NASCAR on ice? Why NASCAR is struggling to stay relevant
By NEIL DWYER
College Contributor Network
In between all of the games on Sunday (perhaps it was because the Giants didn't kick off until Monday night) I flipped over to ESPN to watch the NASCAR race in Texas. I tuned in just in time to see the pace car leave the track and the field get set for green. Then I saw the stands. The grandstands at Texas Motor Speedway start at the excitement of Turn 4, and only the first few rows had fans in them. There were obviously more fans closer to the start/finish line, but I just couldn't help but sigh and shake my head, "Where were all the fans?!"
This is the third-to-last race of the NASCAR season and the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and eight drivers are contesting for the final four spots that will duke it out in Homestead in two weeks. To me, that's just it. This race matters for a little less than one-fifth of the field. Eight cars still are in contention for the Cup, you have your start and parks in the back, and then the superstars like Jimmie Johnson (who won) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who have already been eliminated.
Now, there's some obvious reasons why the speedway looked like this. The Dallas Cowboys were playing at home against the Cardinals. As mentioned before, a lot of fan bases have been eliminated along with their drivers. The weather couldn't be a factor, right now it's upper 60s in Fort Worth; that's Texas State Fair weather.
Two big problems plague NASCAR: the length of season and the Chase.
The short version is that the season is just too long. Daytona sees its first televised practices and the Sprint Unlimited shortly after the wives and girlfriends open their heart-shaped boxes, and the checkers wave at Homestead a week-and-a-half before Thanksgiving.
Worse yet for the sport, 11 weeks in the 2014 season clash with the NFL. No one ever beats football in ratings. Clearly, the long season opens up more markets to expand the sport and bring in more money, but there was a time, going back to 1985, that there were 29 weeks in the season instead of the current 36.
There are so many tracks that shouldn't be on the schedule: California, Kansas, Chicagoland (only reason that's on the schedule is for the market). Who in Chicago is going to watch NASCAR over the Bears game or even the Cubs game?!
Second, the Chase just doesn't cut it for me, especially with the new playoff-tier system. While wins now trump points, the idea of starting the playoffs with 16 drivers completely dilutes the sport, and puts a huge emphasis on the final race of the regular season at Richmond -- a big gamble hoping that this one race will have many storylines.
Some years it's worked, others not so much. How much better was Talladega when theoretically, 10 drivers were still in the Chase and the guy in eighth or ninth could win and shoot up in the standings?
In 1992, there was a natural six-way berth for the Winston Cup in Atlanta where the Underbird, Alan Kulwicki, with his own team, beat out Bill Elliott and Davey Allison for the gold (which has since happened with Tony Stewart winning the Cup as an owner-driver in 2011). Now, NASCAR has dissolved into the NHL.
Neil Dwyer is a senior at the University of Miami who loves the Yankees, Giants, 'Canes and screaming about all three. Follow him on Twitter: @neildwyer1993