It makes no difference to a majority of NASCAR fans if a Cup race is telecast on Fox or its partner, Fox Sports 1, because most cable subscribers can get both. But what if a stock-car fan does not have cable? Well, if a race is on Fox Sports 1, he or she is plum out of luck.
After this piece appeared about fans deserting NASCAR, I heard from a few NASCAR fans whoâ€™d like to watch more races, but they donâ€™t have access to cable or, as one senior said, canâ€™t afford it. So they catch races broadcast by Fox, or NBC later in the year.
â€śGreed took over,â€ť a woman named Kat tweeted me. â€śAs seniors, we cannot afford cable or pay-per-view. So we wait for NASCAR once in a while to come on regular TV.â€ť
Well, this weekend, Kat and her hubby are in for a treat. Fox will broadcast Sundayâ€™s 400-mile Cup race from Michigan, not Fox Sports 1, which carried the race on cable last year. And if enough people tune in, NASCAR can celebrate the end of a long and dismal losing streak.
Each of NASCARâ€™s 14 Cup races so far this season has drawn lower ratings and viewers this season than the same races last season. And the numbers have not just gone down: Ratings and viewership have declined by double-digit percentages in all 14 races.
The race last weekend in Long Pond, Pa., won by Martin Truex Jr., drew a 1.6 rating and 2.67 million viewers, a 27% drop in ratings and a 25% drop in viewership from the same race on Fox Sports 1 a year ago. It was the lowest rating for a June Pocono race since 2000, and the lowest viewership for a June Pocono race since 2001.
Six of those 14 races this year have drawn all-time low ratings, and three of 14 have drawn all-time low viewership. There are many reasons, but fans have made it quite clear that they donâ€™t like what seem like batches of commercials interrupted by little stretches of racing. Stage racing, with its forced caution periods, only have seemed to fans to stretch out a long day.
The April race from Texas Motor Speedway was off a stunning 37% in ratings and 38% in viewership from a year ago, according to Sports Media Watch, but, to be fair, the 2018 race was aired on Fox Sports 1, which fewer viewers are able to get, and the 2017 race was on Fox.
But the setup has been flip-flopped at Michigan. Last year, Fox Sports 1 had a 1.9 overnight rating for the June race at Michigan, down only a bit from the 2.07 rating on Fox Sports 1 in 2016. But this yearâ€™s race is on broadcast TV. We are not talking about a high bar here, and it is a little apples-and-oranges, the opposite of Texas, but fair is fair.
With the exception of a Saturday night race at Richmond — which was well-attended — the races carried on Fox this year have drawn at least a 2.3 rating and 4 million viewers. None of the races carried on Fox Sports 1 have drawn more than a 1.7 rating and 2.8 million viewers.
So it is looking good for NASCAR on Sunday. Rain is likely on Saturday at the race track, but Sundayâ€™s forecast is promising. Chase Elliott, the 22-year-old son of the former champ Bill Elliott, has a good chance to win his first Cup race and snap a 91-race winless streak.
Chase Elliott, from Dawsonville, Ga., can also provide NASCAR with a spark. Through 14 of 36 races, four drivers over 30 have won all but two races. All four drivers (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer) hail from outside NASCARâ€™s Southern cradle.
Before this season, Elliott swapped his No. 24, made famous by Gordon, to the No. 9, which was his dadâ€™s number. Elliott is hardly poking around at the back of the pack, but he has not won, and neither have all the Young Guns, except Austin Dillon and Joey Logano.
But Sunday could be a day to change all that. NASCAR fans are not asking for a lot: Theyâ€™d like a close, hard, clean race with lots of passing (and not wrecks, as outsiders may think), and many cars in contention. Michigan is a chance for a veryÂ positive stock-car day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins the TV fun on NBC next month.