Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? How NASCAR Can Loosen The Purse Strings & Quick Hits

Did You Notice? NASCAR has not received over a 3.0 television rating since Memorial Day Weekend? This stretch of two months is unprecedented, a viewership slump we simply haven’t seen since the sport signed its first national TV contract in 2001. New Hampshire, whose overnight ratings saw a 12% decline, came as the latest in a long string of races disappearing from the national consciousness. New rules haven’t fixed it (Kentucky reached a new low) nor has a heavy bout of advertising and promotion from NBC.

I mention this point because Indy this weekend is poised to follow a similar trend. Every Indianapolis race under the modern NASCAR TV contracts has received a 3.0 rating or higher. Drivers and teams still perceive a trophy there as one of the crown jewel races within the sport, on par with winning at Talladega or the 600-miler in Charlotte. But Indy’s slump has been well documented in recent years, with the declining attendance on par with parade-style racing. Another attendance decline, combined with a drop in a rating under 3.0 would be an embarrassing moment for a race that once helped put NASCAR on the national landscape.

So is it time to drop racing at Indianapolis? Absolutely not. It may be a track built for IndyCar but it’s also the most revered oval track in America outside of Daytona Beach. As long as the track welcomes NASCAR into the fold, NASCAR should welcome them with open arms. It’s the Xfinity Series race that should be removed, if anything; it’s time to put them back at the short track of Lucas Oil Raceway down the road. More events over the course of the weekend make the Cup race less special, not more so. Do what you can to increase the quality of competition (see: high-drag package) while packaging incentives to remind everyone of Indy’s prestige.

Back in the day, drivers from open-wheel and other series would do what they could to make the Brickyard 400 and the purse made it well worth the effort. What NASCAR needs to do is find a way to bring these one-off participants – a Juan Pablo Montoya, say – back to the entry list in order to increase interest. It has to find a way, even if it means spending out of their own pocket to bring these part-time deals back into the sport. We suffer when it’s the same faces every week qualifying for the most prestigious races. That doesn’t make Indy special… and Indy should be considered special.

Did You Notice? Quick hits before we take off…

  • Looking for Kyle Busch to win four out of five Cup races? Don’t bet on it. Not only has a Toyota never visited Victory Lane at Indy, but the past 12 Brickyard 400s have all been won by Chevrolet drivers. While Busch has come close, finishing runner-up on multiple occasions, his bid has been stymied by Hendrick chassis and engines. Expect it to happen again as….
  • One would think, even with the new high-drag downforce rules HMS will put extra effort behind Jeff Gordon in his final Brickyard 400. Gordon, the defending champion of this race, has struggled on track this season but still has more Indy victories (five) than anyone else in NASCAR history. I can’t imagine Gordon missing the Chase at this point, over 70 points behind the cutoff, but I equally can’t imagine zero victories during the regular season. The breakthrough has to happen somewhere….
  • Steve Letarte is the most refreshing voice in the broadcast booth I’ve heard in ages. During an otherwise mediocre New Hampshire race, he was on top of the strategy every caution, playing out the crew chief choices for viewers and making you feel like you were on top of the pit box. You can tell Letarte relishes the role and at times he sounds like a 10-year-old kid on Christmas; it’s a very important boost to a sport that needs more energy and enthusiasm. Larry McReynolds, leaving the FOX booth, was always knowledgeable but his work experience had become rather dated. It’s clear within the first month of NBC coverage that Letarte, who still has several connections within the sport, takes the mechanical perspective to a whole new level, similar to how the crew chief role has grown from the time McReynolds left the box in 2000 to now.
  • It’s amazing to me Jimmie Johnson’s contract extension has become such an issue this week. Where else do you think the driver is going to go? BK Racing? Remember, Gordon had a lifetime contract with Hendrick and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar one drawn up for Johnson. The delay in announcing could have to do more with the future of sponsor Lowe’s than anything else. The home improvement company, Johnson’s exclusive backer since 2002, is unlikely to keep up a 36-race schedule going forward with major rivals like Home Depot leaving NASCAR entirely.
  • Stewart-Haas Racing marketers are getting more desperate in trying to fill the schedule for Danica Patrick. The deal for the No. 10 car, if it gets done, will be a patchwork of different sponsors which brings a simple question: how much longer do they wait before poaching a driver (and another sponsor) from elsewhere? It was at or around the Brickyard 400 a few years ago where Gene Haas pulled the trigger on Kurt Busch. I would imagine we’ll have an answer, then, as to who is in the No. 10 car for 2016 by the end of August. Danica backers, it’s now or never to try and step to the plate….

