Exactly 10 years ago next month, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was preparing to make its debut on the national stage.
With Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip preparing to bring the call of America's fastest sport to a nationwide audience on FOX, NASCAR was riding high in 2001.
Ironically enough, it may have been the very first race in NASCAR's national expansion that derailed their long-term hopes of competing with the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball as the top sports brand in the United States.
The death of Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500 (following Dale's own cryptic remarks about giving the fans "something they've never seen before") took the heart out of racing at a point when it could least afford it.
And while NASCAR's ascent to ratings success continued for awhile in the first years of the decade, stock car racing began to sputter on the national stage just a few short years after it had arrived.
In 2011, NASCAR will be confronted with vast challenges. With ratings for the delay-filled 2010 Daytona 500 falling to pre-2001 levels and the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup suffering a near-30 percent decline in viewership from 2009, Mike Helton and the executives of NASCAR are hard-pressed to find answers to the rising tides of concern from FOX, TNT and ESPN.
Worse yet, the sport has been plagued with steadily declining attendance figures for some time now. Even the traditional powerhouse venues such as Richmond, Talladega, Charlotte, and Darlington are operating well short of capacity.
Bristol, NASCAR's hottest ticket for decades, fell roughly 22,000 people short of being a sell-out for the spring race in 2010, making it the first race since the early 1980s not to sell out.
When declining ratings and attendance are coupled with a general malaise among the fan base that has driven stock car fanatics to the point of apathy, NASCAR is faced with an unenviable choice: shake up the sport or risk the failure of the sport's national expansion push.
For fans, though, the evidence continues to suggest that another long and frustrating year is ahead of us while the sport tries to turn things around.
Here are 10 reasons why racing fans will continue to suffer through the doldrums of another tedious NASCAR season, including a few often-discussed reasons...and a few that may catch you by surprise.