NASCAR has a shorter Cup race and suddenly all is right with the world

BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 10: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Haas 30 Years of the VF1 Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 10, 2018 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Clint Bowyer won what turned out to be a pretty exciting race at Michigan Sunday.  Of course, any time Bowyer wins it’s exciting.  He acts like it’s his first time, like he just lost his virginity under the bleachers after scoring the winning touchdown.  He “ya hoos’ and ‘yee haws’ like the non-vanilla drivers of old; still not neglecting to throw in a few sponsor mentions along the way.

Sunday the field was racing the rain as much as each other. Once the race was official, after Stage 2, all bets were off. Mother Nature was ready to send more showers over the 2-mile oval and end the race at any time. On the final restart Bowyer was able to do something few drivers have been able to accomplish this season; beat Kevin Harvick. What ensued over the course of those final laps was a near epic battle that saw the Kansas native hold off the hotter than fire five-time season winner Harvick.  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun, caution waved, Bowyer led, and Mother Nature said, ‘okay now’ and the rains came.

Turns out, people took notice.

That’s because something rare happened.  Sports Business Daily reported Monday that the TV ratings for the race were up.

And some people lost their ever-loving mind.

Those people are primarily the older fans who normally whine about everything NASCAR.  The same ones who say the sport hasn’t been the same since Earnhardt Sr. was taken from us; those who wish we were still racing at Rockingham; those who are probably the same ones yelling “You kids get off my lawn” on a regular basis.

For the uninitiated the ‘you kids get off my lawn’ set pretty much hates everything NASCAR does these days. From the vanilla drivers to tracks outside the confines of the Mason-Dixon Line they cheer nothing, instead complaining about everything NASCAR, including, and specifically the TV ratings.

Especially those TV ratings. According to the ‘you kids get off my lawn’ set low TV ratings mean that soon NASCAR will be dead, Brian France will commit hara-kari atop of the gleaming new ISC headquarters building in Daytona Beach and soon all we will be left with is old films of David Pearson beating Richard Petty in 1976 Daytona 500.

The truth is of course that TV ratings don’t actually mean what they used to.  There was a time when TV ratings were life or death; less than 100,000 fans in the stands got a track president fired, and an entire Sunday afternoon spent watching a 400 or 500-mile NASCAR race was the norm.

But those were the days when we told our kids never to get into a car with a stranger. Today they use an app on their phone to summon a stranger to actually pick them up.

The world has indeed changed; it’s a world where sports fans digest the game, or race, in different ways; ways beyond sitting on the couch.  Streaming, whether on a computer or those ubiquitous smartphones, mean that we don’t have to be tied to a couch for four hours on a Sunday.

However, the ‘you kids get off my lawn’ set still point to TV ratings as evidence NASCAR is dying.

Monday then they actually had a reason to celebrate, although they seemed to be mostly silent.  Only one of the ‘you kids get off my lawn’ set made a comment on the ‘Michigan TV ratings up!’ post. Normally any post about TV ratings—which are normally down– would be met with a flurry of comments that have the ‘I told you so’ theme; usually all in caps and berating the France family.

Monday however, most of them must have been out chasing kids off their lawns.

While we can’t really live and die by TV ratings any more, that slight uptick can provide a bit of insight.

We live in a world now where we not only hail strangers in cars, but a world where most people have the attention span of a three-year-old.  A world filled with sound-bites, video highlights, and three paragraph wrap-ups.

It’s also a world where it’s evident that NASCAR is struggling to find a footing, and no doing so well.

In the last few years the sport of NASCAR has tried to appeal to the younger sound-bite, video highlights three paragraph wrap-up generation. The NASCAR PR department is filled with youth and youthful exuberance; young minds that can track ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on social media, yet it’s a sport that still requires an investment of upwards of three to four hours every week.

The truth may be that the days of 400 and 500 mile races are gone. And that going to the same track twice every year won’t ensure success.  With a schedule that runs from February to November that will never satisfy a three-year-old’s attention span.  A once a year race might put more butts in the seat than two races.  Two races that can have people saying “I’ll just go in the fall” or who don’t look forward to sitting for 400 or 500 miles.  A once a year race would be more of a special event than two at the same track. Although NASCAR doesn’t release attendance figures anymore, I suspect that those tracks visited once a year have more people buying tickets than those tracks that have two.

So no, we can’t judge an entire professional sport by its TV ratings, but that slight uptick from Sunday can’t be ignored.

And what was it about Sunday that provided that uptick? Could it be that we raced 266 miles instead of the scheduled 400, thanks to Mother Nature?  That despite the fewer laps we still had great racing, more than one storyline and Clint Bowyer doing his thing when it was all over? In other words, we had all the elements that make NASCAR great, we just had a shorter race to do them in.

And it all worked out. More eyes seemed to be on the screens.

Perhaps it’s time that NASCAR realized that shorter races, and fewer of them, might just be the way to make the sport relevant again.

Sunday proved that it might just work.  Perhaps Mother Nature will help might add fuel to this currently smoldering fire later in the season.  We can only hope so

Because the truth is NASCAR needs to do something or it may not be long before all we are left with is the old films of David Pearson beating Richard Petty in 1976 Daytona 500.



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About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.