About the author

Tom Bowles
 | Website

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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I am beginning to think that we are over thinking the fan flight from NASCAR. It could be much simpler than it appears. An example from baseball. The Phillies sold out all 80 home games for about five years. During that time they played exciting ball, went to the play offs every year, and the World Series twice. Then the stars got old and were replaced by players that can’t hit. They play boring ball and the stands are as empty as, well, a NASCAR event. With the introduction of the COT NASCAR has abandoned the stock car concept entirely and given the fans a generic car that can’t pass. The races are boring and, surprise the stands are empty. What makes the outlook bleak for NASCAR is that while the Sporting press beats on the Phillies to improve the product the racing press does little more than make excuses for the poor quality product that NASCAR has become. Conclusion. If it is not entertaining fans will not watch it.


Are you implying Brian should improve the product? As long as money comes in from the “official sponsors of NA$CAR,” like he says, the fans don’t matter.


I’m not sure if the fan flight is over for NASCAR but I agree with you about if it isn’t interesting, why should anyone watch?


The first Nascar race at the Brickyard was exciting because it was , well the first Nascar race at the Brickyard. But now its just another race on the calendar. The people we knew that drove from Virginia to Indy for that race wouldn’t consider doing it now.
Maybe thats part of a complicated issue.


I’m not surprise to see the ratings continuing to fall. Let me count the ways —
1. A generic car with a rules package that went backwards as far as producing passes & side by side racing
2. Move a lot of races to channels that not every person has in their cable package.
3. Make the “regular” season a seeding exercise. No need to watch until the “chase”.
4. A playoff concept that is a crapshoot.

Expecting that people will “demand” these channels be added at more cost to them was probably the plan, but that assumes that there are enough fans still interested in NASCAR to make that viable. Certainly if I didn’t already have FS1 and NBCSN, I would not shell out additional $ to get them.

I watched races because they were fun and each event was important and unique. Now all that matter is getting a win as soon as possible, stay in the top 30 and test test test until the last 10 race.

Doninajax – I agree with your point of view. IMO, BZF and his minions SHOULD be trying to make the racing better. They won’t do it for the fans because as you said, it has been made abundantly clear that the fans are NOT important at all. I think it will be interesting to see how it plays out– Gordon retires this year. How far behind are Stewart and even more importantly, Dale Jr? Yes I know there are other drivers out there but those are 3 large fan bases and IMO and based on what we see for attendance and ratings, not enough fans interested in the sport to keep it viable. It will be interesting to see how the TV $ plays out if fewer & fewer people are watching.


It is so obvious, but yet it isn’t to those making these piss-poor decisions.


As far as the car is concerned, I watched a program that showed Jim Vandiver’s (he passed away last month) 1975 Dodge Charger that had been in a trailer for 40 years. They got it resurrected and Kasey Kahne drove it and compared it to his present Cup car. They only put current tires on it. It was slower from 0-100-0 and in the slalom test. On the skid pad it hit 1.1 g and Kahne’s current “race” car hit 1.2 g. That tells me that either the old car handled pretty well or the current one is nowhere close to where it could be.

For anyone interested, Google Jim Vandiver. It’s a good history lesson.


The idea of “Call Your Cable Company to Demand This Channel” is ridiculous these days. Chances are the channel is already offered to you by your provider, you just don’t have the right package. And until they start offering a la carte programming this is not going to change.

It seems like the only way NASCAR knows how to make the racing “better” is to throw a caution for anything to bunch everyone up. Sure you get maybe 2-3 laps of passing but then the field is spread out and you’re back at square one, until someone throws another water bottle out the window or NASCAR spots “debris”. Indycar seems to have gotten the memo and is working on making passing easier and the racing more exciting. I just wish NASCAR would figure that out.

