Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: What Went Wrong With Atlanta Attendance?

Is Ross Chastain’s poor reputation irreversible?

In the July 2018 NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. caused two big crashes and was involved in a further three crashes in what put together was an embarrassing night.

He became the butt of many jokes, and his reputation as a reckless driver that causes accidents still lingers on in the present day.

After his performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend, Ross Chastain may be reaching the reckless reputation without a chance to go back.

The reality is that the number of drivers that Chastain has angered this season cannot be counted on one hand. At Circuit of the Americas, he spun out AJ Allmendinger on the final lap to win. At Richmond Raceway, he had a heated feud with Ryan Blaney in the middle of the race while battling for position. At Dover Motor Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. crashed on the final lap while racing for third after Chastain slammed the door on him down the backstretch. At World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Chastain wrecked both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott in the first third of the race.

And now at Atlanta, Chastain crashed Truex (again), sparking a big crash early in the race. Plus, in the closing laps, he wrecked Hamlin (also again). This does not even count the drivers collected in these incidents who were also upset.

Now, it can be argued that some of the incidents were racing deals or unavoidable.

But when they’ve happened this frequently in a span of 14 races, it’s a pattern.

The breaking point appeared to be at Gateway, where Hamlin and Elliott played games to hold him up whenever they ran beside him on the racetrack. Chastain was incredibly apologetic in his interview, and he said that he needed to stop making the same mistakes.

But making the same mistakes twice at Atlanta, Chastain’s Gateway apology lost its meaning. To make matters worse, he dumped Hamlin, the one driver that he did not need to run into again. Now it appears that Hamlin will seek future retaliation.

It will take a long time for Chastain’s image in the garage to rehab, and that’s only if he keeps his nose clean and avoids running into other drivers for the remainder of the year. If he continues to be involved in future incidents, the drivers will not feel afraid to take matters into their own hands.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Atlanta Brings the Heat in Temps and Tempers

After their big NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, what’s next for Parker Kligerman and Henderson Motorsports?

There truly is no comparison to the performance of Parker Kligerman and the Henderson Motorsports No. 75 truck last weekend.

With a part-time team that has one full-time employee, Kligerman qualified second and then proceeded to dominate the entire race at Mid-Ohio. He led 56 of the 67 laps, and he held off a hard-charging Zane Smith – the series points leader with three wins in 2022 – in a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.

Yes, there have been smaller teams to pull off upset victories. But the majority of them have come in the frantic and chaotic closing laps at Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway where the draft serves as the great equalizer.

But for a small, part-time team and driver to just destroy the field on a challenging road course? Given the circumstances, it’s one of the most surprising performances in Truck history.

What it also shows is that it’s time for Kligerman and Henderson to take the next step. Kligerman was already running in the top five and contending for the lead on numerous occasions before Mid-Ohio, but the win has now cemented his status as a championship contender if he is able to run full time.

After the win, it was reported that Henderson would like to attempt a full-time schedule with Kligerman for 2023 if it can find the proper sponsorship and funding. Given the potential that Kligerman and the team have shown, it would be a prime opportunity for a manufacturer to increase its support or for Henderson to form a technical alliance with another full-time team. Either option would help turn the team into a perennial contender.

Outside of Henderson, teams should also be taking a hard look at Kligerman for 2023. Kligerman will be 32 in October, but that is far from old age in NASCAR. Josh Berry got his big break in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2021 at age 30, and Chastain has burst onto the Cup scene at age 29.

Kligerman himself was rumored to drive for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this season before a sponsorship deal fell through. If the proper sponsorship funding can be found, RCR and all the other teams in the garage would be clamoring to have him.

Tyler Reddick now has 53 races left with a team he will be leaving after 2023. Will he leave RCR early, or will finish out his contract?

The honeymoon phase of Tyler Reddick’s first Cup win at Road America for RCR lasted nine days.

In a July 12 press conference, Reddick and Hamlin announced that Reddick will leave RCR for 23XI Racing at the start of the 2024 season. The news came out of left field and rocked the NASCAR world, especially after it looked like RCR had finally found the driver to lead the team for the 2020s.

As expected, RCR was not pleased with the news and tweeted a passive aggressive response to the signing.

