May 7, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
Even though the economy has recovered somewhat from the low point of a few years ago, attendance is still down at most tracks.
The most shocking of which is at Bristol Motor Speedway.
For a long time, it was the hardest ticket for fans to acquire and was sold out years in advance. The announced attendance at the last Bristol race was 102,000 at a place that boasts 160,000 seats.
The track at Bristol was repaved in 2007 and attendance has been dropping ever since. Progressive banking was installed, creating multiple racing groves at the track and totally changing the style of racing.
Now track officials have announced they will be making changes to return the track to its "former" condition.
However, attendance is down at tracks all over the NASCAR circuit, including tracks that have not been repaved. While changing the characteristics of a track and the style of racing that the fans prefer can certainly affect ticket sales, repaves can't garner all the blame.
There are two drastic changes NASCAR made that sent the sport into a downward spiral. The first is the new "Car of Tomorrow" that NASCAR officials introduced in an effort to level the playing field and to lower costs for teams. While the COT has certainly introduced innovative safety features, it absolutely killed the racing.
The second is the new "playoff" point format that officials call "The Chase." No longer is winning a championship about acquiring the most points over the course of the entire season. It's about running good enough to qualify for the post season and then winning the championship in a ten race "mini-season."
Now all a driver has to do is excel at mile-and-a-half tracks, which is what The Chase is predominately made up of, to win the title. Many believe that is the reason for Jimmie Johnson's incredible five consecutive championship streak.
This weekend at Talladega, Greg Biffle thoroughly explained a driver's mindset in approaching the new point system.
"We approach, whether we are the points leader or not, the same way as everybody else. It is kind of funny. A lot has been talked about how people might be racing careful because every point counts because of the way it came down at the end of the season with Carl and Tony."
"But if you really think about it, the points right now don’t count -- right now, provided if I make the Chase, it doesn’t matter if I finish seventh, fifth, 13th or second. The only way I can get points right now for the Chase is to win," Biffle was quoted as saying at a press conference. "To me, six or seventh means no difference simply from the fact that the only way I can get points for the Chase is to win. Our importance right now is to win. Yeah, we want to keep leading the points and that is important but in order to win the championship we’ve gotta win races to get bonus points for the Chase."
With the COT equalizing the playing field, passing is more difficult. No one wants to spend their hard earned money to watch a high speed game of follow the leader.
"The spread between the competition is getting closer and closer together. It makes it more difficult, even if you have the fastest car," Biffle said. "You are running fifth and it is so difficult to pass the fourth, third and second place car to get to the current leader and race him for position. Everybody is so good and the competition level is so good. That is what makes it so difficult now. You will see a guy get out front that doesn’t have the fastest car and he wins because of track position or because something happened."
NASCAR officials have made it known they like to listen to the fans. Yet fans have been very vocal about both the COT and The Chase point format. How long will it be before changes are made to either of those problems?
Or are officials just selective about what they listen to?
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.