NASCAR's Chase: Are casual fans getting the wrong message?

When top drivers are 'eliminated,' that may be as far as some TV viewers look.

NASCAR's Chase: Are casual fans getting the wrong message?
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with crew chief Steve Letarte
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Though there’s no question attendance at the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was up, it’s odd that the TV ratings were down.

According to ESPN, which televised the race, it drew a 2.7 rating and about 4,328,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. Last year's race earned a 3.1 rating and averaged 4,916,000 viewers.

What does “rating” mean? Each ratings point represents one percent of the TV-equipped households in America, which totals about 115.6 million. One ratings point means about 1,156,000 homes were watching a particular show.

Why is this important? Because advertising is sold based on ratings, just like, say, a magazine’s circulation dictates its ad rates. If ESPN sold ads based on delivering a 3.1 rating, they may have to give some money back. A 2.7 vs. a 3.1 isn’t the end of the world, but given the hype around the new Chase format, it seems clear that some people aren’t listening.

What I’m really interested in, though, is the rating for this weekend’s race at Martinsville. If you are reading this on Motorsport.com, you are by all likelihood a more than casual fan, and you understand how the elimination rounds in the Chase work.

Casual fans may be confused

If you are a genuinely casual fan, how might you read Monday’s headline in USA Today? It said, “Keselowski wins at Talladega; Earnhardt, Johnson out of Chase.” And another USA Today headline: “Kasey Kahne bumped from Chase at Talladega.” And one more from USA Today: “Kyle Busch eliminated from Chase after hard crash at Talladega.”

Wait, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., are out? And Kasey Kahne? And Kyle Busch? Then why should I even watch the next race at that little bitty track in Virginia?

You and I will probably watch because we know Johnson, Earnhardt, Kahne and Busch are still racing, and with nothing to lose and something to prove, they will be racing hard. But if the once-in-a-while fan, used to elimination rounds in virtually every other sport, where “eliminated” means you go home and don’t come back until next year, there may well be an assumption that a lot of big-name drivers are already on vacation.

Attendance is up, but...

Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville, said that ticket sales are up, though Good Seats Still Available, as they say. But if the semi-informed fan is deciding what to watch this Sunday, he or she may pass on NASCAR because they assume they’d be watching a diminished field. If ratings at Talladega were down before all those headlines about big-name drivers being eliminated were printed, you have to worry a bit about Martinsville.

It’s too late for NASCAR to come up with a, “No! Wait! All your favorite drivers will still race, even though it’s sort of meaningless, given the emphasis we’re putting on the Championship!” commercial, though they probably would adjust that tone a little.

But going into next year, it’s something to think about, unless Martinsville’s TV ratings are at least at last year’s level, or higher. Full grandstands are nice, but those people are the studio audience. It’s the viewers at home who pay the bills in NASCAR.

shares
comments
Danica Patrick racing a special car at Martinsville
Previous article

Danica Patrick racing a special car at Martinsville

Next article

Hendrick Motorsport's last chance

Hendrick Motorsport's last chance
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021