There’s no question that NASCAR is struggling nationwide. Take a look in the stands and you’ll see why.
NASCAR is still making plenty of money from sponsorships and TV deals, but it has lost its touch with its early roots. What started out as a bunch of moonshiners kicking up dirt and saying, “Hey, we could make a sport out of this,” has become a cash cow that’s nearly run out of milk.
With the 21st Brickyard 400 (although officially called the Jeff Kyle 400) being last week, one would expect big crowds rolling in to see stock cars race at a track designed for some of the best open-wheelers on the planet. However, despite NBSCN having its most-viewed telecast ever, averaging 4.7 million viewers, the grandstands weren’t nearly as packed as they used to be. It’s a trend that seems to be plaguing the sport over the past couple of years.
NASCAR is not what is used to be. At the time that I was born, it had over five manufacturers all competing for that edge. Then, from 1993-2001, the sport only saw three manufacturers, and since 2012 it’s been back to three manufacturers again. But forget about how many manufacturers there are. Now, all they’re good for is financial support and names. The distinct difference between a Ford, Chevy, and Toyota depends on how much money they put into it. Looking back at Alan Kulwicki’s pheonomenal run in 1992 with what he called the “Underbird” would not happen in today’s NASCAR. If they can get back to not every car looking like one another with exception to the nose, then maybe the sport can get back into it.
And then you have to look back at 2004, when NASCAR introduced the first-ever chase format. Initially, I loved it. Those last 10 weeks of the season separated the top 10 drivers from the other 33 that did not perform as well over the first 26 races. However, in an attempt to keep changing the sport up, the format for the last two seasons has truly put itself at risk. Last season, they got incredibly lucky to see Kevin Harvick hoist the trophy at the end of the year. Harvick was great, but under the classic points standings, he would have finished fifth.
Although highly improbable, Kyle Busch could continue the ridiculous winning streak he’s on right now. He’s won three in a row now, and he could possibly win 15 more races in a row until Homestead-Miami Speedway comes up for the series finale. Despite all that, he could crash on lap one of the season finale and finish fourth in points. So, does one week for just four drivers define a champion of the chase? No. Does one week tell fans who performed the best out of all drivers during 36 races? Absolutely not.
So what can they do? I honestly think if they want to have a chase format that they should change the elimination rounds, or eliminate them all together. My idea for the chase, if they want to go with the elimination round route is 16 drivers, two playoff rounds, with the final eight drivers racing five races for the championship. They should also continue to embrace those who serve or who have served. Charlotte Motor Speedway has done a great job of embracing the troops every Memorial Day weekend, and changed the name banners of the cars last May to remember those who lost their lives in battle. If they can embrace the fans and create a format that pulls in new fans without eliminating the traditional fans, then they can continue to make money and bring fans back in the stands, rather than chase them away.
Ryan DeCosta is sports reporter for The Tribune and The Yadkin Ripple. He can be reached at 336-258-4052 , firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @rsdecosta.