Last week, Denny Hamlin shared an idea to increase NASCAR viewership. A single elimination summer tournament where the top 32 drivers in points went head-to-head while competing on the track. Winners advanced, and the final two raced in the final for $5 million.
Hamlin’s goal would be to bring “March Madness” style excitement in the summer months when there aren’t as many sports going on. People can fill out brackets and/or bet on the head-to-head matchups and have a rooting interest in NASCAR.
While on his Actions Detrimental podcast, Hamlin shared some of the feedback he received from those in NASCAR. While it doesn’t seem like anything will happen this season or next, many are intrigued.
“So last week, we came up with an idea about a summer bracket,” Hamlin said. “And that kind of took off on social media and, man it got a lot of attention for sure. One of the first texts I got was from [Speedway Motorsports Inc. president] Marcus Smith. He’s like, ‘Alright, let’s talk. This is intriguing to me.’ And then a couple of NASCAR executives as well saying, ‘Hey, we like this idea but we’re going to circle the wagons here and see.’ And the first thing I said was, ‘Good luck getting everyone there to agree.’ But it seems like, if I had to predict, they’re definitely not doing anything like this year. I would say it’s less than a 20% [chance] next year.
“I don’t know if it’s a money thing or not but they could get somebody to sponsor this thing in two seconds and it could, they need to look at it sooner than later for sure in my opinion. I think it’s a very good thing just simply from the social interaction of people, ‘Hey we created our own bracket series. We’re taking the rules in which you set out and we’ve created our own contest.’ And so it was cool to see that, how much momentum it got, and how excited people were to think about this head to head.”
If I were to speculate, this seems like something NASCAR will debut in 2025 when the new TV rights contract is in effect. While Hamlin has a point that the longer it takes, the more the fans will do it themselves, if NASCAR did this next season, it would need to be split up between Fox and/or NBC and potentially can become a mess. Do it on the next rights deal; NASCAR can carve out that five-race block and sell that package to the highest bidder. Whether that’s Fox, NBC, or a streaming company, as speculated by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal Monday.
For those keeping track, there were six upsets at Dover, assuming the tournament started with the 11th race. Aric Almirola (No. 24) advanced over Alex Bowman (No. 9) by default, with Bowman out due to a fractured vertebra.
Ryan Preece (No. 28) defeated Kyle Busch (No. 5) after Busch stayed in the back due to an early speeding penalty. Ty Gibbs (No. 20) took out Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 13). Austin Dillon (No. 29) scored the biggest upset of the tournament, defeating Kyle Larson (No. 4) thanks to Ross Chastain. Todd Gilliland (No. 22) beat Joey Logano (No. 11), and Austin Cindric (No. 18) scored a mini-upset over Chase Briscoe (No. 15).
The round of 16 consists of the following matchups for Kansas:
1) Christopher Bell vs. 16) Chris Buescher
24) Aric Almirola vs. 8) Ryan Blaney
28) Ryan Preece vs. 12) Brad Keselowski
20) Ty Gibbs vs. 29) Austin Dillon
3) Kevin Harvick vs. 14) William Byron
22) Todd Gilliland vs. 6) Tyler Reddick
7) Martin Truex Jr. vs. 10) Denny Hamlin
18) Austin Cindric vs. 2) Ross Chastain