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How much of NASCAR’s attendance drop off is Junior related?

By admin | August 18, 2010

By Richard Allen


Another Bristol weekend is upon us here in east Tennessee. Just a few years ago it was considered as certain as the sun setting in the west that any NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Bristol Motor Speedway would play out in front of a packed house. Now, radio and television commercials aired around the region tell of tickets being available. And this past spring there were plenty of empty seats around the 160,000 seat stadium.

The list of reasons for this drop off at BMS along with virtually every other track on the NASCAR circuit is a long one. The lagging economy, a growing discontent for the NASCAR organization and the way it conducts its business, excessive television coverage, a lack of exciting personalities in the sport, high prices and a multitude of other reasons have all been cited as causes for the lessening numbers tripping the turn styles at NASCAR events.

Specifically at Bristol, many fans have named the resurfacing of the track and the changes made to the layout and banking as a reason for letting go of their tickets.

This week, I have given a great deal of consideration to another factor. The fact that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does not win has to play a role in the numbers of people attending, or not attending, NASCAR races.

Obviously, this is not some new revelation. However, it is one I do not think I have given enough credence to in the past. I have always been quick to blame the NASCAR organization, the Car of Tomorrow and the Chase for the Championship as the top reasons for the dwindling support of racing.

However, this week has opened my eyes a bit.

Two of my co-workers at the school where I teach are long time NASCAR fans, attending as many as six to eight races a year. Each of these two were Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fans. Like so many others, when the seven time champion died in 2001, they transferred their loyalty to the legendary driver’s son.

Since the beginning of the school typically coincides with the race weekend in Bristol, we often find ourselves discussing the upcoming race at the high banked half-mile.

This year, there was nothing to discuss. My two friends told me they are not going to Bristol this weekend and they went so far as to say the Labor Day weekend event in Atlanta would be their last.

“It gets pretty old spending all that money and going to a race knowing the guy you’re for isn’t ever going to win,” one of my dejected friend’s told me. “And I don’t think he’s ever going to win another race.”

I wonder how many others share these feelings? How many vacant seats at Bristol this Saturday night will be empty because the sport’s most popular driver has not won in over two years?

I still believe the primary reason for NASCAR drop off is NASCAR itself. Their championship system, the car they have chosen to use and their abandonment of their roots have done more damage than the success or failure of any one driver could ever cause. However, I believe the Junior factor is more serious than I had previously given considered.

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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

Topics: Articles |

28 Responses to “How much of NASCAR’s attendance drop off is Junior related?”

  1. Sal Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 5:35 am

    I’m a Junior fan, and I didn’t renew my season tickets to Bristol this year. In fact, the past 2 years I sold my race tickets to someone else to attend. The reason I didn’t renew has nothing to do with Junior being competitive, or the economy. Since the ‘chase’ was instituted, racing at Bristol hasn’t been ‘the way it oughta be’. The guys outside the top 12 don’t want to ruffle feathers of those in, and the drivers in the top 12 are being careful not to do anything to take themselves out. I won’t get into the debate about whether the racing at Bristol is better or not. I just know that the racing at Bristol used to be unique. Now it’s more like watching a race at MIS with traffic. That isn’t what made me want to go to Bristol. When I found myuself sitting in the stands with 100 laps left to go 2 years ago, fighting to stay awake, I realized I could watch at home and at least crash on my couch.

  2. Charles Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Dale Jr not doing well might have a little effect on the drop in attendence and TV rating, but I dont think that is the main reason!

    I am sure the economy as well might have some effect!

    But I think the main reason fans are losing interest is the “Rigged Factor”

    Fans are beganing to see Nascar indepth, such as Phathom Debris Cautions, Favortism with penalities such as Carl Longs! etc! plus the COT and Chase than adds insult to injury as well! Even Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin said as much!

    Now I know you cannot completely give a race away, but it does take away the heart and soul of the sport to see repeated things that gives comparsion to WWF!

    Nascar may say the racing is closer and better than ever, but to me its like a preacher who you had trust in and then find out something bad he has done, he might still preach the best sermon ever, but his intregrity is what matters and it is gone!

