NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Finale Caps Season of Growth in the Sport

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent INovember 23, 2011

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 20:  A fan holds up a sign during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2011 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

NASCAR wanted to give the fans more with the new point system, more emphasis on winning, the wild-card battle for the Chase and a playoff scenario, but the fans gave back to NASCAR as well.

The drama of two drivers, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, heading to the final race of the Chase a mere three points apart provided drama on each and every lap of the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The end of Jimmie Johnson's five-year tenure as the Cup series champion drew in fans. For some it didn't matter whether Stewart or Edwards won the title. They just wanted a changing of the guard.

Statistics have been compiled and it was evident that the 10th race of the Chase was a big deal to fans of the sport.

The Ford 400 was the most-viewed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event in ESPN history. It was also the most-viewed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cable event since 2005.

In addition, it was the most-viewed race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since the 2008 Talladega event on ABC.

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An average of 10.5 million viewers tuned in to the conclusion of the race between 8:00 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

MIAMI BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 17:  Carl Edwards (R), driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, talk with members of the media during the NASCAR Champions Contenders Press Conference at Lummus Park on No
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The final NASCAR Chase race was the No. 1 sporting event of the weekend on cable.

Though some have predicted doom and gloom for the sport because of empty seats at the tracks and cutbacks in various areas for certain teams and sponsors, the sport is stronger than many think.

In terms of viewership, it was up 10 percent on the year for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. There was also a 19 percent increase in the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic.

Merchandise sales online are reported to be up 54 percent over this time last year and attendance was up at about a third of the tracks this year.

It is hardly a secret that some owners will be cutting back with the number of teams they run because they don't have the funding. Many employees will be losing their jobs.

Sponsorship dollars are tight and many corporations have cut back, but new sponsors are coming in like Quicken Loans, Outback, Farmer's Insurance and AARP.

Certainly the economy has a long way to go and fans face hardships in many areas. It will continue to be a luxury for many to attend a race when it is tough to pay the mortgage.

The fact remains that the state of NASCAR is strong and showing improvement over 2010. The 2012 season should be even bigger and better because fans have seen the drama play out this year.

The final race of the Chase was the best in the history of the Chase and the accomplishments of Tony Stewart in the final 10 races, where he won five, likely will remain unmatched for some time to come.

During the 2011 season we had many first-time winners and some great racing. Sure, there were a few races that lacked much excitement, but that is hard to predict.

Tandem-racing on the high banks of Daytona and Talladega was popular with some drivers and fans, but very unpopular with others. NASCAR is trying to break up the two-car drafts and return control to each driver.

You can't make everybody happy, but NASCAR has made improvements this season and more are on the horizon.

If the 2012 season of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series can produce a 10-week Chase for the title that is half as good as it was this year, then it will be a win for the fans and the sport.

If we are lucky it will get even more exciting.

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