The Frontstretch: Does NASCAR Need Wrecking? The Numbers Say It Might by Amy Henderson -- Friday June 7, 2013

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Does NASCAR Need Wrecking? The Numbers Say It Might

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday June 7, 2013


Do they or don’t they?

The knock on NASCAR fans from fans of other sports has long been, “Aww, you only watch for the crashes.” After all, from the perspective of a non-fan, NASCAR is a bunch of guys driving in circles for three hours at a time, so a wreck or three must be the only things that break up the monotony, right?

Of course, NASCAR fans passionately deny that they enjoy cars crashing. Those are their heroes out there; why would they want to see them get hurt? They only want exciting racing, fans insist. It’s not that they want more crashes, say the fans, they just want closer racing, without those long green-flag runs that would make an insomniac sleep like a baby after 50 laps.

Fans will deny this is what they want to see but maybe the TV numbers are telling a diferent story in 2013.

And most race fans probably say that honestly. But here’s the thing—there aren’t a lot of ways to break up a green-flag run. The caution flies for four basic occurrences: debris, fluid from an engine failure, rain, or wrecks. Nobody seems to mind a debris caution if there’s actually debris that they can see with their own eyes. Fair enough. Most fans profess to despise those debris cautions that seem to be inevitable if the race has stayed green for a long time and the field is spread out, yet the debris is conveniently never spotted by any driver on the track or the television cameras. That makes sense; people don’t want the races to be contrived.

Of course nobody likes the rain, especially if they spent hard-earned money to go to the race. Rain delays are more tedious than the least eventful race.

So, here’s the bottom line: according to most race fans, they don’t want to see fake debris, rain, or crashes, but they want to see fewer long green flag runs so the field is closer together and drivers can mix it up. But I can’t recall ever sitting in the stands or in front of the TV and hearing those around me hope fervently for someone to blow an engine. Sure, everyone secretly (or not so secretly) hopes for an inopportune parts failure for a driver they don’t like, but are fans really on the edge of their seats praying for an engine to let go to make the race more exciting?

Not really.

Nor does the crowd jump to their feet when one happens. But that’s exactly what happens with crashes. And depending on the drivers involved, it’s likely there will be cheers, too.

All of this is, of course anecdotal. But there is some hard evidence that suggests that at least some people are tuning in at least in part for the crashes. According to Sporting News crashes are up from 2012. They’ve almost doubled this year compared to the same point last year; there have been 53 yellow flags for wrecks in 2013 so far. That’s an average of just over four crashes per race, up from 29 cautions due to wrecks (2.2 per race, on average).

Ratings, meanwhile, are up over last year for eight of the first 13 points races. They stayed flat on two more (Darlington and Charlotte) and fell for three (Las Vegas, Texas, and Talladega), one of which (Talladega) endured hours of rain delays. NASCAR was the only major American sport not to post ratings losses over the previous year, which is actually quite impressive. In 2012, ratings fell for eight of the first 13 points races, and only Bristol and Talladega saw gains from the previous year. Four times as many races saw increases this year, in other words

The numbers make it a little harder to believe that nobody is enjoying some old-fashioned wrecking, at least on the surface. It’s just hard to believe that the numbers, taken together, are a complete coincidence.

Now, you do need a grain of salt to digest that information with; overall, ratings for the first 13 races were close to even with 2012 at this point, so it’s not that millions of new viewers are tuning in to see who plows up a wall this week, it’s just that the sport isn’t bleeding viewers as they have in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a big deal; other sports couldn’t maintain as NASCAR did. So viewers are tuning in, and a lot of them, overall,.

So, with fans seemingly on the fence about the issue but ratings flourishing, are crashes good for the sport?

It’s pretty hard to say no.

The element of danger is what makes the sport exciting to fans. If there was zero chance of risk, it just wouldn’t be the same. And it is hard to argue that bunching up the field more often increases the overall chance that the outcome of the race will be unexpected (just look at Dover; that last caution doesn’t happen, Jimmie Johnson wins again and everyone not wearing a 48 t-shirt goes home pissed off. Instead, the caution changed the character of the race completely and brought about an unexpected victor).

And at the end of the day, that’s what people want to see: an unexpected twist.

Can you have that without crashes? Absolutely; pit strategy and fuel mileage come into play, and they have their own element of excitement. The aforementioned blown engine can bunch up the field just when we think we’ve seen this script before. Pit crews are human and make mistakes that cost drivers races. Weather changes the game.

