NASCAR: The Rise, Fall, and the Chase that Caused the Decline

Clint BryantCorrespondent IIOctober 5, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  A pack of cars races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Up until the late 1970's, NASCAR was a southern boys game.  Then a large snow front moved through the eastern seaboard of the United States leaving tens of thousands of potential fans to watch the first Daytona 500 to be broadcast from green to checkers.  When Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed and got into a fight on the last lap, NASCAR was reborn.

Through the 1980's and 1990's, Petty, Waltrip, Allison, and Earnhardt all became household names.  Tracks grew larger, attendance soared, television deals added more zeros to the price tag.  Prospective drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart began leaving the chase for Indianapolis behind in favor of Daytona, Bristol, and Darlington. 

In 2001, Fox Sports and NBC Sports brought NASCAR to the fans in a multi-million dollar package that showed more stock car racing action than ever before. TV ratings went higher than ever and NASCAR was finally competing with the big three American sports.

Bill France Jr. had taken the controls from his father and grew NASCAR from something good to something great!  It was now time for him to step aside and he passed control of a healthy and robust NASCAR down to Brian France.

In 2003, Roush Racing driver Matt Kenseth won only one race but swept to the championship with a season of consistency not seen in many years.  The championship was decided well before the last race of the season.  A small voice in the NASCAR community lashed out saying that the system was broken when a driver wins the championship having only one victory.

Enter Brian France.

In 2004, NASCAR introduced the Chase for the Championship. The top 10 drivers after 26 races would square off in a 10-race playoff to decide the champion.  The points were reset for these 10 drivers so a long season of consistency for the championship would not be easily repeated.

The new system was met with mixed reviews. While it did produce a close points race in its inaugural season, purists complained that it took away from the integrity of the sport.

TV ratings peaked, attendance waned.

After a few years of solid but no longer growing numbers, NASCAR decided to alter the chase to increase the emphasis on winning and include 12 drivers.  No longer were you rewarded for your points position after 26 races, it was wins that would give you a higher starting spot in the chase.  The system was confusing to some and frustrating to others. 

Along with this, a new car was introduced. The Car of Tomorrow brought a great improvement in safety, but a large falloff in the quality of racing. Many race fans also made fun of the design, "A flying brick with a wing," some called it.

TV ratings started dropping and attendance soon followed.

Some say attendance fell due to the economy, but would these race fans not watch at home since they could not afford to go to the track?  Why did the ratings fall?

It comes down to this.  NASCAR racing is a good product.  NASCAR is drivers fighting to win. NASCAR is 36 grueling weeks to determine the champion.  NASCAR is letting crew chiefs use their skills to give their drivers good cars. 

It is NOT gimmicky playoff systems that erase point leads or punish the consistent in favor of the streaky.  It is NOT a "spec" series where crews have no wiggle room to explore the possibilities of the machine they built from scratch with their bare hands. It is NOT IROC....

Or is it?

You want the ratings to return?  You want fans in the stands? You want to "fix" NASCAR? 

You want us back?

Give us our NASCAR back!