NASCAR’s Latest Ratings Dive Is More Alarming Than You Think As Sport Grapples With Football Season

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If the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are happening, but everyone is watching the NFL instead, do they still count? Don’t say Chase Elliott didn’t warn you!

Unfortunately, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver predicted exactly what unfolded last weekend at Bristol. Now, the sport is facing a major issue as it heads to Texas to kick off the second round of the postseason.

Bottom line: NASCAR has a TV ratings problem – a big one – during its most important time of year, and it reared its ugly head last Saturday night.

Put simply, viewership stunk. It wasn’t just down a little bit, either. Nope, it plummeted quicker than the current housing market.

Chase Elliott warns NASCAR to stop competing with NFL

In general, it’s been a relatively positive year for NASCAR when it comes to viewership and ratings.

Numbers have held steady for the most part, and, while there haven’t been drastic jumps, they’ve been in the green more times than the red.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? It’s now football season in America, and viewership is taking a nosedive during NASCAR’s most pivotal time of season.

Those numbers from Bristol shouldn’t surprise anyone, either. They certainly won’t surprise Chase Elliott, the sport’s Most Popular Driver and 2020 champion.

“I don’t see any reason in competing against NFL football when that starts,” Elliott said before Bristol. “In my opinion, that’s not a battle we’re ever going to win. I think we should be smart about that.”

When Chase Elliott speaks, the sport should listen, and he is 99% right. However, let’s be honest … take out “NFL” and just leave it at “football.”

Chris Buescher won at Bristol, but did anyone outside of die-hard NASCAR fans see it? (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Should NASCAR condense its schedule?

NASCAR will never compete with football, and that’s not a knock on them.

No sport in this country comes even close to competing with college football or the NFL, and, frankly, probably never will.

Outside of die-hard baseball fans, does ANYONE realize Aaron Judge is about to break the single-season home run record? Or that Albert Pujols is chasing 700?

College football Saturdays and NFL Sundays rule the backend of the calendar every single year, yet NASCAR continues to stretch its schedule all the way past Halloween when it doesn’t have to.

If the sport wants to fit 36 races into a season, fine. You can still do that. But wrap it up by Labor Day, fellas.

NASCAR would be wise to stop racing past Halloween. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Find a way to finish your regular season by Memorial Day, and then take the empty summer months when sports fans are craving content and highlight your 10-race postseason.

And don’t tell me it won’t work, or there aren’t enough days or enough time.

NASCAR somehow completed all 36 races in 2020 despite losing two months to the COVID shutdown. Sprinkle in a couple midweek races during the spring. Take a weekend or two and give us a doubleheader.

I don’t care how you do it but get us to the playoffs by Memorial Day and to the end of the season by Labor Day.

And, by the way, here’s the most troubling number from last weekend.

NHRA overtakes NASCAR in key demographic

You absolutely cannot lose to the NHRA in the 18-49 demographic. That should set off major alarm bells at NASCAR Headquarters in Daytona and Charlotte.

And where, exactly, do you think the 18-49 year-olds were at 9 p.m. last Saturday? My guess is they were like me … and WATCHING COLLLEGE FOOTBALL.

Florida was about to be upset by USF, Miami and Texas A&M were kicking off, and Arkansas was trying to avoid embarrassment against Missouri State around that time on Saturday.

All of those games, by the way, were either on ESPN or ABC.

Meanwhile, over on USA Network, the Cup race wasn’t even at the halfway point.

Anyone see a problem with that?

The good news is that was the last Saturday night race of the playoffs. The bad news?

Now the Cup Series gets to go head-to-head with the NFL for the remaining seven weeks.

The one saving grace for the final seven races is that, after Texas this weekend, they all move to NBC. Perhaps that will nudge the ratings back in the right direction.

Sundays at bars should be left to the NFL and only the NFL. (Photo by Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Good luck competing with NFL Redzone

But most of the final seven races start around 2:30 p.m., which means as NASCAR goes green, most early NFL games are starting the second half. When the checkered flag waves, most late games will be well into the second half.

Where do you think most eyes will be during those times? How many TVs at sports bars are showing the NASCAR race at 3 p.m. and not seven different NFL games and the Redzone channel?

I’ll save you the time … it’s zero. Trust me. As someone who likes to dabble in a sports bar every Sunday, the answer is zero.

All of this isn’t meant to bash NASCAR, either. I love NASCAR, grew up in NASCAR, live 10 minutes from Daytona and write about it every single Monday.

This is a plea to the folks down the street in the big glass building overlooking the Speedway to stop wasting your postseason.

Listen to your most popular driver. Pay attention to those Bristol numbers, because they’re frightening.

There’s nothing you can do about next season. The 2023 schedule is already signed, sealed and delivered.

But it’s never too early to start drawing up plans for 2024. Hopefully, they look drastically different.

Written by Zach Dean

Zach grew up in Florida, lives in Florida, and will never leave Florida ... for obvious reasons. He's a reigning fantasy football league champion, knows everything there is to know about NASCAR, and once passed out (briefly!) during a lap around Daytona. He swears they were going 200 mph even though they clearly were not.


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