By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Exit experiment at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a relatively successful debut of the Next Gen car have NASCAR optimistic brass about the rest of 2022 and beyond.
NASCAR entered 2022 with hope but many unknowns, beginning with the Clash exhibit at a temporary track built inside the iconic Los Angeles stadium. The car, with bits and pieces now primarily provided by suppliers rather than team-built, needed several significant adjustments (air ducts in the windshields, increased power on many tracks) before it was accepted by drivers as race-ready.
But with 16 points races and two showings on the season, NASCAR executives can smile. With the FOX/FS1 portion of the Cup season complete (FOX/FS1 has the first 18 events and NBC/USA has the final 20), viewership is up 6% from last season, averaging 3.696 million of spectators watching during a race.
Although NASCAR tracks are no longer owned by public companies and therefore do not publish audited financial results, “sight test” and traffic on race days indicated higher attendance at several tracks than on race days. years prior to COVID-19.
NASCAR’s Ben Kennedy talks about the future of the sport
NASCAR Senior Vice President Ben Kennedy discusses the future of the sport and announces that the Clash will return to the LA Memorial Coliseum in 2023.
Of course, there are still some issues: wheels are coming off cars at an alarming rate, NASCAR’s safety and race control operations have been called into question (as they often are), and NASCAR continues to grapple with its place when it comes to of social problems. .
“[The] Next generation car… I couldn’t have dreamed it would be as good as it has,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said June 9 at a news conference celebrating NASCAR’s diversity efforts in San Francisco. “The race has been simply extraordinary. .
“It’s been a ride. Our ratings are up. Our attendance is up. We’ve got a whole new group of racing fans coming to the racetrack, watching TV, engaging on digital and social media. It’s working.”
NASCAR thinks it’s attracting new fans because of more than just the new car. It has new owners, including basketball great Michael Jordan and world-famous musician Pitbull.
Jordan’s team also has Bubba Wallace, the only full-time black driver in the Cup Series, behind the wheel. While Wallace’s social justice advocacy has polarized some NASCAR fans, he has played a critical role in creating a welcoming environment in the sport.
Also noteworthy is that with his win earlier this month at Sonoma, Daniel Suarez became the first Mexican driver to win a Cup race.
Fast Thoughts: Historic day for Daniel Suarez and NASCAR
Bob Pockrass discusses a historic Cup Series win for Daniel Suarez at Sonoma Raceway.
In addition to the overall rise in ratings, NASCAR has seen growth among the black and Hispanic demographics in each of the past four years and expects fandom to be at its highest point since at least 2015, NASCAR senior vice president of broadcasting said. NASCARBrian Herbst.
“We were up in 2020 over 2019, again in 2021, again in 2022,” Herbst told FOX Sports in an interview last week.
And NASCAR continues to go to new places. The LA Coliseum and Gateway (near St. Louis) were new to the Cup schedule this year, and the Cup Series is in its second year going to Nashville Superspeedway, Circuit of the Americas in Austin and Road America in Wisconsin. .
Additionally, this year marked the second time Cup drivers had competed on dirt laid on Bristol’s concrete surface. This time, however, it was produced as a prime-time event on Easter Sunday, a controversial move to compete on a bank holiday weekend, but one that garnered higher television ratings.
NASCAR is likely to finalize its 2023 schedule in August. But he has already announced that The Clash will return to the LA Coliseum on February 5, with the Daytona 500 two weeks later on February 19, and the championship race scheduled to return to Phoenix on November 5.
“As we think about 2023 and beyond, ideally we’d like to have another great venue, another new venue on the schedule in 2023,” NASCAR Senior Vice President Ben Kennedy, who handles scheduling, said in an interview on NASCAR RaceDay. before the Sonoma race. “And what that looks like, whether it’s a road course, a street circuit or a short track, I’m not exactly sure.
“But hopefully in the next month or two, we’ll be able to share a little bit more. And then continue the evolution in 2024 and beyond. We’re already starting to think five to 10 years from now, where do we want the timeline to be? And then how do we build a roadmap to get there?
NASCAR has looked to Chicago and the Meadowlands for possible temporary street circuits. New Orleans has also been mentioned as a possibility.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps on the 2023 schedule
At a news event in San Francisco, NASCAR president Steve Phelps said the plan is to stay bold with the 2023 schedule, which he hopes will be released in August.
The big question is whether a street circuit would replace one of the road courses.
“We’re getting to a point where we can have some saturation on the court side,” Phelps told FOX Sports after the news conference in San Francisco. “We will continue to listen to the fans and see what the fans are interested in seeing.
“They told us they wanted more road courses and short tracks. The short track thing has been tough. We were able to do the road course part really well. It’s a good combination for us at the moment.”
Phelps also addressed several topics that have come up in NASCAR over the past month:
— It took about seven minutes to get Chris Buescher’s overturned car back on track at Charlotte, which Buescher team co-owner Brad Keselowski thought was too long. Buescher said he understood it was the first time the NASCAR safety team had to back a Next Gen car on four wheels and thought he did a good job, though he wishes he could have done it faster.
“What happened to the Buescher situation, which [safety response] The group did exactly what they were trained to do,” Phelps said. “There are other steps we could have taken if Chris had been injured that we would have done differently.
“We understand that it’s uncomfortable for a driver to be upside down. We understand that it’s not ideal, but it’s the safest way to get the driver out, and the group did it without issue.”
— NASCAR has chosen not to intervene in the Denny Hamlin-Ross Chastain feud and has so far treated any retaliation as self-restraint.
“We’ve talked about self-control,” Phelps said. “Drivers police themselves… As long as that car isn’t being used as a weapon, we’ll check it out, and if we thought it crossed the line, we would have.” [more].”
— NASCAR recently posted a Pride Month tweet saying, “We recognize that recent actions have not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.”
Phelps did not go into detail, but he reiterated the message.
“In general, we as a sport have not been as welcoming and inclusive of the LBGTQ community, and we want to be,” he said. “…This is another important group that we want to reach.
“We want our sport to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible. And that’s what our existing fans, mostly, not all of them, want.” [do is] sharing your sport with others, whether it’s someone’s sexual orientation or the color of their skin or whatever, is irrelevant. It’s a love of racing that they want to celebrate with each other.”
Steve Phelps on diversity in NASCAR
Part of NASCAR’s press event in San Francisco was to promote its diversity and inclusion policies.
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Thinking out loud
Last weekend was the bye weekend on the NASCAR Cup Series regular season schedule. Traditionally, NASCAR has had two off weekends, and that increased to three some years, when NBC didn’t want conflict with the Olympics.
Few will feel sorry for the teams and drivers; They work in professional sports. And the bigger teams have scheduled extra weekends off for mechanics and engineers to avoid burnout. Still, due to the shortage of parts for next-generation cars, those who work in the shops have been working long hours to keep up, as they must often remove parts and parts from cars that have recently raced and put them into cars for a race in the next week or two.
Based on what we know about next year’s schedule, in terms of the announced dates for the Daytona 500 and the season finale in Phoenix, it looks like there will only be one off weekend in 2023. That’s tough on competitors and your families.
It can be frustrating for those who work in sports to not get more breaks. The key will be for teams to control their personnel and adjust, especially teams that know they’re going to be in the postseason and need all the energy for that 10-run playoff streak.
Statistics of the day
Daniel Suarez was the second Cup driver to earn his first career Cup win at Sonoma Raceway. The other? Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007.
they said it
“We keep screwing every week.” — Kevin Harvik after a slow pit stop proved costly at Sonoma
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after working at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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