  3. Conor Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Like your friends, I am a dedicated Dale Earnhardt fan. With his passing, my loyalty stayed with the Goodwrench team, and I already had loyalty to DEI because, well, that was Dales dream, and yes Jr. starting with his Busch years. I will not drone on about where my loyalty lies these days, but lets say, I have never liked Rick Hendrick and swore many years ago, I could NEVER “pull” for a team of his. I am a Chevy guy and I favor any non-Hendrick owned Chevy team. Oh, and JGR is the arch ememy for their brand switch. I am saying have fun with it, spread your loyalties, you will have some happy weekends!

  4. Marcus Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Thanks for the article Rich. I’ve been a Jr faithful since Sr died as well. What your friend said was spot on. I used to be willing to go to any race that I could drive to in a day. I used to attend MIS twice a year until I moved to Virginia. Money is not the issue that I can or will not attend all the races I would like to. It’s just like he said, why waste all that money to go and be dissapointed. The 2 Richmond races, I still attend because the fact that it’s a weekend that my friends in D.C. Come down for and it’s a good weekend to catch up with friends, regardless of how Jr runs. Ofcourse it is much better when I can talk crap to my friends and Jr backs it up. Not even that happens anymore at a track like Richmond where he was so strong. I went to Martinsville last October, and to waste all that money for me and my wife, to watch Dale Jr blow a tire every 90 laps was ridiculas. I can’t do that anymore. I can watch that crap from my TV at home for free. At the beggining of this season, with all of the promises that Hendrick made, and the confidence that Lance McWho had in the 88 team, I planned on going to both Richmond races, both Martinsville races, and the October Charlotte race. So far it’s only been the Richmond race, and I’m going to be going to the Richmond race on Sept. 11th. Other than that…No need to waste my money driving 5 hours and wasting all that gas, all that money, just to watch jr struggle to race in the top 20. It’s hearbreaking. The only thing I will dissagree with is, that I think Jr will win again. I just don’t think it will happen often. I wish Jr could get out of Hendrick now, because I think that’s his only chance to win regularly again. Jr has the talent, Hendrick has the equipment. I just don’t believe that the 5/88 shop has been, or ever will be as focused on as the 24/48 shop. Jr need’s a 2 car, maybe 3 car team, but he must be the main focus. He should be…He’s got the talent.

  5. jerome Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:40 am


    I always love your articles. The fact that attendance/viewership numbers may be linked to how well (poorly) Junior has raced over the years may be an indication that the sport has problems. If the racing was better than perhaps people would be attending/watching more. I am a fan from the late 60’s when all you could get was a small glimpse on Wide World of Sports. NASCAR used to be “must see TV” for me. The past few years I took to recording the races and fast forwarding through the commercials and boring parts of the races. This year I have recorded all of the races but I have only watched the three or four of the races I taped. The racing is predictable and boring. The coverage sucks. Drivers don’t seem to push for wins only “a good point’s day.” I used to go to several races a year; no more. And none of this has anything to do with Junior. I don’t really feel one way or the other about him. Give the sport some leadership, better racing at better tracks and the fans will return.

  6. travis Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:47 am

    My enthusiasm for NASCAR has waned for three reasons. #1 is Junior not winning. His performance has been nothing short of pathetic. But hey, if Junior isnt winning I can still fall back on my second rooting interest, which is car manufacturer, in my case Chevy. Which brings me to reason#2: Toyota in NASCAR. Call me old school but to me this is absolutely abdominal. If NASCAR thinks attendance is down now, just imagine if Ford,Chevy,and Dodge left and were replaced by Toyota, Honda and Kia. #3 is the economy. Its hard to shell out the cost of attending a race when your laid-off or fearful of same.

  7. Racinmoose Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Hey Sal I couldnt have said it better myself, remember when we wouldnt drink anything so we didnt have to go the bathroom because we were afraid we would miss something? It is amazing how they can take something so good and make it so bad!!!

