NASCAR made it a point to improve its television ratings this season. After years and years of prolonged decline on television, the sport has thrown everything they can at trying to reverse the slide. While NASCAR has tinkered with its rules and how it decides a champion in the past, this season NASCAR took maybe its boldest step yet.

In the hopes of getting fans to stick around and watch more racing, NASCAR completely restructured how races are run this year and are doing it in stages. Stage racing certainly has its fans and its detractors, but for NASCAR the success of this initiative and so many others comes down to their ratings.

Unfortunately, they are still going in the wrong direction. Just how bad are NASCAR’s ratings right now? According to Sports Media Watch, this weekend’s playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway was the lowest rated and least watched playoff race on record. Are you ready for even worse news for NASCAR? This week’s race in Chicago and last week’s final regular season race at Richmond are the two lowest rated NASCAR races this millennium.

NASCAR Cup Series racing from Chicagoland, the first race of the playoffs (nee Chase For the Cup), had a 1.4 rating and 2.3 million viewers on NBCSN Sunday — down 13% in ratings and 14% in viewership from last year (1.6, 2.7M) and down 26% and 28% respectively from 2015 (1.9, 3.2M).

Excluding rainouts, Martin Truex Jr.‘s win ranks as the lowest rated and least-watched Cup Series race at Chicagoland (dates back to 2001) and the lowest rated and least-watched playoff race at any track (dates back to 2004).

The 1.4 is also the second-lowest for any Cup Series race since at least 2000, ahead of only a 1.2 for Richmond the previous week.

Yikes. Sure, maybe there are some outside extenuating factors with these sinking numbers, whether it’s the return of football or many eyeballs tuning to monitoring significant weather events or politics.

However, we’re not just talking about a fluky downturn in viewership when everything else is going well. We’re talking about some of the lowest ratings the sport has drawn since the turn of the century 17 years ago. And most troubling thing for NASCAR is that these are supposed to be some of the most important races of the season. Imagine college football’s rivalry weekend or championship weekend drawing record low ratings going back to 2000. There would be a widespread panic.

SMW reports that 22 of 26 NASCAR races have declined in ratings and viewership this year, leading one to wonder what stone is left for NASCAR to overturn in their increasingly futile quest to improve their ratings.

[Sports Media Watch]

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • Deon Hamner

    The playoffs should only include those involved in it. Second, the last race of the year is a winner take all. Problem solved…

    • [A]dri[A]n

      No one is gonna go watch 16 cars race…

      • Deon Hamner

        They ain’t watching now brother…

        • Jocko

          People are complaining that they can’t fill the field, so you want to limit it even further? Not to mention that it’s a good way to drive more sponsors out of the sport. By that logic, Shell Pennzoil would throw away ten races worth of money, since sponsorship deals aren’t signed race by race.

          • Deon Hamner

            To me that’s the problem. Corporate greed. What’s the point of racing if you have no shot of winning anything? I like in the 80s, no team racing. NASCAR sold out to corporate giants. What has Danica done? Maybe trimming some drivers during playoffs make the race competitive.

          • Jocko

            “No shot of winning anything” Who doesn’t have a shot at winning anything? The 14 drivers that have won this year? The 4 or 5 that have come extremely close to winning?

            NASCAR is a business, their job is to make money. It’s not corporate greed, it’s good business in a money-driven world. The world is not the same as it was in the 80’s so why should NASCAR stay the same?

          • Deon Hamner

            you make some good points..

  • Roger Bournival

    1) Stage racing has alienated many of the older fans, myself included. While not extensive, I’ve talked to a handful of friends & clients who follow NASCAR, and none of them like this stage racing silliness. The only thing positive I can say about stage racing is that Truex has won a lot of them.
    2) You think last week’s ratings are bad? Wait until this Sunday when they run at Loudon. Granted, NH is my home state but to me, Loudon is the most boring and predictable track out there. It’s little wonder attendance has been dropping for years and they’re about to lose the fall race to Las Vegas.

    • Jocko

      Stage racing has been one of the best things they’ve done for competition in years. No more riding around for 3 hours and only trying in the last 50 laps.

