Sunday, July 23, 2017

The NASCAR Indy problem

Well OK, Kasey Kahne won the 2017 Brickyard 400. The two fastest cars on the track, teammates, somehow figured out a way to wreck each other.

Good. Both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex drive for Joe Gibbs racing. You remember Joe. A deeply religious man. Red, white, and blue to the core. Mom, apple pie, and ---- Toyota?

Yep, he became quite the hypocrite when he sold out to a Japanese auto company for cars and engines. So screw him, his cars, drivers, and teams. The very definition of NASCAR -- has "National" as its first word, not international. This is an American race and series, dammit. Buy and drive American or get the hell out.

But enough on that rant. NASCAR has a much bigger problem to worry about. Falling attendance at tracks and rapidly dwindling TV ratings.

It's certainly true that, once upon a time, the Indy 500 was the "greatest race on earth". Yours truly used to make his annual pilgrimage to the famed track every year back in the days of yore. So many legendary names of Indy car racing were involved that I won't list them here.

And it was a tough ticket to get. The track would be packed, both in the stands and infield every year.

Then came the infamous "feud". One faction of Indy car brass wanted to drastically change the rules, and the other refused to go along with it. As both sides continued to stand fast, it all but ruined the sport. Attendance and fan interest plummeted.

At the same time, NASCAR was enjoying a rising tide of popularity. They had a bunch of big-time name recognition going on as well, the marketing department was in overdrive, and there wasn't an empty seat in the house at their over 30 races each year. At one point, it was the second largest revenue sport in America, though always far behind the mighty NFL.

But look what has happened in recent years. The Indy 500 has rebounded to almost, but not quite its former place of eminence in the world of racing. They're selling out again.

On the other hand, NASCAR has taken a ratings nosedive.

At this year's Brickyard 400, once a huge draw for motorheads, the number of empty seats was astonishing. Entire sections of bleachers with nary a soul sitting in them. Even on the "front stretch", prime viewing, attendance was sparse.

Of the roughly 400,000 fan capacity at Indy, including the infield crazies -- which I was once a proud member of -- it appeared they could only sell a fraction of them -- maybe 20% -- if that.

Also true is NASCAR has lost a few "name" drivers to retirement in recent years. Gordon, Stewart, and Earnhart Jr. is next. But the one-time magic of the "good ole boys" packing the tracks everyplace they go appears to be over.

And it's not just at the Indy venue. At most races during the year, one can see a noticeable absence of butts in the seats, and the TV ratings continue to fall.

Maybe this is what happens when a once proud mega-franchise markets a sorry competitor such as Danica Patrick to the heavens. She was never any good -- never will be. A total waste of sheet metal, tires, first class equipment, competent pit crew, racing fuel, and a wreck waiting to happen.

Or it could be that America has finally wearied of the "roundy-round" series and turned its attention -- and sports bucks -- in other directions.

Then again, I, for one, have never quite got my head around NASCAR holding its equivalent of the Super Bowl -- the Daytona 500 being the biggest "game" -- on the first week of their season.

Add in the fact they won't let a race end when it's supposed to, but rather make it go into overtime, or double overtime, with crazy restarts and sure to be resulting wrecks, along with the nutty scoring system even the Almighty probably scratches his head trying to decipher, and maybe they've finally reaped their just desserts.

But it ain't looking good right now.

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