  8. Ken Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Generic drivers points racing in generic cars at generic tracks does not make me want to attend a race. When everything said by anyone affiliated with Nascar is apparently Nascar approved, why pay attention? I went to my last Bristol night race about 5 years ago and I will probably not go again. When I watch the “race” at home, I can sleep until the last 20 laps and not miss a thing.

  9. Gary Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 9:15 am

    I’m also a Die-Hard Junior fan, I also don’t attend races in person anymore, I do however watch all the races and still pull for Junior, I don’t buy into all the crap that Junior can’t drive a race car. I have seen him drive the wheels off a race car, I also grew up at the race track, and I can see how wicked that car is on TV sometimes, Junior does not get enought credit for the Talent he has….I have hope it will turn around, The Sport needs Junior and he has a ton of Fans who still believe in him.

  10. Justin Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I think this discussion proves that NASCAR cant “fix” races, right? I have heard countless arguments that Jr won at Daytona in the 3 car, because NASCAR wanted him to, etc…. Why would NASCAR help him to win a Nationwide Series race, and allow him to completely suck week after week in the Cup events????

    My point of view is that the struggle of Jr has less to do with it than some of the other points that have been made (economy, JJ winning too much, boring racing). I think Jr’s struggles may have been the reason 4 years ago, but now Jr Nation has gotten used to it, and dont expect him to win anymore…..I know as a Jr fan, I have lost hope that he will ever win a Title, I no longer expect him to be in contention for wins every week, and I no longer expect him to make the Chase. I am not going to jump ship to another driver, but the expectations lower every year…

  11. Margaret Spoor Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Don’t know if Junior has anything to do with anything or not. Do know that going to 10 or 12 top races hurt a lot ,sponsorship is not going to waste there money on those that are not on top ,poor advertising realy hurts.Who gets the most advertising even if there very good drivers? Thanks for the ear. Margaret

  12. Ralph Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I’ve been an Earnhardt fan since 1992 and naturally after Sr passed away I became a Jr fan. But I do fall into the I won’t be buying any race tickets because I know Jr won’t be competitive. I rather watch it on TV and if my driver is sucking like he has been in the past few years then I can turn off the TV and do something else.

  13. Steve Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Nascar’s problem is they are catering to driver fans not race fans itself. There is a difference.

    Driver fans support their driver and tune in only when said driver is in the race. If they fall out, they are done watching.

    Race fans are fans that support their driver, but when their driver falls out, they continue to watch because they love racing, regardless of who wins.

    Personally, when I’m at a race and Jr fans head for the exits early with beer cooler in hand when he doesn’t have a good day, I just shake my head, because these are the casual fans that Nascar spends so much time and money trying to get them to watch.

    So I guess since they make their beds, they must lie in it also, correct?

  14. Ginger Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 10:12 am

    You better believe the “Junior factor” is serious. But it isn’t just the fact that his cars are undrivable. It’s because for the last two years the press has beaten him to a pulp, and his fans have broken hearts. It’s difficult to see and hear someone you care about being crucified when there’s nothing you can do about it. The media may just be the one thing that brings about Nascar’s demise.

  15. Chuck Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Why exactly is Dale Jr. the sports most popular driver? Just wondering!
    Because is not an answer!

  16. Gail Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I also think the “Junior Factor” is serious, but I would lay the blame on Junior Nation itself, not the racing gods, or or Rick Hendrick, or Sr.’s death. Steve is 100% correct. Junior Nation is made up of people who are not race fans, they are fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and they will simply NOT face the reality that Jr. is simply not that good a driver.

    Ginger says Jr.’s fans have broken hearts - well, get over it, kiddo! My favorite driver went through a slump longer than Junior’s, but his fans stayed with him and were rewarded in the end with some big victories. We also learned to accept reality along the way and learned to enjoy racing as a sport. Now I play fantasy NASCAR, cheer for a handful of very different drivers, and continue to watch every Cup race.

    NASCAR is far from perfect, but it was far from perfect during the 80’s and 90’s. Stop the blame game and look in the mirror, Junior fans! We have met the eneny and they are YOU!