Ratings are down, and have been falling for years, and I agree that we are on the brink of a major problem with the sport. Gordon, Stewart, Dale Jr, and Jimmie Johnson are all closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Gone will be many of the fair weather fans that their popularity has brought to the sport. Plus many “Old Timers” will be gone too as Gordon is about the last driver of the boom times still driving. unfortunately I don’t see any drivers with the charisma and personality to take their place.

Kurt Busch is damaged goods because of his personal life, Kyle Busch is too polarizing and not in the good Dale Sr way, Truex is still tied to Spingate, Edwards needs to rehab his career after being an also ran for too long, Kensith….well who outside of NASCAR knows who he is, same with Khane, Danica’s performance doesn’t justify the $$$ needed to keep her racing in Cup, Brad K. has the same problem as Kyle, and Lagano still has to prove himself with a championship. Harvick might have the name recognition to bring media and fans into the sport, but he is riding the championship wave this year so that might not last.

Bill B

“Gone will be many of the fair weather fans that their popularity has brought to the sport ”

I don’t consider myself a fair weather fan since I am closing in on 20 years of die hard following the sport. You miss the point. If it weren’t for some of the drivers you mentioned many of us would have left when the chase was instituted or the COT introduced. We weren’t fair weather fans we just didn’t like NASCAR changing the sport we loved. If all the changes would have increased attendance and ratings we wouldn’t be able to say much, but they didn’t. In fact they’ve alienated fans. These fair weather fans have stuck around out of loyalty to their drivers. Had NASCAR not effed up the sport I loved I’d be picking another driver to follow but, as it is, I just want to be free and wash my hands of the whole mess.
To be clear I did not abandon NASCAR, they abandoned me. And for the record I will not be totally turning away from NASCAR but they have succeeded in turning me into what they most want, a casual fan instead of a die hard fan.


As Bill B has said exactly what I was thinking, I’ll just agree with everything he posted.


I agree with you about Steve Letarte. I really enjoy his commentary and he definitely has a lot more insight into what the drivers and their crew chiefs are thinking and saying. I think that NBC airing the races on FS1 and NBCSN is a big part of viewership decline. These channels are always part of a big cable package which can be expensive. I agree with GinaV24, if I didn’t already have those channels, I would not pay extra money to get them.


I keep wondering when the experiment with Princess Sparkle Pony will be called a failure, at least in the competition sense. It is a success in the marketing sense, but not competition-wise.

Any time she struggles or wrecks in a race, it is never due to anything that she did. It is always some other driver’s fault.

The biggest publicity that she gets is when she posts the pictures of her in a skimpy bathing suit or such.


It’s sad that the Brickyard 400 attendance has tumbled. The specialness of a race there wore off after that 2008 debacle. I went in 2012 and had fun and would go again. NASCAR has made blunders that hurt the sport over the last 15 years, but I think the TV rating decline is also a product of a dramatically different sports and entertainment landscape from 10 years ago. The list of things competing for our attention has grown greatly (smartphones, Netflix, other streaming services). Only the NFL seems immune. All the big media players want their own sports networks because live sports are still somewhat immune to DVRing.

I’ve noticed similar trends in baseball. Their revenues are at all time highs but I see less people in the seats and most of their games are on cable or regional sports channels. 10 years ago it was impossible to get good seats to a Yankee game outside the secondary market. It’s been fairly easy to find them since the recession. I think NASCAR could do everything right for 5 years straight and they wouldn’t see races sold out or ratings like they were a decade ago. The landscape has changed that dramatically.

Steve Cosentino

Can’t wait for all the headlines after Danica shocks the world and wins the Brickyard this weekend.


The cars are “make a freight train take a dirt road” ugly. The series has too damn many rules. The technology has made it too expensive. Brian France is “simple as a home made radio” stupid. The drivers are so “pc” that we should just record a victory lane tape and insert sponsors names as required. Plus there is a skirt out there who “couldn’t drive cattle to water”. whew… I feel better now

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