Hot 20 – Selling NASCAR could be about as tough as trying to sell fans on watching Kansas

by Ron Thornton On Wed, May. 09, 2018

Photo by Simon Scoggins for SpeedwayMedia.com.

For Sale. National sanctioning body. A real fixer-upper. Updated safety features. Decades of tradition. All offers to be considered. Contact Goldman Sachs for further details.

Ever since Bill France gathered together other influential racers and promoters at the Streamline Hotel at Daytona Beach on December 14, 1947, and its founding two months later, it has been a family operation. NASCAR moved from the beach to the big track at Daytona in 1959. A decade later, he brought us Talladega. It was a time when the cars on the track were the cars on the street, with some modifications. By 1966, they introduced changes to the frames and chassis. It was the heyday of short track racing in the south, many of which departed the scene at the same time as the founder handed over the reins.

Bill France Jr. brought the sport into the modern era in 1972. It was the time of Winston Cup. Darrell Waltrip’s Monte Carlo and Richard Petty’s Dodge Charger looked a whole lot like what you could hit the streets in come Monday. Television arrived, at least sporadically, and a nation was let in on what had been primarily a southern secret. Another change in the car appeared when 1981 arrived. Not radical changes, mind you, as Dale Earnhardt’s Goodwrench No. 3 Chevy looked like the beast we all well remember. Fans still turned out in even greater numbers, even when they altered the car once more in 1992. A highly modified body, hours in the wind tunnel, fiberglass bumpers, noses, and tails, and higher costs. If we didn’t know it by then, that old Hudson Hornet was not coming back.

The new millennium brought new leadership as Brian France became the third generation to run the family operation. As Charles Dickens opened the Tale of Two Cities, it truly was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 2001 opened with a nationwide television audience and a long-term contract. It also opened with the death of its greatest active star. In order to provide greater safety, they went to work, and that produced the Car of Tomorrow in 2006, and the sport has never been the same since. No more slingshot passes. Clean air now meant everything. With the splitter and boxy exterior, the cars looked like nothing you would find in a showroom, not that you would want to buy one of them. By the end of the decade, the catchphrase “How bad have you got it” was more like how bad has it gotten. A downturn in the economy and fans quit coming. Seats were torn out of race venues. Attendance figures became a secret. Chicago, Kansas, and Kentucky came on board, but for what reason? Five years ago, a more streamlined sixth generation auto came out. It looked better, but the racing did not get much better.

Now, we are where we are today. Declining attendance, declining viewership, at a time when the most loyal fans are among the oldest, and the drivers they followed are either retired or near the end of the road. Announcers who simply lack the chemistry of good ole boys joking around, telling stories, keeping us entertained, as well as following what action there is on the track. We were reminded of what we are missing when the Cup guys announced the Xfinity race at Talladega. If only every race provided that kind of viewing experience.

Despite their recent purchase of the ARCA series, and the recent memo stating how the France family “remains dedicated to the long-term growth of our sport”, the door is open for the tire kicking to begin. Whoever makes an offer needs to bring back the fans and the sponsors, who are also departing. Whoever comes in will pay billions for the privilege, and they better have a plan. The current one is not working.

What is wrong with NASCAR? Watch Kansas on Saturday night for a hint. Meanwhile, post-race inspections at Dover meant 20 point penalties to Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez (rear window violations) while Austin Dillon avoided a point hit for his splitter issue. I wonder what Smoky Yunick would think?

1. KYLE BUSCH – 3 WINS – 466 Pts
Looked damn good even with a vibration, until they had to shut it off.

2. KEVIN HARVICK – 3 WINS (1 E.W.) – 426 Pts
Three clean wins, one encumbered win, and that still equals “four” in my book.

3. JOEY LOGANO – 1 WIN – 444 Pts
A fan of Junior, the “Most Popular Driver for the past 100 years.” Joey seems to like old people.

4. CLINT BOWYER – 1 WIN – 360 Pts
All he wanted was to become relevant again. Mission accomplished.

5. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 1 WIN – 340 Pts
After a 2017 sweep of Kansas, what is one more?

6. AUSTIN DILLON – 1 WIN – 221 Pts
If he had been second at Daytona, he would now sit 19th in the standings.

7. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 365 POINTS
It was nice of Harvick to share the stage for a time at Dover.

8. KURT BUSCH – 358 POINTS
“…seeing this schedule for next year, I’m not excited.” I know how he feels.

9. RYAN BLANEY – 346 POINTS
Just the second best Penske Ford at Dover…and he finished eighth.

10. DENNY HAMLIN – 344 POINTS
Obviously got his driver’s license for his skills on the street, not those coming into the driveway.

11. KYLE LARSON – 307 POINTS
Named his new daughter Coke. Okay, I am kidding. I think I am kidding.

12. ARIC ALMIROLA – 304 POINTS
Leaving the track without assistance this year would be nice.

13. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 268 POINTS
No chance of moving up on this ladder this week, except for a win.

14. ERIK JONES – 253 POINTS
He swears he has seen the ghost of Matt Kenseth at Kansas.

15. ALEX BOWMAN – 252 POINTS
Cup, Xfinity, Trucks, ARCA, K&N…one driver who has touched all of NASCAR’s bases.

16. CHASE ELLIOTT – 241 POINTS
Without a win in the bag, those penalty points hurt. Chase is one who knows that pain.

17. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 239 POINTS
He has a new teammate this week. Some old guy I hear.

18. WILLIAM BYRON – 225 POINTS
Learned to race in a simulator, then in a car at 15. It is a new era.

19. RYAN NEWMAN – 218 POINTS
The Rocketman is fizzing out.

20. DANIEL SUAREZ – 214 POINTS
Earn a podium finish, and good things happen. Fail post-race inspection, bad things take place.

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Displaying 1 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Al TORNEY says:

    There is nothing a new owner can do with NASCAR that the France Family can’t do. After the five year contract NASCAR signed with the tracks expires they can do whatever they like with the schedule, length of races, moving races etc. It’s their game. They can reverse any previous changes at will. One item no one addresses is that the track owners, of which the France Family holds a big share of, obviously have taken the attitude that it is over. You don’t remove that many seats if you think the sport will make a come back.
    The tv ratings continue to plummet.
    Fox and NBC are not doing anything to reverse that trend. If they would read various internet blogs they would learn that the fans are sick of the Waltrips. And what fans do not like about the broadcasts.
    Bill France Sr. And Jr. dedicated their lives to this sport. Brian inherited it. This says it all. One can cone up with every excuse possible for the decline but the one everyone avoids is that the decline began the day he took over and started constantly making changes. Many of which were unnecessary and controversial. They said they were listening to the fans but they were not being truthful.

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