Attendance at tracks owned by International Speedway Corporation was down in the second quarter of 2018. According to ISC president John Saunders, the dip can be attributed to a lack of star power in NASCAR’s Cup Series and the fact that young drivers aren’t winning that many races.
“Weather was an important part, but all in all, the attendance was a little bit softer than expected,” Saunders said on ISC’s second quarter investor call Thursday (via ESPN). “We still have an issue with star power and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands.”
Saunders comments are further proof of how ridiculous the external corporate pressure is getting for young drivers like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr. and others to win races. Thankfully they’re recognizing how ridiculous and unfair it is too.
“Honestly, this whole young guys need to win now thing is getting old,” Blaney said Thursday at Daytona. “We’re trying. We’re trying our hardest. It’s not like I go out there and I’m happy for fifth every single week. Any other guy under the age of 25 I’ll just say is the same way. It’s not a competition here between young guys and old guys, it’s a competition between 39 other cars and yourself. No matter what your age is or your experience level everyone is trying to accomplish the same goal. I think it would be healthy for the sport if we just see more variation in winners in general. There have been six winners this year. Come on now. You can’t just put that on the young guys for not winning.”
Blaney’s right. And blaming a lack of star power in the Cup Series is getting really old too. Yeah, famous drivers have retired in recent years, but Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick lead the series with five wins apiece. Harvick won the title in 2014. Busch won it in 2015. Martin Truex Jr., who has three wins this season, is the defending series champion. Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion and the 2016 champion, is still around too.
When you throw in Brad Keselowski, the 2012 champion, each of the five drivers responsible for the last six championships are still racing. And three of them are still under the age of 40.
Wallace said he felt a little bit of a weight to win and also noted that it wasn’t solely the responsibility of young drivers to carry the banner for an entire series. It’s hard to argue that tracks shouldn’t be passing the buck when it comes to attendance.
“A little bit,” Wallace said. “There is a lot of boring stuff that we have that is the same thing at ISC tracks that we could update to get more fans out. It kind of goes hand in hand from us behind the wheel to people that are here hosting us. It’s a group effort. Kind of like Blaney and [Austin Dillon] said, there have only been six different winners.
Wallace also made the point that it’s necessary to show that expectations should be adjusted for drivers who aren’t in the series’ best equipment.
“I am looking at myself from a fan’s point of view,” Wallace said. This guy is 22nd in the points, hasn’t won anything, finished second in the Daytona 500 and is getting promoted the hell out of – and hasn’t done anything. That’s what I see and that is what you get.
“It’s like the bandwagon and the sports fan. What they don’t realize is what goes into it. I guess they all think we are all going 200 mph, which is true, but my car handles way worse than Harvick or Kyle’s car at 200 mph, and we are holding on to it. So, there is a difference that the sport needs to illustrate to the fan that are the budgets that make all this stuff happen and make you a winner. Just because the cars look the same, and they all go through tech and everything, they are damn sure not the same. My car is not the same as any other [Busch’s car] or [Harvick’s] car.”
Besides, NASCAR was trending downwards when it comes to attendance and television ratings with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. still racing. The last race of Junior’s Cup Series career, the 2017 season finale, had 23 percent fewer viewers than the 2016 season finale did and almost 40 percent fewer viewers than the 2015 finale did. According to Sports Media Watch, It was the lowest-rated Homestead race since 1999.
NASCAR’s ratings without Junior have continued on a similar trend in 2018. Attendance is following suit. It’s as lazy to think Junior’s absence is responsible for that as it is to think that young drivers winning races will suddenly bring fans back to NASCAR. Blaney and Kyle Larson won back-to-back races in June of 2017. The race that followed Larson’s win (Sonoma) had 500,000 fewer viewers than the 2015 version and 700,000 fewer viewers than the same 2016 race.
There’s little reason to think that drivers under a certain age threshold winning will cure NASCAR of all its very consistent long-term downward trends. More finishes like the one between Larson and Busch on Sunday at Chicago have a far better chance of halting that slide.
“I feel like I do a good job of putting on a show for the fans and I might not post stupid videos every week or stuff like that to try and gain fans, but I try to gain fans on the race track,” Larson said. So it’s not a big deal for me to try to sell myself as somebody I’m not. So yeah, I don’t feel big pressure. I just like to race hard and try to gain fans that way. I feel like I did a good job last week.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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