By Bob Pockras
FOX Sports Writer NASCAR
A success Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum experience and a relatively successful launch of the Next Gen car have NASCAR brass optimistic about the rest of 2022 and beyond.
NASCAR entered 2022 full of hope but with plenty of unknowns, starting with the Clash exhibit at a temporary track built inside LA’s iconic stadium. The car, with parts and parts now mostly sourced from suppliers instead of being made by teams, needed several major tweaks (air ducts in the windshields, increased power on many tracks ) before being accepted by the pilots as ready to race.
But 16 points races and two exhibitions in the season, NASCAR executives can smile. With the FOX/FS1 portion of the Cup season over (FOX/FS1 have the first 18 events and NBC/USA the last 20), viewership is up 6% from last season, averaging 3.696 million viewers watching throughout a race.
Although NASCAR tracks are no longer owned by public companies and therefore do not publish audited financial results, the “eye test” and traffic on race days indicated higher attendance at several tracks than at both. years before COVID-19.
NASCAR’s Ben Kennedy discusses the future of the sport
NASCAR Senior Vice President Ben Kennedy discusses the future of the sport and announces the Clash will return to the LA Memorial Coliseum in 2023.
Of course, there are still a few problems: wheels are coming off cars at an alarming rate, NASCAR’s safety and race control operations have come into question (as they usually do), and NASCAR continues to debate with its place in matters of social problems. .
“[The] Next-gen car, … I couldn’t have dreamed it would go this well,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said June 9 at a press conference celebrating NASCAR’s diversity efforts at San Francisco: “The race was just amazing. .
“It’s been a journey. Our ratings are up. Our attendance is up. We have a whole new group of racing fans coming to the circuit, watching TV, participating in digital and social media. That works.”
NASCAR believes it will attract new fans through more than the new car. It has new owners, including basketball great Michael Jordan and world-famous musician Pitbull.
Jordan’s team also has Bubba Wallace, the Cup Series’ only full-time black driver, behind the wheel. While Wallace’s advocacy for social justice polarized part of NASCAR’s fan base, he played a pivotal role in creating a welcoming environment in the sport.
Also of note, with his victory earlier this month at Sonoma, Daniel Suárez became the first Mexican driver to win a Cup race.
Fast Thoughts: Historic day for Daniel Suárez and NASCAR
Bob Pockrass breaks down a historic Cup Series victory for Daniel Suárez at Sonoma Raceway.
In addition to the overall ratings increase, NASCAR has seen growth among Black and Hispanic demographics over the past four years and expects fandom to be at its highest level since at least 2015. said NASCAR senior vice president of broadcasting Brian Herbst.
“We were up in 2020 from 2019, up in 2021, up in 2022,” Herbst told FOX Sports in an interview last week.
And NASCAR continues to move to new venues. The LA Coliseum and Gateway (near St. Louis) were new to the Cup schedule this year, and the Cup Series is in its second year at Nashville Superspeedway, Circuit of the Americas in Austin and Road America in the Wisconsin.
Additionally, this year marked the second time Cup drivers have competed on dirt placed on Bristol’s concrete surface. This time, however, it was a prime-time event on Easter Sunday, a controversial decision to run on a holiday weekend, but which earned a boost in television ratings.
NASCAR will likely finalize its 2023 schedule in August. But he has already announced that the Clash will return to the LA Coliseum on February 5, with the Daytona 500 two weeks later on February 19 and the championship race scheduled for a return to Phoenix on November 5.
“As we look to 2023 and beyond, ideally we would like to have another big venue, another new venue on the schedule in 2023,” said NASCAR Senior Vice President Ben Kennedy, who handles programming, in an interview on NASCAR RaceDay ahead of the Sonoma Race. “And what it looks like, whether it’s a road course, a city course or a short track, not exactly sure.
“But hopefully in the next month or two we can share a bit more. And then continue the evolution in 24 and beyond. We’re already starting to think about five to 10 years, where we want the schedule, and then how do you build a roadmap to get there?
NASCAR reviewed Chicago and the Meadowlands for potential temporary street circuits. New Orleans was also mentioned as a possibility.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps on the 2023 schedule
At a news conference in San Francisco, NASCAR Chairman Steve Phelps said the plan was to stay bold with the 2023 schedule, which he hopes will be released in August.
The only big question is whether a street circuit would replace one of the road courses.
“We’re getting to a point where we might have some saturation on the road course side,” Phelps told FOX Sports after the San Francisco press conference. “We will continue to listen to fans and see what fans are interested in seeing.
“They told us they wanted more road courses and short tracks. The short track was tough. We did very well doing the road course. It’s a good mix for us at the moment.”
Phelps also addressed several topics that have come up in NASCAR over the past month:
– It took around seven minutes to get Chris Buescher’s overturned car in Charlotte back on its wheels, which Buescher team co-owner Brad Keselowski felt was too long. Buescher said he understood this was the first time NASCAR’s safety team had to put a Next Gen car back on four wheels and thought it did a good job, although he wished it could have been. done faster.
“What happened with the Buescher situation, that [safety response] band did exactly what it was trained to do,” Phelps said. “There are other actions we could have taken had Chris been injured that we would have taken differently.
“We understand it’s uncomfortable for a driver to be upside down. We understand it’s not ideal, but it’s the safest way for us to get the driver out, and the group l did perfectly.”
–NASCAR has opted not to intervene in the Denny Hamlin-Ross Chastain feud and so far has treated any refunds as self-policing.
“We talked about self-policing,” Phelps said. “Drivers are self-policing. … As long as this car is not being used as a weapon, we will look into it, and if we thought it crossed the line, we would have [more].”
– NASCAR recently posted a Pride Month tweet saying, “We recognize that recent actions are not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.”
Phelps didn’t go into specifics but reiterated the message.
“Generally, as a sport, we haven’t been as welcoming and inclusive to the LBGTQ community – and we want to be,” he said. “…This is another important group that we want to reach.
“We want our sport to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible. And that’s what our existing fans – mostly, not all – want. [do is] sharing their sport with others, whether it’s someone’s sexual orientation or the color of their skin or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s a love for racing that they want to celebrate together.”
Steve Phelps on diversity in NASCAR
Part of the NASCAR press event in San Francisco was to promote its diversity and inclusion policies.
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Thinking out loud
Last weekend was the only weekend in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule. Traditionally, NASCAR had two weekends off, and that grew to three a few years back, when NBC didn’t want conflicts with the Olympics.
Few will feel sorry for the teams and drivers; they work in professional sports. And the bigger teams have scheduled extra weekends off for mechanics and engineers to avoid burnout. Yet, due to the shortage of parts for Next Gen cars, those working in the shops have worked long hours to keep up, as they often have to remove parts and parts from cars that have recently raced and fit them. on cars for a race in the next week or two.
From what we know of next year’s schedule, in terms of the announced dates for the Daytona 500 and the season finale in Phoenix, it looks like there will only be one weekend. end of leave in 2023. It is difficult for the competitors and their families.
It can be frustrating for those who work in sports not to have more breaks. The key will be for teams to watch their personnel and adapt, especially teams that know they’ll be in the playoffs and need all of their energy for that 10-run playoff streak.
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Statistics of the day
Daniel Suárez was the second Cup driver to claim his first career Cup victory at Sonoma Raceway. The other? Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007.
They said it
“We keep screwing up every week.” — Kevin Harvick after a slow pit stop that proved costly in Sonoma
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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