ailing IndyCar racing in North America. Then in January, he discussed the sometimes thorny subject of “pay drivers” in motorsports.

Now he’s sounded off again to Autoweek, this time on what NASCAR needs in order to build its fan base back up after it eroded somewhat over the last decade.

Wheeler says that the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, which enables drivers to effectively make NASCAR’s post-season with a regular season win, was a good call.

However, he believes that NASCAR needs to take away some speed from the cars in order to really improve the on-track product.

“You can’t really race when you’re more than 200 mph on an intermediate track,” he said. “They should slow ’em by at least 10 mph. And they need to attack the dreaded “aero push” problem.

“They haven’t done it yet, but they’re starting to look at it. Downforce is creating aero push, so they have to figure that out.”

Wheeler is also critical of what he sees as a lack of compelling figures in the sport. To him, the sport desperately needs “a superhero, like Tiger Woods or Joe Namath, somebody like that.”

And what does every superhero need in order to be, well, a superhero? That’s right – a villain. But Wheeler doesn’t see those around, either.

“Walt Disney told his people to draw in a villain within the first 90 seconds,” he said. “We need something like that. We need villains, but, instead, we have too many pretty boys. There just aren’t any personalities.”

Still, Wheeler is optimistic about the sport as a whole is about to come into a relative boom period.

“Racing is at a plateau right now like so many other sports have been at plateaus,” he said. “It’s a normal thing because you just can’t have these 10- or 15-year periods of percentage growth like we did. I think it’s about to turn the corner.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.