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Woody: Chase Is Only Chance Against Football

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 14 2010

NASCAR is bigger, quicker and faster than the NFL but can it stand up to it on Sunday afternoons. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

For those who don’t like NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, here’s something to consider:

NASCAR had no choice.

Football – college and pro – is king, and every year the kingdoms are growing.

If you don’t believe me check out the “mainstream” media coverage last weekend. Compare the inches/airtime that NASCAR’s big Richmond showdown was given compared to the amount of pigskin coverage.

In most media markets you had to look hard to find a blurb on racing. It was all football, football, football. The big college match-ups hogged the Saturday-Sunday headlines and the NFL’s opening Sunday smothered out everything else.

NASCAR? It is still running?

This is nothing new, of course. Even during NASCAR’s boom years when it was bragging about its huge fan base, it was forced to add a caveat: it’s the SECOND-BIGGEST spectator sport in the country, behind the NFL.

Even that’s not entirely accurate. It’s the second-biggest PRO sport. College football, with its hundreds of games every weekend, also surpasses NASCAR in attendance.

The three most popular U.S. spectator sports are, in order, football, football and racing.

That’s the annual autumn dilemma that NASCAR has faced for decades, and that’s why its leadership knew it had to do something. It had to come up with a way to generate more interest and excitement during its fall stretch run. Otherwise, football would totally take over.

Hence the Chase was born – a child of necessity, fathered by desperation.

Track attendance may not take an appreciable fall hit, but the vital TV ratings are vulnerable. NASCAR racing – the ride-around kind we see today – is not going to keep viewers glued to their wide-screens from start to finish. All NASCAR can hope for is that there are enough spurts of action to keep fans flipping back during timeouts and halftimes.

As if protecting its niche against football wasn’t challenging enough for NASCAR, the major league playoffs and World Series are just around the corner. Mid-week games won’t compete with racing for viewers, but the 24-7 baseball coverage – on top of the already-smothering football coverage – will push NASCAR ever further off the sports page.

The Chase won’t entirely solve the problem. I know how sports editors and program directors think (using the term loosely). They aren’t going to cut coverage of football and baseball in favor of NASCAR no matter how thrilling the racing may be.

The best that NASCAR can hope for is that the Chase will generate enough interest to keep it from being trampled into oblivion beneath the cleated stampede.

NASCAR is fighting to avoid becoming Fall’s Forgotten Sport.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 14 2010
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Steve says:

    I have to disagree with this article too. Nascar is no longer about the races, its about the Chase Chase Chase. Back in the old days, every race was equally important and drivers for the most part wanted to win that race that day. If they couldn’t, they would take the most points as they could. Folks watching at home or at the track didn’t care much about the points, they cared about the race that day. Now the Chase is all the matters and the 26 races leading up to it has very little meaning. People are also turned off by the fact that the “regular season” winner has their points lead stripped at the cut off race.

    I agree with a previous poster, the day Nascar decides to stop trying to compete with football is the day the sport will be all the better for it. Racing is a unique sport that not everyone has caught on to. Its time for Nascar to start catering back to the fans that love racing and stop trying to cater to the new, short attention span fans that will be gone eventually anyway.

    If they continue to try to compete with football, they will lose every time. They need to accept that fact and work on making the sport the best “racing” sport their is and not worry about the other sports.

  • scorer27 says:

    Karl T gets it!

    I rarely disagree with Larry Woody but I do on this matter. NASCAR shouldn’t worry about the NFL or the NCAA. Those who want to watch the races will, those who don’t will do something else. No matter what kind of hype you wrap NASCAR in, it will only appeal to those who are interested.

    In the early 2000’s some “fans” dabbled in NASCAR and went away because they didn’t appreciate the constant rule changes, phony debris cautions, cars that all look they came out of the same mold and drivers who bought their way in or who were just pretty. You will never get those fans back no matter how much hype you create. When one of the most succesful teams ever in the sport can’t get WalMart to sign on the dotted line to sponsor that team then NASCAR has more serious things to worry about than football and one of those things is the Chase.

    The chase is contrived. It has been a joke from day 1 and it will continue to be a joke until the day NASCAR scraps it. How are they going to justify a “Champion” with no wins at all. If this nonsense goes on long enough it will happen.

    I grew up listening to MRN & PRN on the radio every Sunday. When we started having TV coverage of every race I would get mad if we were late getting home from church and I missed the first 50 laps. Now I turn it on to take a nap.

  • Karl T says:

    Articles/comments such as this are so foolish. FOOTBALL FANS ARE GOING TO WATCH FOOTBALL. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what NASCAR does.

    It is foolish to think that some (Bears) fan is suddenly going to blow-off their team because NASCAR has now taken the driver & team who’ve run best all season- who’ve earned the right be the champion- and now thrown them into a pot with 11 others and whomever comes out on top of 12 races is somehow season champion.

    What the Chase has done is 1) Failed to retain the interest of the Johnnie Come Lately fans of the early 2000’s and b) Turned-off the interest and loyalty of former die-hard fans such as myself.

    NASCAR went for a Entertainment Tonight meets WWE meets ‘Motor sport Entertainment’ and it has bitten them royally in the butt. Throw-in such jokes as Top 35 guaranteed starting; debris that nobody can see; cautions if someone even sneezes on-track; and inconsistent application of penalties, and you have people like me who will no longer give my loyalty to NASCAR. They took it, and me, for granted and assumed that (I) would stick around while they turned racing into entertainment.

    No thanks

  • Joe says:

    That’s why Bristol should not be part of the Chase. Where it is on the schedule is the last race before the opening of college football. Look at the 2011 schedule and see how most fall races are no longer in the heart of SEC country.