But none of those things bring an entire crowd to its feet the way a big crash does, so it’s hard to argue that fans don’t like them as a whole. Nobody wants to see a driver hurt (and if they do, shame on them!) but that doesn’t mean they don’t like a wadded-up race car every now and then.

So, do they or don’t they? Without a doubt, fans, by and large, do like a dose of crash with their NASCAR. And with the added element of a new race car, drivers are still learning how to handle the changes, and that leads to more mishaps. And that’s meant more fans for most of the races. So, whether you want to see a driver go spinning or not, it seems that it’s good for the sport overall. Do people watch for the wrecks? Maybe, maybe not…but without them, it would appear, they don’t watch at all.

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Zackary Shawn
06/07/2013 02:56 AM

I would never say that the wrecks aren’t exciting, but at the same time if a race HAS to have a wreck in it for you to find it exciting then you aren’t a real fan.

Zackary Shawn
06/07/2013 02:59 AM

I think the 2001 spring race at Talladega would be a good example. If you don’t think that race was exciting just because there wasn’t a big crash, then I don’t see how you can justify calling yourself a NASCAR fan.

Sue Rarick
06/07/2013 07:38 AM

Last year there were so many fuel mileage races I stopped watching. This year there haven’t been any and I am back watching. If they go back to mileage strategies my excitement will be looking for another show to watch.

06/07/2013 08:34 AM

The only wrecking that needs to happen is Hendrick…mainly the 48. Take him out on the first lap and fans will watch to see who can win the “race”. LOL.

But seriously, what does every nascar commercial show on the screen?

06/07/2013 08:50 AM

The 500 mile parades are NOT interesting to watch. Do I watch for the crashes? No and I thought that NASCAR’s dumbass “boys have at it” philosophy was as stupid as their previous micromanagement of everything said and done by the drivers/teams.

IF and it’s a big IF, NASCAR can improve the racing so that the cars can race side by side instead of following each other around without being able to pass ON THE TRACK, people will watch with interest. Otherwise, if the only way to change things up is with fake debris cautions, multiple crash-producing GWC restarts, etc., then what do they expect – people are bored. I was bored for quite a while at Dover this past weekend. Even though I could see the whole track, honestly, it wasn’t exciting until the end.

And Zachary has a good point – ALL the advertising done by NASCAR & the tracks shows wrecks – they use it to promote it but want to chastise the fans for thinking its exciting. One of the reasons I stopped watching any of the pre-race garbage was because of the lecturing by various NASCAR voices – Kenny Wallace, in particular. It got old and I have better things to do with my time than listen to some former driver tell me I’m stupid, but I should tune in anyway. Doh! I think not.

06/07/2013 10:33 AM

Do we really need THE CHASE? I think not.

Wayne T. Morgan
06/07/2013 11:03 AM

Do I enjoy wrecks? Yes as long as the driver is unhurt and it was from racing for position not from something else. At least that type of wreck shows someone is trying to advance their position. As far as pre-race shows they are boring and Kenny Wallace should take his meds more often. Wrecks happen and if it’s because of tight racing then why complain?

06/07/2013 12:22 PM

I can’t really say for sure why people tune in since I watch every week anyways. I think people want to see the potential for wrecking not necessarily wrecking itself. A good example was the dega race last fall. The wreck wasn’t the best part of the race. The 4-wide,8-deep pack was. I’m not sure if I breathed the last 5 laps because it was so tight. The crash was inevitable but what happened beforehand was absolutely thrilling. I guess I mean that guys just riding around single file makes it seem like they are not trying all that hard.

06/07/2013 12:30 PM

Wayne, you make some very valid points.

Shoeman, the CHASE was the worst idea that Brainless has had and unfortunately he STILL thinks it is so marvelous that we will continue to be stuck with it until someone else finally runs NASCAR.

Tony, right! That’s exactly WHY fans should be tuning in. Unfortunately, the mind numbing majority of the laps are a turnoff. Cars that could run side by side and pass would fix all that.

06/07/2013 01:30 PM

Passing! On track during green flag runs is what fans want to see. Roundy rounds of single file racing is boring. There could be no caution flags throughout an entire race and the racing still could be good if there were passing.

Of course even if there was, the networks won’t show it unless its at the front of the field or involves the ad nauseum focus of drivers they think we want to see, so I’m not sure it really matters. the fans are still screwed

Zackary Shawn
06/07/2013 02:10 PM

I don’t like the Chase, but it’s not the worst system NASCAR has ever had. The one that was based on money was probably the worst and the one that was based on leading laps/track size was pretty awful too.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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