  17. Terry L. Headley Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 11:35 am

    To all the Junior Haters:
    YOU are the problem with NASCAR! You jump on and off any bandwagon that happens to be in victory lane at the moment.
    I seem to recall several years when Earnhardt Sr. wasn’t winning too much. We didn’t leave him then and won’t leave Dale Jr. now.
    What I like about Dale Jr. is that he is human. He appears to have some issues. He is one of us! He isn’t some machine like RoboJohnson and RoboGordo.
    It is pretty obvious that there is something wrong. With Jr? With NASCAR? With the world today? Defiinitely there is something wrong with Hendrick Motorsports. They have never been able to get four cars up to speed and doesn’t appear they will.

  18. Larry Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 11:52 am

    No matter what folks say, Jr. can still drive a race car. But, this new Crew Chief he has is not working out. Sorry to say that but it’s the truth. And, before all you fans start saying that it’s Jr., just look at all the name drivers who have only been able to win with one crew chief. Dale Jarrett-Todd Parrett, Matt Kenseth-Robbie Rieser, Jeff Gordon-Ray Everham and the list goes on. Sure, Jeff is running good but he is nowhere close to the threat he was with Everham. All these folks who says Jr. can’t drive don’t have a clue. Two Busch CHampionships and 18 cup wins are not given away. If Jr.’s Name wasn’t Earnhardt that would already be a pretty good resume. Bottom line is, Jr. and his crewchief are not working out and Hendrick needs to get him another one. I’ve Always thought his Uncle Pops Eury would be a good fit but whoever he still needs a change. Look at Carl Edwards. He has struggled and had several crew chief changes and at this point it’s not clear if he and his current crew chief will work out. Jeff Gordon is one of the most talented drivers on the track and when he doesn’t win like he use to with Everham that tells me one thing-it’s the crew chief same as Matt Kenseth. And the 48 team, reckon he would have them all them championships without Chad Knaus? I really doubt it. All these people who say Jr. can’t drive are really showing your ignorance because his accomplishments clearly show he can and if he gets the right crew chief he will win again. I really thought Hendrick should have hired Steve Addington when he was available but he let him slip through his hands. That was a big mistake in may opinion. And, another thing, isn’t it odd that there always seems to be one Hendrick Team that doesn’t seem to run like the others? Don’t know the answer to that but it is strange.

  19. JR Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Steve has said what I’ve said for many years. We don’t have many true racing fans. Driver groupies are not race fans. You are not a race fan because you own $10,000.00 worth of your drivers merchandise…you may be a pretty big “sucker”, but not a fan of racing. As for the “Junior Factor”, lets just say that if his name was Ralph Smith and he came into the sport like a lot of “Ralph Smith’s” do, he would not be the sports most popular driver, he would not have any wins because he would not have been given the equipment to get those wins and he would be out of the sport by now. He is, at best, a journeyman race car driver. IMO, the faster the Junior Nation abandons NASCAR, the sooner the racing will start getting better because NASCAR will quit with all the changes trying to keep them interested.

  20. al Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    wel i also passed this year on going to the all star race, an coke 600,gotta drive 14 hrs, an camping ,gas an food anetc, was going to take the familly but decided to post pone ,not going to spend that much money to see my driver run 18-to 20,if hes luckey,cant even were the new coat the wife got me ,when his competing for the wins again i will most certin go to the races ,maybe even more then 1or 2,but i will watch the races on tv untill jr starts going backwards,then i leave ,or put on a movie,not planning to watch the chase either,jr wont be contending, at this rate he might finish worst than last year,doent like what rick is doing an cant stand the hendrick organization,24 an 48 gets the good stuff,88- 5 get the left overs,includeing mcscrew a wanta be crew chief ,JR PLEASE LEAVE THAT PLACE BEFORE ITS TO LATE,there only makeing a fool out of you ,an jr nation

  21. The Old Guy Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    “I think this discussion proves that NASCAR cant “fix” races, right? I have heard countless arguments that Jr won at Daytona in the 3 car, because NASCAR wanted him to, etc…. Why would NASCAR help him to win a Nationwide Series race, and allow him to completely suck week after week in the Cup events???? ”

    The fact that the #3 Wrangler car in which Dale Jr. won at Daytona was going to the Hall of fame tells me that NASCAR can fix races.

