What’s Happening to NASCAR?

Most of you probably think of NASCAR as 43 cars turning left for a few hours.

You’re exactly right.

In reality, there’s much more that goes into a race than just going fast a turning left.  If you’ve ever watched a race, you know there is a ton of strategy involved.  When to pit or not to pit, whether to take the high line or the low line, two tires or four.  For the NASCAR enthusiast, this is all easy to understand.

For the casual fan, however, not so much.

When I’ve asked people why they watch NASCAR, I get a lot of “because of the crashes” responses.  Yeah, I get it.  Cars going almost 200 miles an hour and flipping through the air is pretty cool to watch, no matter how dangerous it is for the driver.  To NASCAR’s credit, they’ve done a great job ensuring the safety of their drivers.  For a sport as dangerous as it is, you’d think there would be more serious injuries.

I used to follow NASCAR.  These days, I’ll watch a little of the Daytona 500, check who wins the race each week, and that’s it.

I even worked at a NASCAR-themed store in college.  That was more out of necessity than fandom.

For the past several years, NASCAR was recognized as the next big thing in American sports.  Television ratings were through the roof, and the sport’s following was expanding from its Southern roots.

This season, though, it’s not the same.  Ratings and race attendance are down.  The Daytona 500 was down more than 16%.  Of course, it can’t help when you have more than two hours of delays for a pothole on the track.  The next couple of races were down as well.  Even though they were going up against the Olympics, including the men’s gold medal hockey game between the US and Canada, a sport that counts on TV ratings does not want to see any declines.

Jeff Gordon says the drivers notice the empty seats, too.

“Yeah, you recognize it,” he said.  “When you go through driver introductions and wave to all those people, it’s hard not to recognize where we’re at.”  Gordon is a four-time series champ, and he’s been around since the early 1990’s.  He’s seen the colossal rise of the sport, and now he has to watch while it fizzles.  He has a theory on why, too.

He thinks it’s because there’s a lot more on TV.  While he’s right, NASCAR is also the only major sport on TV on Sunday right now.  Their season kicks off right after the Super Bowl, so they don’t have to compete with the NFL.  I’m not sure anyone could beat the NFL.  Major League Baseball isn’t in full swing yet, and the NBA and NHL’s regular seasons are nothing like the playoffs.  Until Tiger Woods comes back, golf is non-existent to a lot of people.  NASCAR’s time to dominate is now.

He also alludes to the fact that there’s no real rivalries.  Jimmie Johnson is absolutely manhandling the sport.  He’s won four championships in a row.  He’s won two of the first four races of the season.  There is just no stopping this guy.

When NASCAR gets some intriguing storylines…*coughDanicacough*…they’ll make a comeback.  Maybe NASCAR recognized all of this when they decided to allow the drivers to race a little harder.


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