Monday, March 21, 2011

Is NASCAR 'back' or not?

   If Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway provides any lessons learned I hope it's this: Three races does not a spectacular season make.

   Nor do three good races mean the sport has "turned the corner."

   And it certainly doesn't mean "NASCAR is backkkkk" as some fellow media colleagues so willfully crowed when ratings went up and great crowds were on hand in the season's first three races.

   Bristol, folks, was a dose of reality. In 14 years of covering NASCAR - two races a season - there were never fewer people in the stands for a Cup race than there were on Sunday. And this is no exaggeration: Some races I have covered in what was then known as the Busch Series drew better than Sunday's crowd.

   On top of that, overnight TV ratings were off nine percent. That percentage will likely grow when the final rating is released later this week.

   I understand those who make a living from this sport greatly desiring that it has turned a corner. And along with that their hope the sponsor money faucet will open up. And the race fields will be filled with cars that intend to run the entire race.

   But wishing it so does not make it so.

   Three races does not a comeback make in a 36-race season. Nor would three subpar races be reason to put the sport on its deathbed. However, anyone who thinks there isn't a serious problem still out there when one of the sport's most iconic venues is slightly more than half full, has the blinders glued shut.

   Undoubtedly, these comments will be labeled "negative" and I'll be criticized for wishing ill on NASCAR. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good or bad, exciting or dull, I just want - as Carl Edwards said at Las Vegas - for NASCAR to be NASCAR.

   Whatever NASCAR is this week, today, is how it should be reported - good, bad or indifferent.

   Because in the end, it will take all the 'negative' people and all the 'positive' people to fix what's wrong here. Neither group showed up much at Bristol on Sunday and apparently found something else to watch on TV.