A few short years ago, Nascar Sprint Cup racing was breaking records for both attendance and television viewership. Races were sold out months in advance. Tracks were building new seats and luxury boxes. There was even talk of the sport over taking the NFL as the most popular sport in the United States. Sponsors lined up to get their company’s name on just about any car it seemed.
As fast as the sport seemed to be growing, it’s momentum has stopped. Stopped as fast as one of their Sprint Cup cars hitting the wall at Daytona. Namely the number 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt sr. At the time of his unfortunate death, Dale sr., was the face of Nascar. Love him or hate him you went to a race or watched on television to see him do whatever it took to win. He filled the stands and sold incredible amounts of merchandise.
Dale sr.’s loss wasn’t felt right away. His fans pinned their hopes on one of two drivers, Kevin Harvick, the man hand picked by Richard Childress to take over for Dale sr. and his son Dale jr. A majority of the fans still came to the races. First to salute their fallen hero by holding up three fingers on lap number three of every race. They then turned their attention to Dale jr. He not only had the Earnhardt name, but he seemed to inherit his father’s talent for dominating at both Daytona and Talledega. The black and white Goodwrench shirts many fans wore to the races were slowly becoming red and white Budweiser shirts.
The big problem with all this, especially for Nascar, was Dale jr. didn’t seem to inherit his father’s win at all costs attitude. He is still a favorite to win whenever he straps into a car at Daytona or Talladega. Those tracks are only on the schedule twice a year each. Dale jr. seems to struggle just about anywhere else the series goes. It cannot be coincidence that the most popular events with fans are those at Daytona and Talledega while the other tracks struggle to fill seats.
Dale Earnhardt jr. remains Nascar’s most popular driver despite not winning a race or qualifying for The Chase. The hard economics of it is going to the races is expensive. Many familes would make attending a Sprint Cup race their yearly vacation. That vacation is just not fun when the man you want to cheer for is running at the back of the pack all day. Families who are fans spend their vacation money elsewhere. Sprint Cup races are also long, many times four or more hours. By the time race day comes most Dale jr. fans already know he has not qualified well and is struggling. They must make the choice of committing four hours to watching a race where they know he has no chance of winning or doing something productive.
The fans are out there and most still have the same money to spend and the same free time on race day to watch on television. They need a reason to watch. They need Dale jr. to start qualifying better. They need him to run up front more often. They would love for him to push some cars around like his dad. Most importantly they need him to start winning. No one, however, needs him to start winning more than Nascar. When Dale jr. wins they will come.