While the tweet said that the team is focused on winning for the remainder of Reddick’s tenure, it’s also possible that the relationship between Reddick and the team will deteriorate after his shocking exit.

While Reddick and RCR appear they will move on and appear to go about business as usual, there will be a better understanding of where the two parties stand in the upcoming months.

Perhaps it will go the way of Kevin Harvick’s lame-duck 2013 season where he won four races at RCR despite the fact that it was announced in November 2012 that he would be leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. It could also go the way of Kasey Kahne’s 2010 season at Richard Petty Motorsports where he was released before the season ended and eventually found a ride at Red Bull Racing until his 2012 contract with Hendrick Motorsports began.

It all depends on how professional the two sides will be with each other in this tricky situation.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: 23XI Racing Shocks & Awes With Tyler Reddick Reveal

One Hot Afternoon: What went wrong with the attendance at Atlanta?

In recent years, TV networks have cut the number of scheduled night races. Most races are contested on a Sunday afternoon nowadays, with a uniform starting time at around 3 p.m. ET. These start times supposedly capture the maximum viewing audience in a series that has struggled with viewership totals for the last decade plus.

But if one tuned into last Sunday’s (July 11) race at Atlanta, they would be presented with a view of barren grandstands. The seats were at a quarter of capacity at best, and the attendance for the Xfinity race the afternoon before was just as pitiful.

It was a race in one of NASCAR’s biggest southern markets, complete with it being the home race for the series’ most popular driver in Elliott. And yet, it looked like a crowd that would show up for a Monday rain-out race.

The elephant in the room that has to be addressed first is the reconfiguration of Atlanta. The new Atlanta now has more in common with Daytona and Talladega than the other 1.5-mile tracks. In the record books, it might as well be an entirely new racetrack.

There was a solid attendance at the first Atlanta race this year. It wasn’t a sellout by any means, but it was a decent crowd. For race weekend two, that dropped off dramatically. It is possible that the fans that attended the first race decided that they did not like the changes. It’s certainly something to watch for 2023; the new configuration certainly has its critics.

The other problem is that it is the peak of summer in the deep South, where everyone will be sweating their you-know-whats off. While race day wasn’t as a hot as it could’ve been, the threat of hot weather and humidity certainly played in a role in leaving people at home.

Perhaps it was the heat, the layout, general apathy toward attending or a combination of all three. Whatever the case was, it was an embarrassing display. A race could have the greatest TV ratings imaginable, but a showing like last weekend is an incredibly bad look, no matter how you slice it.

If the poor attendance was due to the layout, that’s something that cannot be fixed. Just like how Texas Motor Speedway is stuck with its critically panned 2017 repave, Atlanta will be stuck with its superspeedway configuration whether fans like it or not.

But if it was because of the start time, that is something that can be amended. NASCAR has been a spectator sport throughout its history, and the fans in attendance can’t be completely ignored while chasing Nielsen ratings. When fans in attendance and a handful of drivers have grown frustrated with the start times, at some point their message should be taken into consideration.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021. He is a staff writer and the Friday news writer. Stephen also pens the weekly “4 Burning Questions” column and contributes to “Friday Faceoff” and “2-Headed Monster.” A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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janice

summer heat and humidity here in atlanta last race weekend. it was also supposed to rain most of the weekend. i’d also venture to say the price of gas contributed to people staying away. not too much disposable income for fun with economy right now.

Rick Gray

Last time I was in Georgia it was the cheapest gas price anywhere. I like in SF-Bayarea where cheap for the last 5 months was $5.859. I found $4.999 today! and was exstatic… Don’t alot of people own season passes to the races? I go to Las Vegas and LA and all the best locations are bought up by season ticket holders. Last time I was in Hampton was 10 years ago & the race was in September. Hamlin won and lead 100+ laps of the race. I think he had 1/2 lap lead at the end. I now want to go again, due to the track change.