    • Disgusted Caucasian

      Here’s the problem(s.) First, Brian France took over. Second, France allowed a foreign car maker, Toyota, into NASCAR where it has no place. Third, France decimated the old points system that most everyone loved…including team owners and drivers. Fourth, France is dumping on his core fan base with the banning of the Confederate Battle Flag at tracks and in ads or on cars. Fifth, NASCAR Diversity Program…sure Brian…just what the fans pay for….having the political agenda of the social justice warriors shoved down our throats. Last, but not least, there are 40 cars on the track at the start of most races yet we see only two on camera most of the time…Danica and Dale Jr. Your favorite driver may be making a move for the lead but you won’t see it because the cameras are always on those two.

      Brian France was handed a cash cow and took a wrecking ball to it. The disgruntled fans, like myself, will never return.

  • noonan18

    I’m too lazy to check myself but would love to know how these numbers compare to when Nascar was booming. It must be jaw dropping.

    • Jocko

      There were fewer viewing options during their boom period and ratings are a percentage. It’s called a “boom” for a reason

      • Slyder6969

        You must work for NASCAR . You’re making excuses just like they do. Bottom line is their product isn’t appealing to probable new viewers and they took a chance on ignoring the base fans and lost. More options? I used to watch every race, every week. I made sure I rarely missed time trials and even ordered the channels I needed to watch it all. Now I don’t watch racing at all. Do I watch something else because I have so many options? No. I don’t turn on my television unless I want to watch something. Most of the time my tv is off when the race is on. Bottom line is NASCAR tried to increase it’s fan base and miscalculated the impact that would have. The casual fan was never going to become a die hard fan and the die hard fan left and didn’t come back. That is what happened. I quit watching because of all the changes in the sport. I found it less appealing with every attempt to make it “better”. The stage racing was it for me.

  • Jay Eimer

    For me it would certainly help if they actually televised the races. I watch faithfully on Fox all spring and summer, then mid-summer they switch to NBC. And then in early September suddenly no races are televised except on a cable only network that I can’t get? Makes it hard to get excited about a “playoff” when I can’t even watch it – regardless of it’s format.

    • Jocko

      Everyone can get NBCSN. SlingTV is $30 a month and gets you NBCSN (and FS1, FS2 and your locals). If you arent willing to dish out $30, why should NASCAR cater to you?

      • Jay Eimer

        Actually, no they can’t. 80% of this country’s land area and 40% of its population lives where there is NO BROADBAND available. Rural areas are too far from phone switches for DSL and to sparsely populated for cable, so no broadband internet OR subscription service TV. You have to have one to get the other, even Sling, Netflix or Hulu. Satellite is available but way more than $30/month, and has data limits that prevent streaming services. Even sat TV is way more expensive. 60% of the TV watchers are using over the air only and they’re not all “cable cutters”. There are even some (like me) that consider 95% of what’s on TV junk and see no reason to pay “extra” for more junk – EVEN if it does get us “that one show”.

        I “Pay” for NASCAR by supporting the sponsors that advertise on their over the air broadcasts. When they elect not to broadcast but only “cable”, they cut out a big chunk of their market.

        (this has been going on for years and has nothing to do with stage racing – except that IT is a contributor to why their ratings are falling and they’re trying to fix the wrong problem.)

        • Jocko

          Were you complaining in the 80’s when it was primarily on ESPN? In the 90’s when the majority of races were on ESPN, TNN? Last I checked, those were cable.

          40% is the minority. Why should NASCAR cater to a minority of the country when they are about being viable for the national and international audience. There are also free data plans for phones that can run SlingTV. It’s 2017, the “I can’t watch it” excuse is complete garbage. You seem to want it for free. NASCAR is a business and giving things away for free is bad business

          • Jay Eimer

            NASCAR DOES cater to me – they are in the business of promoting NASCAR and making money. They make money by (1) selling tickets, (2) selling licensed products and (3) selling TV RIGHTS. It’s the TV networks that have the business of making those TV rights profitable, by (in the case of Fox) selling commercial slots, at high dollar amounts – because of the large number of viewers they can command. Fox does NOT bid on the 2nd half of the season because the races conflict with NFL, which gives them still higher ad revenues.

