Friday 5: NASCAR tracks welcoming more fans this season

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Cup races have seen increased attendance this year and some events have had their largest crowds in at least five years, officials from NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports tell NBC Sports. 

Such growth has been spurred by a variety of factors, including the racing, NASCAR’s changes on and off the track and new fans. 

The growth also ties in with the sport’s increased TV numbers. 

The nine Cup races that have aired on Fox this season have drawn an average of 4.755 million viewers, a 14% increase from last year’s average. That would tie Fox’s greatest percentage increase in viewership from one season to another (2005 from 2004). NBC begins broadcasting its portion of the Cup schedule June 26 at Nashville Superspeedway.

While Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR do not reveal attendance figures, both companies noted the growth they’ve seen at their events. 

Speedway Motorsports has experienced an increase of more than 20% in attendance for its four races this season — Las Vegas, Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas and Bristol — according to Chief Operating Officer Mike Burch.

Among the tracks that have enjoyed attendance upticks this season: 

  • Talladega Superspeedway’s crowd for last weekend’s Cup race was the track’s largest for its spring event since 2017.
  • Bristol’s dirt race had the largest crowd for the track’s spring event since 2017.
  • Martinsville Speedway’s race this month had the largest crowd for its spring event since 2015.
  • Atlanta Motor Speedway’s crowd for its March Cup race was the event’s largest since 2014.
  • Phoenix Raceway’s spring event sold out for the first time in more than a decade.
  • The Daytona 500 was announced as a sellout six days before the event, the earliest it has sold out in recent years.
AUTO: MAR 20 NASCAR Cup Series - Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway’s crowd in March was its largest for a spring Cup race since 2014. The track was revamped before this season and featured pack racing. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“We’re seeing lots of new fans … and the really encouraging thing is it’s largely driven by consumer tickets,” Burch said. “Companies are starting to come back in and buy tickets and hosting more events, but it’s really been the consumer number that has driven the growth. That, to us, is a real core interest in the sport.”

NASCAR-owned tracks are seeing double digit increases in attendance, camping and group sales, said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief revenue officer.

“The Busch Light Clash at the (Los Angeles) Coliseum really set the tone for the sport making some really bold, aggressive decisions,” Wolfe said of the decision to hold the exhibition race in a stadium. “It paid off.”

NASCAR Clash Coliseum winner
A crowd estimated at more than 50,000 attended the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Wolfe noted that about 70% of those at the Clash were first-time attendees. NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports both define a first-time attendee as someone who had not bought tickets from them and were not in their ticketing system. Those fans, however, could have attended multiple NASCAR events in the past. They just didn’t get their tickets from tracks owned by those companies.

“I think it’s important to realize that sometimes it’s about exposing your sport to new people and trying to create new fans and having cool events at cool venues or different racetracks and creating that story that doesn’t depend on the race,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports before the season.

Burch estimated that close to 50% of the fans at the Bristol dirt race were classified as first-time attendees. 

“We’re seeing increases really everywhere,” Wolfe said of new fans. “Increases in the Hispanic market, African-America market, Gen Z. I think most of that is driven to … (by) some pretty bold and aggressive decisions by the sport. I’d also say we’re seeing continued investment in the sport.”

NASCAR was ranked by Morning Consult as the ninth fastest growing brand in 2020 among Gen Z, defined as those born between 1997-2012. Among the other brands on that list were TikTok, Twitch and Zoom.

The growth also is coming from other avenues.

“The new car is delivering from an on-track product standpoint,” Wolfe said. “That was a major investment by the sport. I think you’re seeing a lot of investment in the fan experience. You’re seeing investment in regards to more marketing techniques. 

“You’re seeing investment in growth strategies like eSports and sports betting and places where maybe younger, more diverse consumer segments are residing. We’ve got to make sure the NASCAR brand, our sport, is exposed to them there. I think the stance on diversity and inclusion (also has been a factor). 

“All of these things combined is exposing our sport. … to additional potential fans that are taking notice. They’re giving our sport a try. They’re liking what they’re seeing, and they’re showing up.”

 The fan experience has been reshaped since the pandemic.

There’s a red carpet that leads to the stage for pre-race introductions and gives fans an up-close look at the drivers. Activities for children have increased. Concerts have been added. A Trackside Live stage serves as a focal point. 

A human cannonball was among the happenings at Circuit of the Americas for fans. (Photo: HHP/Patrick Savage)

Speedway Motorsports had a human cannonball performer at COTA and the Atlanta Braves World Series trophy at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Blake Shelton will perform a concert before the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Clash at the Coliseum featured a concert by Pitbull before the race and a performance by Ice Cube during a break in the event. Luke Combs played before the Daytona 500. Collective Soul performed before the Cup race at Auto Club Speedway. 

Once the race starts, fans have been treated to some memorable events this season. 

There have eight different winners in the first 10 races. Rookie Austin Cindric held off the field to win the Daytona 500. Ross Chastain survived the beating and banging on the last lap to win at COTA. Chase Briscoe spun and took out Tyler Reddick on the last lap at Bristol, allowing Kyle Busch to win.

Among those still seeking their first win of the season include former Cup champions Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.

