Lack of Attendance at Clash Not the Fault of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

by Clayton Caldwell On Mon, Feb. 20, 2017

Photo Credit: Noel Lanier

That’s it! I’ve had enough! I cannot count the times I have heard how NASCAR or the people involved with the sport have placed blame on the lack of attendance, ratings and overall disinterest in NASCAR on drivers retiring or not racing. This week a well-respected publication stated that since Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to sit out the Advanced Auto Parts Clash on Sunday, that led to a decrease in attendance.

Really? Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to blame for that?

The fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to sit the race out, may have altered the attendance a hair but there is much more to the fact that only an estimated 15,000 people showed up to what was once a premier event. Look at Sunday’s race. It was a great finish but the majority of the 75 laps ran were lackluster. Teams ran single-file for a good chunk of the event and the only thing that made the race interesting in the middle stages was that defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson spun coming off Turn 4, twice.

There’s been a constant problem at Daytona the last few years and the powers at be need to wake up to the real problem. Here’s some reality for you – Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race forever. Heck, there’s a chance he may not race past 2017.

Yet NASCAR continues to place the blame on falling attendance and lack of ratings on drivers retiring. A January report in the Sports Business Journal reported that ISC, the parent company of Daytona International Speedway, stated that the election and the lack of star power contributed to decreased admissions.

Here’s another dose of reality – Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all called it quits in recent years and soon others will follow. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is in his final year of a three-year contract at Hendrick Motorsports, has yet to discuss a contract extension.

“I told (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) I’d like to get a couple of months under my belt to get confidence in my health,” he said. “When I got hurt last year and what I saw it put the company through, how I saw it frustrate certain aspects of the company, it put a strain on our relationships. Our (sponsors) were worried about my future.

“Rick and everybody was worried. I don’t want to do that again. So I want to get some races under my belt and get confidence in my health before I can commit to him. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t deliver on, and so once I feel like I think I’m good.”

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has more years behind him than he has in front of him. That problem will only get worse.

The Advanced Auto Parts Clash’s problem wasn’t just Dale Earnhardt Jr being in the broadcast booth. It’s a microcosm of a combination of silly things NASCAR has done over the last five years that has made the Busch Clash/Bud Shootout/Sprint Unlimited- whatever you want to call it, an absolute joke of a race.

This year was the first year since Anheuser-Busch stopped sponsoring the race where winning a pole in the previous season actually mattered, sort of. If you won a pole you were guaranteed a spot in the field but you didn’t have to win a pole to make the race. Just ask Danica Patrick, who, somehow, got into the “All-Star type” event because of a pole she won in the Daytona 500 four years ago. Oh, and there were countless fans confused as to why Mexico’s Daniel Suarez was eligible for the race while Clint Bowyer wasn’t. Suarez was eligible by one of the worst excuses I have ever heard – because Joe Gibbs Racing had already begun preparing the car for the Clash prior to Carl Edwards’ sudden retirement. Are we serious? And yet they can’t figure out why fans don’t take the race seriously.

Also over the last few seasons, everyone can see the product at the restrictor plate tracks is getting worse and worse as the races go on. It’s nearly impossible to pass the leader. The leader blocks attacks from both the high and the low lanes by seeing which lane gets momentum and cutting it off as soon as it starts. It’s not entertaining.

Yet, for reasons still unknown, the restrictor plate package has not changed much over the last three of four seasons and fans have responded, obviously, by not showing up to a race that was once revered by fans. There was a time when the package would change frequently and while it cost the teams money the fans got to see great racing the entire time.

The lack of attendance Sunday can also be placed on the Daytona Beach, Florida area itself and the insane hotel and lodging prices. A recent report by the Sports Business Journal stated that Daytona has the highest hotel prices of any sporting event, including the Super Bowl. Prices for hotels can reach upwards of $1,500 at night. That is insanity, no matter which way you slice it. It’s out of the speedway’s and NASCAR’s hands but having the race on a separate weekend with three days of no on-track activity prior to the next event doesn’t entice the fans to come to the racetrack four days early. The majority of the crowd comes to Daytona for the Thursday races and can’t or won’t take a full week off of work for a lackluster race and single-car qualifying runs. They’d be better off condensing the weekend.

