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Track owners anxious as crowds dwindle

"We certainly don't want to see empty seats," said NASCAR CEO Brian France. "We'll be working with tracks to get the best dates possible."

It's even being asked whether NASCAR itself sustain the number of events that make up the Sprint Cup season, together with the associated Nationwide and Truck Series. The Sprint Cup has 36 races in a season - once it gets underway in mid-February at Daytona, there's virtually not a weekend off until the season finale in November. Some pundits argue that cutting some races would make the remaining ones better supported, as well as adding a sense of urgency to the season rather than the sense of a long, hard, never-ending slog to the title.

IndyCar by comparison has just 17 events in a season, and four of those are outside the United States; and F1 has 19 this season, assuming that Bahrain isn't reinstated, all of them in a different country other than Barcelona/Valenca. Is NASCAR simply asking too much of its fans to ask them to support so many events in a year?

When it comes down to it, the most important statistic of all about the health of the sport is TV viewing figures. And surprisingly it seems that these are holding up very well - for Dover, despite the acres of empty seats at the speedway itself, the TV audience was up from 3.6 to 3.8 million making it the highest rating since Talladega. It's not just the Sprint Cup events, either: this week's Camping World Truck race from Charlotte featuring the d├ębut of Kimi Raikkonen saw the highest rating for a Charlotte Truck race since 2008 and topped a million viewers, with the season's coverage as a whole up 7 per cent year on year. Ironically it seems that while the downturn in the economy means that fans can't afford to go to races in person as they did, it's also leading them to stay at home more and watch more TV.

Certainly the armchair US motorsports fan will be spoilt for entertainment this coming Memorial Day holiday weekend, with an afternoon of the Indianapolis 500 followed in the evening by NASCAR's gruelling Coca Cola 600 from Charlotte making it an endurance double-header. (Really dedicated motor sports fans in the States can warm up with the Monaco Grand Prix in the morning, which is virtually a bite-sized sprint race by comparison.)

While IndyCar attendance and viewing figures are a fraction of NASCAR's, the one race that shouldn't have any problems packing in a crowd is the Indy 500 - despite the Indianapolis Motor Speedway having an eye-watering permanent seating capacity of over 257,000 making it the biggest sporting facility in the world. No wonder Bernie Ecclestone was so desperate to make F1 work here.

But even the Indy 500 is nervous: when it looked as though Danica Patrick might not qualify for the race, IndyCar and IMS went into panic mode, envisaging a devastating collapse in attendance and TV audience figures alike if they lost their biggest star draw (only Helio Castroneves comes close after his win in the reality show Dancing with the Stars in 2007.) And there's concern that whatever happens this year, Danica is bowing out after this year's race and moving to NASCAR.

Will that be a boost for NASCAR attendance and viewing figures? Perhaps, but you suspect that it won't be as big an impact on NASCAR as it will be a body blow to IndyCar which is still struggling to regain its former popularity. NASCAR may be worried about falling attendance, but IndyCar is still fighting for its very survival.




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craig - Unregistered

June 25, 2012 2:16 PM

it's simple the tracks are pricing themselves out. tickets keep being raised and we just cant afford them ..i had tickets 4 both mich. races . indy . an chi..4 at each . now have chi. only and might give them up..only way to get fans back is to lower ticket prices , and maybe quit having 3-4 lap cautions 4 debri on track ..if workers take that long to pick up a piece of debri , get hew workers...



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