Reversing the trend in declining race attendance and viewership is just one of the many issues the Sanctioning Body and the new Cup Series Sponsor are going to face in the upcoming season. The buzz this last week or so has been that soon and very soon there will be announcements concerning race procedures designed to stem this tide and improve the sport's appeal to the younger generation.
A few weeks ago during the College Football Bowl Season, Dave "The Godfather" Moody wrote a commentary entitled "College Football's Bowl Woes Show It's Not Just a NASCAR Problem" in which he painted the picture that fans only have to tune in to the numerous bowl games to see an attendance situation worse than NASCAR's.
In his commentary he declares that of the forty-one College Football bowl games, only the three playoff game are meaningful. He then compares those three games to NASCAR's ten "meaningful" Chase races and through his analysis of the attendance at College Football's forty one bowl games and comparison to the NASCAR Chase, Moody downplays and ultimately deflects the issue of NASCAR's declining attendance.
He opens by stating that attendance decline is not just a NASCAR problem but is found throughout major sports and then looks at the attendance and ticket sales of various bowl games played, to make his case. Moody uses the success of the Rose Bowl as the example that not all of College Football bowls are "gloom and doom", but high attendance is a rarity indeed. He then explains that even in this season of declining bowl attendance, ESPN can still make a profit from near empty stadiums through TV viewership and predicts this model may be the wave of the future for other sports… including NASCAR.
"The Godfather" closes with this quote to try point out just how great we NASCAR fans really have it-
"Here’s some good news for NASCAR. Today’s oversaturated, 'More Is Better' slate of College Bowl games has diminished the importance of all but the final three… semifinal and final… events. NASCAR has only 10 playoff games, and each one includes every fan’s favorite team, whether they’re playing for the championship or not."
I can agree with his assessment that the numerous Bowl games have diminished the importance of all but the three playoff games, but have difficulty with his application to NASCAR and especially its Chase.
It's true that NASCAR has a 10-race playoff and each race is important... to the Chasers. For the 24, then 28, then 32 and finally 36 teams of Non-Chasers or eliminated Chasers those Chase races are just as meaningless as those oversaturated Bowls of which Mr. Moody is so critical. Sadly, those race teams who dedicate almost 30% (27.777778 % to be exact) of their annual budget and resources to compete in those 10 Chase races, are relegated to a role not unlike the air-time fillers description Mr. Moody attaches to the meaningless thirty-eight bowls.
Some might say, "Wait, those races aren't meaningless to those teams. Even though they aren't competing for the Championship, they are still competing for the race win. That chance to win the race makes those races meaningful to the Non-Chasers and Eliminated Chasers as well."
I could agree with that if it were true. However, if you look at what has actually happened in the thirty Chase races run since NASCAR implemented the current "Win, You Are In/Elimination" Chase format (aka "Fifth Worst or Better Advances/Competition Caution Championship) in 2014, each and every one of those thirty races has been won by a driver who qualified for the Chase. Thirty for thirty. Perfection. That's better than Clemson's Deshaun Watson's passing performance against Alabama in the Championship game.
You might say, "Well Doofus, you have to win to qualify for the Chase, so all the winners are in the Chase. Wouldn't you expect the Chasers to win the Chase races? Plus, they have to win to advance so they have more at stake and drive harder!"
That may all be true but how is it that once the Chase starts that non-Chasers who have won and won big in previous years like a Ryan Newman can't slip in a win in those last 10 races? Non-Chasers could find Victory Lane under the previous Chase formats and did so quite frequently… seventeen times to be exact. However, under this format, a Non-Chaser winning a Chase race seems almost as likely to happen as the Ohio State University Buckeyes scoring a single point in the meaningful semi-final game against the eventual CFB Champion, Clemson. If that is the case, then all of these teams' efforts after the Chase begins is in fact meaningless.
I also find it interesting that under this format, once Chasers are eliminated they can't seem to find their way back to Victory Lane for the rest of the Chase. Since going to the current Chase format (FWOBA/CCC) only two Chasers have won races after being eliminated-Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Each have won two Chase races after their performance in the Chase sent each to the Chase sidelines. This means eligible Chasers have won 26 of the 30 Chase races. Even that's better than Watson's passing stats in the final game.
That too seems kind of odd. You would think that a previous race winner could win again after being eliminated from the Chase. History is proving however that Chase elimination somehow means race elimination, adding to the meaninglessness of those races for those teams.
One point Mr. Moody fails to recognize that even if my favorite football team is playing in one of these "meaningless" bowls, I can still tune in if I want to and see them play. Unfortunately, due to the current state of NASCAR Chase TV race coverage that cannot be said if my favorite driver/team isn't still in the Chase. Currently, if you aren't Chasing you're not being shown. That is sad, because after the initial lineup, if your favorite driver is a Non-Chaser and isn't in a wreck, getting passed by or pitting with a Chaser, with the exception of Kyle Larson (who obviously didn't get the memo) you'd never know they were there. If we didn't have the ever-present crawler, they would be non-existent. So having "every fans favorite team" participating in the 10 "meaningful" Chase races means little to their fans unless they are actually there at the track.
Mr. Moody is right though; attendance is declining in all sports, including NASCAR. However, just because NASCAR attendance is sinking slower than other sports doesn't give me the same warm, fuzzy feeling he and NASCAR management share. Sinking is still sinking and sunk is still sunk. Hopefully, the upcoming announcements can change that trend.
I'll agree with Mr. Moody that there is good news for NASCAR fans but I cannot agree with his source of the good news. He attributes the "good news" to the Sanctioning Body's use of the most divisive element in the sport today, the Chase. Although many think the Chase is the greatest thing since "Sliced Bread" (I'll leave it to you whether that's Joey Logano or the original grain product), the last time I checked it has done little to slow the decline in attendance and reverse the troubling trend discussed in his commentary.
No, the good news for this race fan comes from three sources. First, there is a new series sponsor that hopefully can bring to the sport what it is sorely lacking. Secondly, this sponsor has experience in racing and hopefully understands that better racing makes everything better and will push to see the "product" improve. I'm talking about improving racing not inserting contrivances like competition cautions, debris cautions, quarter or halftime breaks or competition clocks, but "line 'em up, drop the flag and let 'em race" kind of racing. Finally, there is a new day, a new season coming and in those three there is hope...
And this hope, not Mr. France's Chase, is racing's good news for me.