Seeya, Kobe: Auto racing is more popular than NBA, NHL

You know that line about lies, damn lies and statistics? Get ready, because we're about to drop some stats on you that are so positive they'll make Larry McReynolds giggle. Beneath the creamy icing, though, there's some nastiness ... but we'll get to that in a moment.

Sports Business Daily has just released a new Harris Poll which indicates that NASCAR is the fourth-most-popular sport in America, ranking ahead of the NBA, the NHL, NCAA basketball, golf and — shocking, I know — the WNBA, among many others.

The poll, which surveyed Americans who follow at least one sport, found that 7 percent of respondents named auto racing as their favorite sport. Not bad, considering the competition, but the runaway winner is, of course, the NFL (31 percent), followed by baseball (17 percent) and college football (12 percent).

More statistical goodness: the percentage of adults who named NASCAR as their favorite sport in 1985 — you know, the good ol' days — was 5 percent, and it's up 2 percent since then. (Basketball has seen zero growth over that same period, and baseball has seen a decline of 6 percentage points.)

Now, for the not-positive stuff here. First off, the very methodology of this survey is flawed, asking someone to name a "favorite" sport and extrapolating on that narrow sliver of data. Me, I'd put football, hoops, baseball, golf and basketball all right there with NASCAR, depending on the season and how well my teams are doing.

More ominously, given the disregard many NASCAR fans have for "stick-and-ball" sports, I'd gamble that that 7 percent is a lot more likely to be a standalone 7 percent. In other words, there may be a lot of baseball fans who also like football, but I'm guessing there aren't a significant number of NASCAR fans who have a second-favorite sport. But hey, I could be wrong; feel free to tell me in the comments.

Finally, zeroing in on auto racing itself, the sport saw a 22 percent decline in people who named it as their favorite sport from 2009 to 2010, from 9 percent down to 7 percent. There's no way to spin that positively, no way at all.

So what are we to make of this? Bottom line, this indicates that while there's immediate trouble, maybe things aren't quite as dire as we all seem to think. The NBA and NCAA hoops don't seem to sweat nearly as much as NASCAR does. The danger, of course, is that NASCAR isn't particularly far from falling into the niche-sport category.

Pro Football Continues Popularity Among U.S. Sports Fans [Sports Business Daily]

What to Read Next