            NBC, on the other hand, with the exception of a couple of west coast races that would run late, could show a race on broadcast opposite the NFL and see what percentage of the 100M homes with TVs on during a Sunday afternoon they could draw (probably less than Fox in the spring – see NFL above) BUT instead they decide to make their money back through the subscriber fees paid by the cable providers in the small towns (rolled into the monthly fees their customers pay for their service).

            No business every throws away customers, even a minority of customers, as ALL customers have value. But in this case the relationship is more complex as when it comes to the races I don’t see in person, NASCAR is a 3rd party provider – I’m only the customer of Fox and NBC, not directly of NASCAR.

            And for your original question – from 90-95 I had cable (for free – lived in military housing). From 95-2005 I was “poor” and took what I could get on broadcast – and the Sunday races were on broadcast (mostly) all season long (mostly). And I sometimes left the race to watch the game during NFL season. In 2005 the NBC move to NBCSN was already in place when I moved “to the country”.

        • I’m pretty sure there’s satellite television where you live.

          If you can’t afford it, well, Nascar can’t profit from you.

          • Jay Eimer

            Not “can’t afford” – rather “choose not to subsidize”. I get over the air broadcast just fine (but find 90% of it to be crap). On the cable only channels, the ratio of crap is higher. I CHOOSE not to pay large $ per month for small return (considering it would be 10 or 12 hours of NASCAR per month at a maximum, and some months with no benefit at all).

  • Carter_Burger67

    The elephant in the room they don’t want to address is that NASCAR needs to get back to NASCAR. What was NASCAR doing 30 years ago that made it so popular. But they can’t do that because someone who’s never seen a race might get offended.

    • Jocko

      No, they can’t do it because nobody wants to see 5 cars on the lead lap and 4 hour parades when there are thousands upon thousands of other viewing options. That worked when there were 30 channels (if you were well off financially) and a VCR as your options, doesn’t work today. They either have to adapt to society or try and change society…you tell me which one is possible and which one isn’t.

      • Carter_Burger67

        They had better ratings and more fan interest then. So you tell me which one is possible and which one isn’t working.

        • Jocko

          Did you even read what I wrote about more options? Ratings are a percentage so they’re going to go down anyway. Viewership will go down anyway as well because there are thousands of options of what to watch instead of 30. If you honestly think that NASCAR can change society and reduce the viewing options for people, then this conversation will never go anywhere because you will not think logically. It had it’s boom period…it’s called a “boom” period for a reason.

  • Morrill Turpitude

    NASCAR needs to get back to the two things that made it what it is: Stock cars and short tracks. Remember the time of “race it on Sunday, buy it on Monday”? Go back to the days when the cars were the same cars you could find on the street with a few alterations. And put those actual stock cars on shorter tracks where more action can happen. NASCAR’s decline started when they eliminated all the tracks shorter than a mile except for Richmond, Bristol, and Martinsville. The races on the tracks longer than a mile are usually the most boring races of the year with the exception of Daytona and Talladega–and the cars are forced to use restrictor plates that artificially bunch the field up like they are at a short track.

    • Jocko

      Never going to happen since they cannot possibly make those cars safe at all. And they do not put restrictor plats on to “artificially bunch the field” they put them on to prevent cars from going 240 mph and taking out the first 30 rows of the grandstands if they get turned around.

      • Morrill Turpitude

        I already knew they put the restrictor plates on to slow the cars down at Daytona and Talladega. That fact does not negate my point. And there are ways to blend actual stock cars with modern safety technology.

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  • disqus_4U8kq1LEdX

    Every year since the Chase was introduced the fans have been fading away from NASCAR and since Brian France has been in charge he has been detrimental to the sport.

  • Swimrr

    Most race fans don’t care for Toyota and typical Toyota drivers don’t care what they drive – it’s why they drive low quality POS.

    I personally don’t want to watch a race and just see a stupid Toyota win. If Ford and Chevy won more, of it other European manufacturers were involved, I’d be way more likely to come back and watch every race and go to a few tracks every year.