“I can’t recall a time that the enthusiasm and excitement and the momentum that the sport — and really I think across all the stakeholders — you can feel it,” Wolfe said. “You can see it.

But Wolfe notes the work is not done for the sport.

“We can’t stall out here,” he said. “You’ve got to continue to build the momentum. It’s probably one of the most exciting times I can recall in my multi-decade involvement in this sport. I think the best days of NASCAR are ahead.”

2. Playoff field near set?

Sixteen races remain in the Cup regular season, but history shows that much of the 16-driver playoff field is in place by the season’s 10th race. Last weekend’s race at Talladega was the 10th this season.

In the last five years, 85% of drivers in a playoff spot after the season’s 10th race, made the Cup playoffs. That averages to 2.4 drivers in a playoff spot at this point in the season who won’t make the playoffs.

In the last five years, a driver who is 20th or worse in the points after 10 races has gone on to make the playoffs in four of those years. 

Here is a look at drivers in a playoff spot entering this weekend’s race at Dover Motor Speedway:

Eight drivers with wins in a playoff spot: Ross Chastain (2 wins), William Byron (2), Kyle Busch (1), Alex Bowman (1), Kyle Larson (1), Chase Briscoe (1), Austin Cindric (1), Denny Hamlin (1).

Eight winless drivers in a playoff spot via points: Chase Elliott (368 points), Ryan Blaney (347), Joey Logano (308), Martin Truex Jr. 298), Aric Almirola (265), Kevin Harvick (252), Austin Dillon (245), Christopher Bell (243).

Those below the playoff cutline:

Tyler Reddick (-1 point from cutline)

Erik Jones (-12)

Kurt Busch (-25)

Daniel Suarez (-25)

Chris Buescher (-47)

Bubba Wallace (-50)

Justin Haley (-60)

Michael McDowell (-62)

Ty Dillon (-73)

Cole Custer (-76)

Todd Gilliland (-101)

Corey LaJoie (-103)

Brad Keselowski (-111)

Harrison Burton (-113)

3. NASCAR’s variety package  

Think about this for a moment. In the last three weeks, the Cup Series raced at a short track (Martinsville), a dirt track (Bristol) and the largest oval on the circuit (Talladega)

Now, the series heads to a 1-mile high-banked track in Dover Motor Speedway.

All that in a month’s time in a season that goes from February to November. And that’s without racing on any of the six road courses that are on the Cup schedule. 

“NASCAR drivers are more diverse, and they have to be more diverse,” two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch said. 

Austin Cindric, who raced several different types of cars working his way to Cup, enjoys the variety with the schedule.

“I love it because I think it’s what makes race fans excited every week,” he said. “I think if we can exploit that part of our sport, I think the better, especially as long as the season (is), the better and more entertaining product we have.”

For Tyler Reddick, the variety doesn’t make much difference. He’s experienced similar challenges throughout his racing career.

“It may seem kind of crazy when you think about or when you pose the question, but my background, racing all sorts of different dirt tracks, racing all sorts of different cars, it’s just another day, get ready for the next race,” he said. 

“You don’t really think of the size of the track playing into that. They’re different styles of racing. You just lock in and get ready for the next one.”

4. Championship contender?

AJ Allmendinger shared on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast an interesting thought as he closed on Ross Chastain on the final lap of last month’s race at Circuit of the Americas.

“When I tried to chase him down at COTA, I thought, ‘Man, I might be trying to chase down a champion,” Allmendinger told Nate Ryan. “That’s how strong he is. I wouldn’t call him a dark horse anymore.”

Chastain and William Byron are the only drivers with two Cup wins this season. Chastain also has finished in the top five in six of the last eight races, including his last-lap win last weekend at Talladega.

Car owner Justin Marks, though, doesn’t want his team looking at the playoffs, which are still more than four months away. 

“I think when you start talking about playoff strategy, how you’re going to mount a run for the championship, that kind of mental bandwidth is reserved, I think at this point, for the teams that have been there a long time, right?” Marks said after Chastain’s Talladega win. “That’s something that Gibbs talks about, Hendrick, and Penske talk about.

“Trackhouse is so new, we can’t start thinking that way. We just have to focus on what we’re doing every week, just the execution of what we’re doing every week, that’s putting us in that position.

“Obviously we’re contending for wins week in and week out. We just have to commit to that. I don’t think there’s going to be any conversation about playoff strategy for the foreseeable future.”

5. Back-to-back

Michael McDowell heads to Dover after back-to-back top-10 finishes. It’s the first time the Front Row Motorsports driver has had consecutive top 10s since opening last season with three in a row, including his Daytona 500 victory.

“I think there’s a lot of potential with this Next Gen car for us to have more good results and be in contention,” McDowell said. “We were optimistic about that going into this season that this could be a year for us to really have an opportunity to shine and get better results, and so I think there’s still a lot to come this year.

“I’m looking forward to some of the tracks that we have circled and seeing where we can stack up against the competition. There’s a tremendous amount of development going on right now, and there seems to be teams that are sorting it out pretty quickly, so we have to make sure that we keep up with the rapid pace of development of a brand new car.”

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.