In the end, I feel like a broken record. The product has to be the most important thing. I think that’s the biggest but most fair criticism of the people who currently run NASCAR. They believe that fans care about the other stuff more than they do about the racing. Your customers are race fans. When I go to Daytona I don’t see signs that say, “Welcome fans of popularity and diversity,” it’s always, “Welcome Race Fans.” NASCAR needs to take a hard look at that sign and realize there’s more to it than just words on a poster. It should be a motto and it should be how they operate.

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Displaying 4 Comments
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  1. Brian says:

    You hit part of the issue in the article and what has essentially lessened the fan base substantially. There is not a racer in charge of NASCAR anymore thus he is completely clueless about what race fans are wanting.
    Think about the following scenario, for decades NASCAR was about the race and racing, with a season ending acknowledgement for whomever was deemed the best by whatever measure was used. Winston came in a started piling money into the sport and then a much more structured season era began and slowly NASCAR started to be more about the season and less about the races. This really took a turn in the 80’s with TV and the whole if the season ended today “stories” and points recaps. Who cares at race 5.
    As the season championship became more important no one was to worried about Earnhardt, Petty, Pearson, Waltrip, Yarbough, etc. winning the season by the 3rd or 2nd to last race of the year due to point accumulation. It just was how it was. Then somewhere in the late 90’s the media started “bitchin'” about how so and so won and no drama and the fans want this that an the other, no the media folks wanted that as there was no drama for the last couple of races. Well most times the race was still mostly sold out in person and TV ratings were still good. Guess what the race was still important. Then 2003 happened and a marketing person was put in charge versus a racer for 2004. just as in many other years leading up to that fateful 2003 season the season championship was decided prior to Rockingham. note no one really complain too much when it was Earnhardt in the early 90’s or Gordon in the mid 90’s doing the same thing. Hell didn’t both one them win with essentially 3 races to go?.
    Off topic but issue lies in NASCAR went after the drama and screwed up the formula that made it successful in the first place. Compelling storylines, interesting personalities, good racing, exposure for most of the field at least 3 or 4 times a race not just the chosen few Chevy drivers, go back and look at the promos for the 2004 season Kenseth and the 17 team are barely in any of it and they were the previous season champs. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot when you alienate a significant portion of the fanbase.
    NASCAR Stopped knowing what the fans wanted and then would turn the want into a twisted version to support NASCAR’s flawed vision. Fans started wanting to have wins mean more, wanted the whole season to mean more, wanted better racing, wanted continued access to drivers, etc. What did NASCAR do, cowtowed to the corporate money and left the race fans in the dust.

  2. Judi Robertosn says:

    Doesn’t Nascar realize that is not star power it is the silly points system/ championship format and the hourly rules changes that they make that drive fans crazy. I have been a fan all my life and didn’t look for the race on TV this year. I will not be home to watch Daytona on Sunday. Before I made a point to be home. They say you have to make the younger fans happy with new ideas, I don’t think that’s true, because they grew up coming to the track with their family & like how things where and don’t like the changes either. That’s why no ones in the stands. NO one likes the changes!

  3. Mark Russell says:

    Many valid points there. I think you mislead a little bit stating rooms are upwards of $1500 a night….there are lots of rooms for much less, however these places most often require a minimum 6-7 night stay. A $300 a night stay with a minimum 7 day stay turns into $2100 and a $500 a night room turns into $3500. Daytona isn’t the only one either……..Bristol has gouged fans for years while watching their attendance shrink…..Basically they’re just killing the goose that laid their golden egg…….

  4. tom says:

    This guy needs to be put in charge of NASCAR before it totally collapses.

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