Race Weekend Central

The 2023 State of the Sport Address, Summarized

AVONDALE, Ariz. – The arrival of NASCAR Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway brings about the annual state of the sport address from NASCAR President Steve Phelps and COO Steve O’Donnell.

Here is a rundown of what was said and asked as NASCAR prepares to close out its 2023 season and move ahead to 2024 and beyond.

See also
Bringing the Heat: 2023 Championship Weekend Day 1

TV Ratings, Fan Interaction & Track Attendance

  • Phelps revealed that the NASCAR Cup and Craftsman Truck series have seen single-digit decreases in TV ratings in comparison to 2022, while ratings for the Xfinity Series have gone up.
  • Phelps also said that digital and social media consumption of NASCAR is up in 2023, and track sellouts were up 50% in comparison to 2022.

Current Negotiations of the Charter System

  • “If you would ask the race teams, ‘do we think we’re making progress with NASCAR on where things stand in the extension of our charters’, I think our race teams would say yes,” Phelps said.
  • Phelps: “We won’t get into the negotiations specifically, but I would say that I’m confident that the teams and NASCAR will come to an agreement that is fair for race teams, fair for NASCAR, and help grow the sport. I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
  • Phelps said the teams want three things out of the charter system: profitability, competitiveness on the racetrack and the ability to increase the enterprise value of the charters.
  • Talks are progressing, but there is no timetable for a renewal of the charter system beyond 2024. Phelps said NASCAR hopes to have the TV and media rights squared away before tackling charters.

The 2025 TV & Media Contracts

  • The Xfinity Series will be broadcast on The CW in 2025, but the Cup and Truck deals have yet to be determined.
  • “The amount of interest in attaining our media rights for ’25 and beyond exceeded our expectations,” Phelps said.
  • Phelps: “We believe that we’re going to have a very strong result with media partners that will look at a combination of broadcast, cable and streaming to some degree. What that looks like, I don’t know. Are we getting toward the end of this process? We are. Did I think we would have a result earlier? I did. But we haven’t. It’s an incredibly competitive marketplace.”

Improving the Racing Product of the Next Gen Car

  • “I think everything [with the Next Gen car] is up for consideration,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve proven that. You have to factor in what are the costs involved as well, right? It’s not as simple as just upping the horsepower. You better be ready for all your OEs to be onboard. It better make sense for any potential new OEM and technology. It’s not just a short-term answer.”
  • O’Donnell specifically said that NASCAR would be taking a closer look at the shifting and the underbody of the Next Gen car.
  • O’Donnell also revealed that NASCAR saw some promising results from the Richmond test in regard to aerodynamics.
  • “Nothing to report in terms of, ‘yes, we’re going to do that,'” O’Donnell said. “Open to everything, but I would say short term more around shifting and the aero package.”

Electric Vehicles & New Manufacturers

  • “A lot of work’s gone on at the R&D department around EV,” O’Donnell said. “We have a car. We have an alternative body style with that car. I would not look for us specifically to go racing with it. I think you could see it showcased at certain events next year. But there’s other forms that we want to look at.”
  • O’Donnell said one of the reasons for the Garage 56 program at the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans was to “spur” interest in NASCAR to any outside manufacturers.
  • “The challenge remains for us [about] what engine package are we going to be running, specifically around Cup,” O’Donnell said. “The good news is all of our existing OEs are very open to dialogue now about where the new technologies are going.”
  • O’Donnell remained steadfast in that bringing new manufacturers to NASCAR “remains a goal.”
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International Expansion

  • “When you look at our sport, and the ability to go into a marketplace, really grow the sport, we want to make sure we have all the levers in place to not just kind of come in and out,” O’Donnell said. “We want to build NASCAR within that particular country or marketplace.”
  • O’Donnell said that in the talks with Montreal, NASCAR realized that it was a “little quick to be able to make that happen.”
  • International expansion still looks to be on the horizon. O’Donnell said that there have been “a lot of discussions” regarding opportunities in North America and outside of the United States.
  • O’Donnell also expelled the idea that Iowa Speedway “replaced” Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the 2024 schedule: “It’s not the case. In an ideal world, we actually wanted to potentially bring on both racetracks.”

The Future of NASCAR in Southern California

  • Phelps confirmed demolition has begun with the former Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
  • Phelps also reiterated that the plan to build a short track is still in place: “I would say that we are still planning on building a short track in Fontana. What the timing of that is, I don’t know. This isn’t the best time to be building based on inflation, the cost of capital, etc. But our intention is to continue to be in the Southern California market. For 2024, [it] will be at the Coliseum. It is our intention to build a short track in the Inland Empire.
  • O’Donnell added that the Southern California market is “important” to NASCAR.

Race Control & Officiating

  • “When [NASCAR officials] make a mistake, they don’t hide,” O’Donnell said. “They go to the media. They go to a race team and they correct it. Doesn’t happen in all sports.”
  • O’Donnell also brought up the point in that there are no timeouts or deferring calls to New York in the world of NASCAR: “You’re racing. Every second of every race, you got to make a call. You got to be able to defend that. They’re able to come in and defend the call they made. If we made a mistake, we’re going to address it.”
  • Race control meets the Tuesday after each race weekend and discusses its findings with the drivers and owners. “We want to be perfect for sure, but we’re not going to get everything right,” O’Donnell said. “We’re not going to get everything right in ’24 or ’25 as well. But I promise you that the best interests of getting it right every single second of every race, it’s always our goal.”

Commitment to Diversity

  • “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in the areas of diversity inclusion to broaden our sport,” Phelps said. “Our sport is about welcoming all race fans, right? That’s what we want to do. We are going to continue efforts to have the entire country, the entire world, come to our facilities, watch on television, because it’s about a love for racing.”
  • Phelps: “We’re going to continue to make sure that we are broadening our fan base, and broadening our fan base across every segment of this population — young, old, Black, white, male, female, all of it — because that’s how we’re going to grow. Our job when we wake up in the morning: how can we grow this sport? We’re going to do it with all kinds of programs to meet potential race fans where they are, or existing race fans where they are. I think that’s the responsibility of anyone who works within this sport, certainly those that work in NASCAR.”

The Playoff Format & NASCAR Championship Weekend in Phoenix

  • Phelps praised the diversity of the NASCAR schedule and called NASCAR’s playoff system the “toughest” in professional sports.
  • He also defended the current playoff system against its critics: “When we crown that champion on Sunday, that champion is going to be very deserving. I’ve heard some things, there were people like, ‘hey, listen, this is gimmicky.’ It’s not. It’s an incredible, incredible playoff system that rewards the best drivers in our sport.”
  • Phelps said he believes that the Phoenix community has embraced NASCAR Championship Weekend in its four seasons, citing the early sellouts of the Cup finale and the NASCAR signage that can be seen in Avondale, downtown Phoenix and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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booggityboogityboogity

if ryan blaney wins, it is gimmicky

jim

The sport is great, the fans love it, everything is wonderful.
We are making tons of money the TV deals are great, gonna up the prices for all the amenities. Pay per view is next you’ll love it!
We are looking into restarts every 25 laps so fans can enjoy more side by side racing.

Steve

Interesting how nobody had the balls to ask them about their racist qualifications for the “Drive For Diversity” program. All is well indeed.

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