NASCAR's got 99 problems ...

Scott Cunningham for ESPN The Magazine

This story appears in the July 26 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

It's no secret that NASCAR is in a bit of a funk these days.

After decades of breakneck prosperity the king of American motorsports has settled onto an unfamiliar and uncomfortable plateau, a pause brought on by a decline in attendance, TV ratings and revenues. To their credit, Daytona Beach brass have taken the quest for answers to the pits and the streets, holding town hall meetings with drivers and owners and recruiting 12,000 followers to give feedback as part of their Fan Council. Double-file restarts, green-white-checkered "overtime" rules, "Have at it, boys" racing and standardized start times all have roots in these dialogues.

To be fair, a lot of NASCAR's problems can be blamed on the national economy. The recession hits particularly hard when you count on packing grandstands with blue-collar Americans. But the list of issues is also the result of some curious sideways moves made by management during the sport's boom. "It's easy to make the right decisions when you're constantly headed upward and everyone's making a hell of a lot
of money," says Jeff Burton, who made his Cup Series debut in 1993, just as NASCAR was about to start its period of greatest growth. "But when things aren't going so well you've got to work. Making the right decisions now is a lot harder than it was five years ago. And I'm not sure where we start."

Funny you should say that, Jeff. We just happen to have compiled a handful of ideas that will get the growth curve going northbound again. In fact, we have a dozen. Call it our 12-Step Plan to NASCAR Recovery and Renewal. It may not solve all of the problems at the track, but it's a start. We present it now -- out of love, not loathing.