NASCAR, it seems, has begun a long, slow decline. Attendance has dwindled at almost all tracks, and TV ratings have stagnated. It was only a few years ago that NASCAR seemed unstoppable, with record attendance and ratings for a sport featuring some of America's best racers. Now, however, it appears that NASCAR has already peaked and is on its way down.
Many blame (legitimately so) the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Traditional fans have been driven away by the new points system, due to its tendency to produce two champions (one under the old system, one under the Chase system). Others blame (also legitimately) the Car of Tomorrow, with its single-file racing, and the "cookie-cutter" tracks of the past decade. These factors have certainly hurt the sport's credibility, but it's not the whole story. The sport's problems originate earlier in its history.
Remember the 1990s? The "irrationally exuberant" 1990s? NASCAR, like America, hit on good times, with a robust economy and rapid globalization due to the Internet. NASCAR, naturally, looked to expand and broaden its appeal. So began a decade of rapid expansion.
In 1992, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series featured 29 races, with 20 of them being run in the South.
By 1999, the Series featured 34 races with the same number being run in Southern states; the new races had gone to venues in Las Vegas, Southern California, New England, and South Florida (I realize its geographic Southern, but definitely not culturally so). It also lost two Southern races at North Wilkesboro, NC.
It was during the 90s that NASCAR expanded rapidly, and probably unwisely. We all knew the good economy couldn't last forever. Once NASCAR added its 35th and 36th races in Chicago and Kansas in 2001, that was that. A weak economy in the early years of the 2000s ended any expansion of the Cup Series.
Although the economy recovered by mid-decade, NASCAR had certainly strained itself. With 36 events at venues across the nation, NASCAR had stretched itself thin, with teams and drivers having to criss-cross the country week after week with little rest. NASCAR's expansion had been far too rapid and ultimately caused problems among fans, as many began to grow bored with the "cookie-cutter" tracks it added, which were designed to hold a large amount of fans with little regard to the racing on the track.
Once the economy began going south (as opposed to NASCAR's expansion) two years ago, NASCAR's shiny new ovals were left by the wayside. Fans no longer flocked to these tracks, as many began to realize that these tracks were no longer worth the money required for attendance, especially considering the absolutely abominable racing at these tracks even BEFORE the CoT.
NASCAR's decline has absolutely been a long time coming. NASCAR, like many Americans, cashed in on the go-go economy of the 90s, and tried desperately to maintain their standards in the 2000s. NASCAR's only solution is to try and downsize and shift racing back to smaller tracks whether in its traditional Southern base or even Northern tracks of similar size. If not, NASCAR will be as doomed as the ABA or the AFL.