NASCAR suffers from saturation of races, technology
Posted: Wednesday November 15, 2006 1:22PM; Updated: Wednesday November 15, 2006 4:09PM
Dale Earnhardt Jr. voiced the opinion of many in questioning the length of the NASCAR season and races, themselves.
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The hottest topic of debate on the NASCAR circuit as the season closes this weekend is whether the format for the Chase for the Nextel Cup should be altered. Many of the ideas being thrown about have merit, such as awarding more points for a victory, giving the pole winner bonus points and allowing a few more drivers into the Chase.
But NASCAR Nation has its focus in the wrong place. The Chase playoff format is one of the sport's better structures. The real problem is overabundance.
NASCAR gives us teams using too much technology, teams spending too much money, a season that drags out through the entire year and races that last all afternoon and sometimes into the night. Additionally, the season lasts from Valentine's Day to Thanksgiving -- pausing just long enough to give us Christmas and New Year's Day off.
Yet at the same time, races are less entertaining and fewer people are watching, both on television and at the tracks.
Less than half the races this season have been sellouts, with crowds at California Speedway especially disappointing. Even The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard had empty seats in 2006, producing the smallest crowd in the event's 13-year history.
Television numbers also are down, with 16 races showing a decline of more than 10 percent. Only a handful of races had better numbers in '06 than '05, though the Daytona 500 did have a record 12.5 million households tune in.
NASCAR officials say part of the problem is that NBC was a lame-duck broadcasting partner, as the sport switches TV contracts during the upcoming offseason. Sister networks ABC and ESPN are part of the new package, and experts expect ESPN to do a golden job of cross-marketing its telecasts.
But part of the problem is the product itself. The races just aren't as exciting as they used to be.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, held court on the subject over the weekend in Phoenix. He suggested that NASCAR shorten its 400-mile and 500-mile races, perhaps to just 300 miles. In theory, a tighter show would be a more exciting one.