NASCAR working to appeal to a younger crowd

Posted: May 30, 2014

IT IS NOT breaking news that NASCAR is trying to appeal to younger racing fans. Fans who grew up watching Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and other stars from their era are aging and attending fewer races than before.

Dover International Speedway and Pocono Raceway, the venues for the next two Sprint Cup races, are among the tracks that are focusing on providing "entertainment experiences" for fans. Young fans aren't content to just watch races. They want big screens and audio enhancements.

"First-time visitors have to have headset radios on," Denis McGlynn, CEO and president of Dover Motorsports, said yesterday. "When they hear a race being described they have a chance to be hooked. Sprint is working on delivering race data to give fans the ability to text and tweet [during races].

"Sixteen percent of our [ticket buyers] are first-time racegoers. [Recently] those purchasing our youth tickets were maybe 1.5 percent of our [attendance]. Now, it's over 6 percent."

McGlynn and other track promoters are aware it will take a few years to attract more younger fans. "It's a cycle: it's like turning a barge," McGlynn said.

Helping strengthen interest by younger fans is the success of a new generation of racers: 21-year-old Kyle Larson is 13th in Cup points; 24-year-old Austin Dillon is 15th. Chase Elliott, third in Nationwide series points, looks like a future star. The 18-year-old just graduated from high school.

Danica Patrick also is a factor in creating new fans.

"A lot of families are bringing their kids, especially daughters," McGlynn said.

While Patrick has yet to win a Cup race, she finished a career-best seventh at Kansas May 10. She qualified fourth for Sunday's 600-mile race at Charlotte before finishing 39th after the engine blew in her No. 10 Chevrolet.

"Her appeal transcends [her] winning a race," McGlynn said. "She communicates with customers. A lot of ticket buyers want to see Danica race."

McGlynn, one of the longest-tenured track executives in racing, said he thinks fans are taking to the quality of Cup racing this year.

"There have been tons of lead changes and everybody wants to win," he said. "The mile-and-a-halves need a little work. The leaders [on those tracks] get out front, in clean air, and they're gone. Everyone else is racing for second. But NASCAR is good at evolving and making things better."

Coke 600 is No. 1

Some good TV ratings news for NASCAR: Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 posted a 4.1/9 household rating/share and 7.0 million viewers on Fox, according to national figures released by Nielsen. It was the most-watched sports telecast of the weekend, surpassing such the Pacers-Heat NBA playoff game on ESPN (6.8 million) and the Indianapolis 500 on ABC (5.9 million).

NASCAR race ratings were off about 10 percent from last year before Charlotte.

Johnson a winnah!

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy team halted their early-season winless streak by prevailing in the Coca-Cola 600. This is not good news for Johnson's rivals. Once the six-time Cup champion finds the groove for winning, he usually parks in victory lane several more times each year.

Johnson now has 67 career Cup victories, second to only teammate Jeff Gordon (89) among active drivers. At Dover, Johnson has the most careers wins (eight) of any driver; he won last fall's race at the "Monster Mile."

"I guess we've created this environment for ourselves," Johnson said at Charlotte. "I honestly wasn't stressing. The fact that 12 races created that much buzz just means we've done a lot of great things over the years, so I'll turn it into a compliment.

"Of course, we want to win early and often. But we were holding steady in the championship points. In my opinion, I don't believe there will be 16 different winners. I felt like a strong championship points position would get us into the first phase of the Chase."

Ten drivers have won in the season's first 12 races; that's the most since 2003 when 11 drivers won in the first 12 races.

"More than anything, I just got tired of answering the question," Johnson said. "There wasn't a lot of frustration due to pressure of winning. There was frustration in not having fast race cars, but that's a different situation.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. I think we're on to some good things and have a good direction to go with our race cars."

That loud sound you hear is wailing from other quivering Cup teams in the garage area.

Agenda

FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks

Dover International Speedway, Dover, Del.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Fox 29/WNPV (1440-AM)

Course: 1-mile oval

Distance: 400 laps/400 miles

Forecast: mostly sunny, low 70s

Last year’s winner: Tony Stewart

Last year’s pole: Denny Hamlin, 157.978 mph

Track qualifying record: Dale Earnhardt Jr., 161.849 mph (September 2013)

Track facts: Tony Stewart led only the final three laps in winning last year’s race. Juan Pablo Montoya was second; Jeff Gordon was third. Kyle Busch led the most laps (150) and finished fourth. Jimmie Johnson paced 143 laps but finished 17th. Stewart is a three-time winner at Dover as is Ryan Newman (last W, 2004). Gordon has won four races at the track, but his last W was in 2001 ... Kevin Harvick, a two-time race winner this year, has climbed to 12th in points from 26th five races ago. Harvick has finished second in the last two races ... Dover’s race schedule starts with the Lucas Oil 200 Camping World Truck Series race tomorrow (5:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) and Saturday’s Buckle Up 200 Nationwide race (2:30 p.m., ESPN).

Wins: Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, 2 each; Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, 1 each.

Standings

1. Jeff Gordon 432

2. Matt Kenseth 421

3. Kyle Busch 408

4. Carl Edwards 408

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 394

6. Jimmie Johnson 388

7. Joey Logano 378

8. Brian Vickers 365

9. Brad Keselowski 361

10. Ryan Newman 361

11. Greg Biffle 351

12. Kevin Harvick 345

13. Kyle Larson 344

14. Denny Hamlin 340

15. Austin Dillon 334

Up next: Pocono 400, June 8, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa., 1 p.m.; TV: TNT; last year's winner: Jimmie Johnson.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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