The Bristol Night Race used to have a waiting list when it came to ticket sales. Now it’s the least watched race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
I understand that there are those in NASCAR who criticize others who are seemingly “always negative” when it comes to the trajectory of the sport, and to some extent, they have a point. If it’s really doing as terribly as the naysayers like to suggest, why even bother watching?
But at the same time, I’m a realist, and the NASCAR Cup Series just had its leased viewed season ever. Sure, it’s still the most popular form of motorsport in the United States, but you would think that it too would be seeing a steady fanbase increase as more and more fans are drawn to auto racing as a whole.
For example, Formula 1 is still setting viewership records in 2023, even though Max Verstappen has won 17 of 20 races and is literally a shoo-in to win every weekend unless something bizarre happens, and IndyCar just had its most watched season since 2011, even with a paid streaming service exclusive on its calendar.
So again, with a sizable advantage over these two major series, it’s not all doom and gloom for NASCAR.
But the Cup Series averaged 2.86 million viewers per points race across Fox, Fox Sports 1, NBC, and USA Network, a 5% drop from the 2022 season. That’s a pretty massive dip, all things considered.
On average, one out of every 20 individuals who watched the Cup Series in 2022 did not do so in 2023. For the championship race, that ratio increased to an alarming one out of every 11.
Those aren’t complaints; those are facts.
What comes as an even bigger surprise is the fact that, excluding the races which were postponed by a day due to weather, the least watched event on the schedule was the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Bristol Night Race used to be the toughest ticket in NASCAR, and now fans don’t even want to watch it on television. Even including the four Monday races which were postponed, the Bristol Night Race only outdrew two of them.
It is interesting to note that the Sunday night races during the summer at Nashville Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, despite having their schedules altered in a minor way due to weather, both drew well. The former was up 10% year-over-year, and the latter saw one of the smallest year-over-year decreases of the season at just 3%.
So it’s not as if NASCAR Cup Series night races are dead — or at least they don’t need to be.
Having a Saturday night race (Bristol) during college football season probably isn’t the best idea, and despite the Bristol Night Race’s status as an iconic event, it hasn’t always been scheduled this way.
And guess what? That isn’t changing next year, which, once again, probably isn’t the best decision.
What right decisions does NASCAR need to make to get back on the right track? The list is endless, but it seems like the problem is figuring out where to start.