Another season come and gone as NASCAR drives blindly toward the unknown as every indicator screams for the sport to slow down, turn around and go home.
Kyle Busch won another title and reclaimed his role as the face of the sport. Like it or not.
Jimmie Johnson went another winless season then announced three days after Miami that he’s done after next year.
All in all, this was a memorable season, though no one really remembers what memorable seasons once looked like. We saw some great races, even in some places we didn’t expect. And we saw further evidence of NASCAR not knowing what fans want or what to do about those disappearing from the sport forever.
It’s true that across all sports in America, the numbers are going down. People just aren’t watching the way we used to. That’s the case in golf, which continues to tinker while praying for another push from Tiger Woods. That’s true in baseball and in hockey and college sports and even the NFL.
But it’s also true in the living rooms across America. People are watching television in new and different ways, sometimes not on televisions.
So while we look at NASCAR’s numbers from 2019, we have to do it against the backdrop of what’s going on in and out of sports.
Still, the stark reality is that stock-car racing is losing fans at the Cup level, while anecdotal evidence shows that short tracks, particularly in the South, continue to draw.
At some point, NASCAR has to wake up to this reality.
As of now, as in many sports, the people in charge at NASCAR aren’t necessarily looking to stop the fall but just to stick the landing.
Homestead was a disaster. The television ratings for the championship race were the worst in the history of the race, according to sportsmediawatch.com, some 12 percent lower than last year’s finale, which was the worst rating ever until last Sunday.
The season ended with a thud.
Of the 32 races not postponed or interrupted by weather this year, Homestead was one of 18 to post declines and, according to Sports Media Watch, was the 19th race of the year to post an all-time low.
That’s not a trend. That’s the truth. NASCAR as we know it is disappearing before our eyes.
There were some bright spots along with some great races. And with a new schedule next season, Homestead will no longer host the final race of the season. That will move to Phoenix, where viewership was even less than Homestead.
You have to wonder what in the world NASCAR is thinking.
In 2018, Forbes Magazine released a ranking of the top TV markets in NASCAR. There’s no surprise that they were pretty much all the Southeast: Greensboro, followed by Greenville, S.C., Richmond, Knoxville and Charlotte were the top five. Of the top 10 markets in NASCAR, only Indianapolis and Buffalo, N.Y. were outside the Southeast.
We’re still here.
So it came as a bit of a shock to fans in the South when NASCAR president Steve Phelps said Sunday morning: “If you take stock of where we are, I’d say we had an incredible season.”
He pointed to the new schedule and new stars coming from Triple-A, new leadership (yes, Brian France is gone forever) and a new car coming in 2021. But he said nothing of what the fans want.
They want more short-track races. They want more road-course races. They want NASCAR to get out of Indy and Kansas and Chicago and even Phoenix. They want a dirt-track race. They want their sport back.
Here. Not in New Hampshire or even Las Vegas.
They just want to be heard, not placated with a Roval or patronized by a new schedule or a new fake car.
NASCAR will never die as long as its base is somewhat solid.
The long-time fans don’t want it to fail. And they don’t care about what the new fans think. There are no new fans.
The next Earnhardt is not waiting. But the legion of Earnhardt fans are. And they’re not happy.