In his season-ending state of the sport address at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR president Steve Phelps proclaimed NASCAR racing has been the “most stable sport on television since 2018.”
“No other sport; none can match what NASCAR has done from a stability standpoint with our ratings,” Phelps said. “If you consider our share numbers since 2019 in our Cup Series, it’s up 18 percent, which is hard to do at this point. It’s just hard. Then you look at our ratings for Xfinity and our Camping World Truck Series, they’re up double digits, and the share in both of those series are up 25 to 30 percent.
“We are having a moment as a sport. It’s important we keep it going, which is exactly what we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to invest, we’re going to continue to collaborate with the rest of the industry to continue the growth that this sport is on.”
Phelps also touted that NASCAR’s digital and social numbers are the highest they’ve been since 2015. But attendance has been a different story, and Phelps acknowledged the shortcomings in two recent playoff races at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
“I think we can all agree that Texas, it wasn’t our best foot forward for the year, which is unfortunate, but it happened,” Phelps said. “We’re going to work with Speedway Motorsports to determine what’s happening in that marketplace, then what can we do collectively that will help ticket sales in that marketplace. We’ve got a group that we’ve put together that includes Speedway Motorsports folks, it includes people at NASCAR, to address what I would suggest would be an unacceptable level of tickets sold in that marketplace.”
Texas can seat over 100,000, and being such a large facility “exacerbated” an issue that exists there with attendance, admitted Phelps.
As it pertains to Kansas, Phelps expected to see a bigger crowd than what showed up. Phelps stated that the tickets sold were over 80 percent capacity, but only 60 percent capacity came through the gates. Perhaps iffy weather was to blame, but either way, fans didn’t show up.
“You look at attendance, for our NASCAR tracks, we are up every single race versus 2019 with the exception of one race,” said Phelps. “That race went from one race to two races, which was Darlington. We aspire to be sold out everywhere. The fact that we are trending positively versus 2019, that’s a good thing.
“Are we satisfied with it? We’re not. But again, the number of races that across our Cup portfolio that were down, it may have been three. I don’t know the exact number. … We went through a great stretch in the summer where we had sold-out racetracks or racetracks that looked fantastic. That’s what we want to do.”
Emphasis on marketing and promotion will be critical in continuing to do that, said Phelps. Storylines around the sport will be another.
Then there is the on-track product, which Phelps expressed plenty of optimism for where NASCAR is headed and its product.
“I think the racing we have is absolutely terrific,” Phelps said. “If you do it from either an eye test or emotional test, or actually the data would suggest that we’ve had one of the best if not the best racing competition level in the history of the sport. You look at green-flag passes for the lead, and I think it’s the second (highest) since 2007. The most passing throughout the field that we’ve had ever.”
Pushed about the racing product and the complaints around the 550-horsepower package, Phelps doubled down on the fan feedback. Phelps cited the fan council data that shows a liking of the racing and a belief that it’s good.
“Is there a vocal minority that says that they don’t like a 550-horsepower package (and) they want to see 750 plus? Absolutely,” said Phelps. “Then I would go to back past the optics test, and I would go to the data. The data suggests we have better racing right now than we’ve had arguably ever.
“When you are at a 550 track, and you have a restart, it is wild, and these drivers are up on the wheel, and they’re making moves — it’s incredible. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. … I think they’re putting on some unbelievable racing. I know that seems convenient, but we’re not going to make every race fan happy; I wish we could. I really do. But one person likes another person doesn’t, so what we’re trying to do is look at the maximum number of people who are saying, I really like that, and give them more of what they’re getting.
“And I think we’ve responded, frankly, to what the fans have had to say. Fans said they wanted more road courses; we gave them more road courses. Fans say they want more short tracks, and I think people will bang that drum, and we’ll do our best to find short tracks that can host Cup races like what we may see in the future in southern California.”
The 550-horsepower package will stick around as the Cup Series competes with the Next Gen vehicle next season. The highest horsepower package with Next Gen will be 670-horsepower.
“The Next Gen Car is an important part of the future of where NASCAR is going to go,” said Phelps. “It really hits on a lot of different important things for this sport, whether you’re talking about relevance, you’re talking about styling, you’re talking about bringing this car to a place that, frankly, the existing car can’t bring us to. The technology in the car, the data that’s going to spin off that car, all designed to enhance the fan experience. That’s what I think is going to happen here.
“It will create some opportunities for race teams to be competitive for a long time. The racing itself is going to be one that is going to continue the momentum we’ve had from a racing standpoint and competition standpoint. Is it going to be exactly like it is today, significant number of passes for the lead throughout the field? I don’t know. But I do know that our race teams, our drivers, our OEMs, our own competition people, will make sure that this is going to be the best racing we’ve ever had in this race car.”