It’s been a rough couple of weeks for NASCAR. Not only did tragedy strike the sport on Sunday, September 15, when Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott collided, causing Elliott to spin out and crash into parked cars. But the week prior, another devastating crash occurred when Denny Hamlin fell ill and had to be taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, these are just the latest in a long list of incidents that have plagued the sport.
After over a decade of rising popularity, which included a peak attendance of over 500,000 at each race and an increase of 400% in viewership between 2012 and 2018, it seems like the NASCAR bubble has burst. According to media analysts, the recent scandals have caused viewership to plunge by 14%, with some estimates putting it as low as 331,000 viewers. Additionally, fewer people are buying tickets to NASCAR events, with prices increasing by 12% in August.
This is a major blow to NASCAR, which has seen viewership and fan growth peak under the leadership of current President and CEO Brian France. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the safety of the drivers hasn’t been prioritized over the financial success of the sport, leading to crashes that have left fans disheartened and competitors injured. Without the financial backing from large companies like Disney and Fox, the future of NASCAR looks bleak.
While this is a major blow to the sport, it’s not all bad news. There are a few important takeaways from this latest downturn in the franchise. First off, the crashes that have left fans disheartened are actually a huge positive in that they will hopefully lead to safer racing and better overall outcomes for competitors. Additionally, the timing of these crashes is actually quite brilliant, as it occurred just as the sport was reaching its peak and the competition was getting fiercer.
While this is a sad day for NASCAR, it’s important to remember the positive aspects of this development. With the crashes came an opportunity to review the sport’s existing ruleset and determine if any changes need to be made to make it safer. The result of these changes will then benefit the entire NASCAR community, including drivers, fans, and those who work in the sport.
How Has NASCAR Changed?
Since NASCAR’s inception, the rules have remained largely the same, with only small changes here and there. Until now.
With the end of the 2019 season drawing near, NASCAR is in the middle of a massive rule change, overhauling the entire chassis and engine formula. While there are benefits to these rule changes – making the racing more competitive and offering up more opportunities for those looking for sponsorship – there are also a few drawbacks. Chief among them is that NASCAR is removing the ability of teams to modify their cars after each race. Previously, teams were allowed to take their cars to the next race and make small changes, which often led to significant strategies coming from the tail end of the season.
As a result of this season’s rule changes, teams are now only able to make adjustments during race weekends. Additionally, the cost of racing has increased, as the introduction of performance-based parts has made it more expensive to compete. Just this year, the cost of racing a car increased by 33%, which is approximately $12,000.
Why Was This Rule Change Necessitated?
It’s important to remember that NASCAR is a business, and they have to keep up with the times. Just like any other business, they have to respond to changing consumer demands and stay profitable. In order to do this, they had to make some significant changes to ensure their product is meeting the needs of today’s society. One of the biggest issues with past rules was that they didn’t match up with modern conveniences. For example, auto-reverse was introduced to the sport in 2011 and has since become as essential to the daily driver as cruise control. Yet, these were considered “prohibited” devices back in the day and teams were penalized if they had them.
With that being said, NASCAR has put in place several new rules that will make the sport a safer and more enjoyable place for everyone, including the drivers. One of the more significant changes sees drivers being penalized if they pass another car while entering a turn. Previously, passing while entering a turn was only considered an infraction and resulted in a warning. Now, it’s a race-ending foul and competitors must serve a drive-through penalty.
Will These Changes Help The Sport Rebound?
It’s still unclear if these changes will result in a lasting rebound for NASCAR. As mentioned above, viewership has dropped and prices at the tracks have increased. Additionally, teams are now carrying more money into the race, which could also be a cause for concern. While there are several factors that could contribute to the decline in audiences, none of this is guaranteed to bring back the good old days. As difficult as it may be for those who love the sport, this must be seen as a setback and a chance to rebuild.
That said, it’s clear that these changes, when combined with stricter enforcement and the elimination of gambling, will lead to a more enjoyable NASCAR for everyone. On the whole, this could be a positive development for the sport, especially considering how vital television viewers have become over the years. At the very least, it will give competitors more opportunities to showcase their talent and rise through the ranks, hopefully leading to more long-lasting success stories.