Sprint Cup doldrums not so bad

Hysteria has hit NASCAR headquarters over declining attendance and TV viewership for nearly all of its Sprint Cup races.

Naysayers assail the drop in attendance, but only a few races draw less than 70,000 fans. Most draw more than 100,000, and there isn’t an NFL team that wouldn’t love that.

Panic isn’t necessary.

From comments NASCAR chairman Brian France made last week at Daytona International Speedway, it sounds as if a few changes to the schedule and revamping the season-ending 10-race Chase will have people flooding back to races and TVs, as we were in the middle of the last decade when interest in the sport peaked.

NASCAR will never return to that level of popularity, though. It should hope it doesn’t, because it only did for the few years after the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. Many new fans then were curiosity seekers, and they left after the novelty of Earnhardt’s fatal Daytona 500 crash waned.

The past few years, the biggest obstacle for all sports has been the troubled economy. No sport is more dependent on sponsors than racing.

France has implemented changes in the past year that have made races more exciting, with double-file restarts and up to three two-lap overtimes.

The on-track product is as good as it has ever been. But races are too long for casual viewers, there are too many commercials, and drivers spend too much time hawking sponsors.

Making races easier to watch on TV and showing large, near-capacity crowds are the best way to spur ticket sales.

France wants to make changes to how the season champion is determined, but that only enhances interest in the last four or five races. No one watching Saturday’s race from near Chicago cares about the championship, no matter how much it’s hyped by commentators and analysts. A tight points battle will not sell one extra ticket.

It makes the most sense for NASCAR to look at its schedule as a clean slate and create one steeped in recent success and not tradition, or even loyalty. If a track can’t sell 100,000 tickets for its Cup dates, it certainly shouldn’t have two.

We’ve recently talked about major shake-ups for next year’s schedule, including a possible second annual Cup date for Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority remains steadfast with a financial commitment to put up about $2 million a year to attract more big paydays for Southern Nevada.

Bruton Smith, founder and chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the speedway, has submitted a wish list to NASCAR that includes moving one or two races from his other tracks to get another for Las Vegas and/or a first one for his Kentucky Speedway.

The latest word from Smith, courtesy of the "NASCAR Now" program on ESPN, is that he wants the season to end at Las Vegas instead of rival International Speedway Corp.’s Homestead-Miami Speedway. Smith is supposed to meet with NASCAR next week.

Traditionally, the "silly season" in NASCAR centers on drivers jumping from one team to another.

The sport’s game of high-speed musical chairs will play out in the next two months, but it will feature tracks, not drivers.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

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