How does a sport fall off so fast?

As it has been for 7 years, the final race of the Nascar season concluded with four drivers eligible for the championship. However, does anyone care? Almost everyone would say “no”. Nascar was once the 2nd most-watched sport in America just 15 years ago, so what happened?

Well, a lot.

To give a quick rundown, Nascar is one of the most simple sports there is, it’s just “stock” cars that are modified to the point where they are closer in tech to literal rocket ships than cars, and they race on a variety of tracks (mostly ovals) throughout the year. It was formed in 1949, and it hit its modern era in 1972, as the races were cut in half to about 30 per year and they got a new title sponsor, Winston. In 1975, there was a new system for how championships were given out, and it stayed until 2003. In 2004, they got another new title Sponsor, Nextel (now Sprint), and this is the point where you begin to see what led to the fall of Nascar. There are 4 main reasons as to how it happened.

1. Bad Expansions
In business, expansion can be a great thing to build your brand to new areas. However, that venture can turn bad fast if the market does not care about you. That’s what happened with Nascar, as they abandoned tracks like North Wilkesboro in 1996 and Rockingham in 2004 and took dates off the schedule for tracks like Darlington, all southern-based tracks in favor of new markets like California, Texas, and Chicago. In the short term, this brought the sport to new heights, as they peaked in viewership between the years of 2004-2006, but in the long term this was catastrophic as after the fad died down most fans left, and places that seated 250,000 people at their peak can barely get 1/10 that on most races. The 2008 Recession didn’t help matters either, but the market recovered from it relatively quickly so it wasn’t as much of a hindrance as some paint it out to be. A bigger cause could be the racing itself.

2. The Car of Tomorrow and Gen 6
Some may blame the decline of the racing product on the influx of boring 1.5-mile ovals that didn’t have the excitement of other tracks like road courses and short tracks. However, that wasn’t a problem with the Gen 4 Cars of the 2000s that produced great speed and racing everywhere. In 2007 though, the new Car of Tomorrow appeared to widespread disapproval for its boxy design that was the same for every car, which was never done before. It also had a rear wing and splitter, which were designed to combat problems of the Gen 4 cars with airborne crashes and cars picking up debris but ended up making them worse. The wing was replaced in 2010 with a spoiler but the racing was still much worse and fans left in droves. It did produce some great moments and it was the safest car in Nascar history as it had no fatalities in its lifespan, but ultimately failed to reach the Gen 4 heights. In early 2013, the Gen 6 was unveiled and it looked more “stock” than the COT, but the racing was still a massive problem as the cars got progressively slower after 2014’s 900 horsepower package to now where cars have 550 horsepower with little passing. The racing product is far removed from its peak in and people stopped caring.

3. An illegitimate championship
In 2004, the Chase was created to help hold ratings at the end of the season after no compelling title battles from 1998-2003, excluding 2002. It had a reset after 26/36 races where the top 10 drivers in the point standings could compete for the championship, seeded in order of where they were. From that point, there were many different changes. It expanded to 12 drivers in 2007 and bonus points were given out for wins, in 2010 “Wild Cards” were introduced that gave the final 2 spots to the drivers 11th to 20th that had the most wins, in 2014 the playoffs were created where there were 16 drivers and could win to get in, there were rounds that went from 16-12-8-4 drivers and it all came down to the final race between the top 4 drivers. In 2017, Stages were added during the race for mandatory cautions plus drivers could earn points at the end of them. There’s even more to it but I think you get my point. It started out as a marketing gimmick and became an even more contrived mess as time went on, and it does not reward great seasons like the old system did. There’s no point of a championship battle when the title doesn’t mean anything

4. Bad Network Deals
In 2007, Nascar signed a landmark contract with ABC/ESPN for the 2nd half of each season. Although the deal started off well, most races eventually went on the much less popular ESPN and the channel treated the sport as a joke, which really damaged the perception of Nascar. This led to a sharp decline in viewership and reputation for the sport and these bad deals continued in 2013 and 2014 as Fox and NBC signed deals for much less money than before, and had most races set on the much less popular Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network. The average viewership for races are down by as much as 75% and these deals could be the biggest catalyst for it.

In 2018, new management for Nascar came in after the former CEO Brian France (grandson of Nascar’s founder Bill France) got arrested for a DUI, but management is content keeping things the same as before, and they were even responsible for the constant lowering of speed in the cars. As it stands right now, all the changes have alienated the old, traditional fans while not bringing in new fans, and the people at top are content with keeping it that way.

And that is why nobody cares about this series anymore.