Steve C

Let me give a small history lesson of the whole Atlanta scenario- back in the early years Atlanta was a growing “hub” if you will of racing. There were race/ performance type shops up and down a street, and people like Raymond Parks, Red Vogt and others were growing the sport around the area. When the Atlanta elites were through with them ( some years after proibition) folks viewed the racing as crude/ backwoods ect, so local government pretty much ran them out. This is an abbreviated version of many facts. That’s to say a general lack of racing interest is deep rooted in the area. I know what I’m talking about, I’m a North Georgia native, I’ve lived some of this. In short, Atlanta could have been what Charlotte is. Most people around the metro area don’t give a s#it about racing. We are few in number indeed. Btw- there’s only one asphalt short track operating in the whole state. Compare that to our neigboing states. Says volumes.

Tom B

Very interesting, I did not know that.

Rick Gray

Aren’t there a lot of transplants in the Atlanta area from the west? I talk to people all the time that are moving to Atlanta. I can’t take the heat and humidity. I’m wiling to pay the $5 a gallon gas to be able to walk outside during the day without colapsing. When I went to the 2012 September race, it was almost sold out. I think the high prices, and time it takes to leave the track that can contribute to a lack of interest, Start time, Heat, plus the threat of Rain that kept people away this time.

johndawgchapman

Speaking for myself, I equate pack racing, with what we pilots say about flying.

Hours of boredom, with moments of sheer terror. I wouldn’t spend the $$ to watch it live.

Shayne

The folks that attended Atlanta in the past are long gone. Reimagine that.

DoninAjax

Starting time, cost of tickets, cost of gas, price gouging for rooms and food during race week and cost of incidentals. People need a money tree in the back yard now.

Rick Gray

I stayed in the north side of Atlanta and found a good priced hotel, didn’t eat at the track, but just going and paying for parking is rediculus. Even though Nascar wants fans to attend, but still charge $85-$155 to attend the cup race. Really? I know they say they have to pay the track workers. But if Nascar owns most of the tracks, why do they need to profit off us? Hold weekly races for amatures. Charge them.

Chris A

First, let’s start with the Ross Chastain argument. I agree that he needs to tone it down a little,but remember this racing and rubbing is racing. Has everyone forgotten the King of Rubbing is Racing. I was never a Dale Earnhardt Sr fan but come on if Sr were racing racing today he would be doing the same thing and the other drivers need to grow a set. If Dale did the same to thing to Cale or Bobby back in the day they either handle on the track or in the hauler. The driver’s today need to quite whining and start driving or settle it back in the garage after the race.

As for Atlanta, this race should be run at night since it’s so hot in South. I also agree with previous comments about the cost of going. With Inflation what it is now NASCAR and the Track Owners need a solution to reduce ticket prices and make it an event people can afford again like it was in 80′ and 90’s. Until this happens many tracks will be low attandance.

Rick Gray

Couldn’t agree more with the Atlanta race,pricing and start time comment. Considering there are only 2 owners of the tracks in Nascar, (Pocono and Indy are owned by mattioli and Penske) and Nascar owning ISC. They should have no problem figureing out ways to profit from the tracks on non-Nascar events. Gouging your target audiance is a recipt for what is happening right now. ISC (12 nascar tracks) Speedway (9 nascar tracks) The one difference between Earnhardt and when he drove, is those cars weren’t as erow sensative as these cars are. I know those 90s & 2000 cars flew more than these, but just as bumping and banging, you can’t do that with these cars. It’s like if you even get close to the bumper they get all out of shape. And the Cars go slower now. Go figure.

Rick Gray

I hate going to the track and know that 50% of the time the winner of the race is either going to be Hendrick, Penske or Gibbs. In past Atlanta races, you’d have 3 cars with speed 2 laps ahead of everyone else, and it was one of 3 teams with money that would win the race. No different this year as Chase and Hendrick won again. The racing was funner to watch, as no one can get 2 -3 laps ahead like in the past. So the new configuration is nice in my opinion. Regarding attendance at Atlanta, starting at 3pm in the dead of summer is crazy. It sould be a night race. NBC doesn’t care, as almost all of the races are on USA network (all your disrupting on that channel is reruns of Law and Order SVU) It was funny to listen to the NBC crew talk about how the crowds had returned to Atlanta… Saturday looked like 5-10k and Sunday looked like 20-25k. The heat of the summer is rediculus in the South. I would’ve suspended Rose Chastain for 1 race for his driving. I wonder if Hamlin ever talked to Chastain after the race. LOL.

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