  22. The Old Guy Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Just because I am not a fan of Jr. does not mean I “hate” him. So please, Terry Headley, lose the term. I am not a fan of JJ, but I don’t hate him.

    The people you refer to as haters are simply people who are not a fan of a, at best, mediocre driver who is living off the name of his father.

    The only real “haters” are those who simply won’t accept that everyone is not a fan of their favorite driver and the opinions they express towards them/us have the most hate in them.

  23. Brian Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    How is that so many hated the late Dale SR , but idolize his kid ?? He has never impressed me and when the cameras and announcers are still making a big deal about a car mired mid pack they are surely wasting tv time . Jr is never satisfied with his car and always seems to be the worst of the HMS cars almost each week. I doubt he is getting lesser equipment than the rest he just is not as good as some think !! I do doubt his struggles are the main reason for NASCAR even though he has a big fanbase.

  24. Brian Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I have to agree with Jr’s comment here …too much trying to make Dale Jr happy and all , He really would not amount to a pimple on his dad’s butt , yet people think he is a god …

  25. Richard in N.C. Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I was an Ironhead fan, when he was winning and when he was losing. I became interested in Dale, Jr. because of his father, but I became a Dale, Jr. fan because of who he is, and still am, win or lose. Dale, Jr. likely will never be the driver his father was, but neither will a lot of other drivers.

    Regarding the attendance decline, I saw a well-respected racing writer this month comment that attendance is down for almost all pro sports - but you don’t see the NASCAR press do any comparative analysis of what’s happening to other pro sports since facts might complicate NASCAR bashing. I also see that the NBA says the NBA teams lost about $370 million last season - another inconvenient fact. Maybe there are complicated factors out there affecting NASCAR attendance besides things NASCAR can be bashed about.

  26. Lockhart Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Dale Junior not being competitive and the fact that he is driving for Rick Hendrick is exactly the reason why I have quit attending races. I hadn’t missed a cup race at Bristol since the spring race of 1990 until last year. I quit going because of Junior’s misfortunes and because I don’t like his image with the Hendrick crew. He doesn’t belong with them. I feel that he should be driving for Earnhardt Ganassi or RCR. Racing just isn’t the same and I’m afraid that it never will be again.

  27. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    August 20th, 2010 at 3:49 am

    I fear that NASCAR’s Dropoff is based off the fact that Jr. Fans think they are NASCAR, but, the truth is far from that. One race my Daddy and I attended, there was twice the Smoke Shirts than Jr. . Honestly, Smoke wanted to be AJ Foyt a world more than Dale Earnhardt.
    I know this is not the 1990s when Bill Elliott could get away with not winning over his earlier fans, but this is different. I fear the Scene, AKA, Indy Car, taking over NASCAR because of better racing with half a tour, and I feel that Kentucky solved half the puzzle in the South and I wish it was sooner, but, I feel the other half would be go to build a New Nashville Speedway akin to the Old Fairgrounds and my Honest to Kanye Wish to NASCAR was have The Night Race Week be Labor Day Week instead of Atlanta, where the Players Play like their name was Ludacris.

  28. mikeyfan5599 Says:
    August 20th, 2010 at 6:20 am

    Families cannot afford to spend $400 to $1,000 a weekend anymore, that is a major reason the attendence is down. As for Junior fans, well a lot of those fans were people who jumped on the NASCAR bandwagon because of the death of Dale Senior and their attention span has run it’s course and it’s time to move to a new venture. As for those who say they are die hard fans of NASCAR and Junior, but don’t go to races anymore because Junior is running well, Well I questions their love for the sport. Heck, I was/am a fan of Michael Waltrip, My only hope for a win was a plate track but guess what I still enjoy going to races and watching the MWR cars battle today. I ask these so called fans, when your favorite baseball or football player retires do you quit going to or watching those sports? If not then take a long look at yourself and ask why it is so important for Junior to win. Be thankful he isn’t a go or go homer and is the race each week. Because hey even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while and who knows maybe Junior will find victory lane again…….Naw, unless he receives a helping hand from NASCAR that won’t happen. :)