The Final Word – NASCAR is back, but how many of the fans have also returned?

The return of NASCAR for 2016 was a smashing success. I mean, if smashing cars was the intent, they could not have done better. By the time the Sprint Unlimited, which is actually limited to 25 drivers, came to a conclusion, someone had tallied up that an estimated $2.5-million in damages had been racked up.

Was it worth watching? I think so. So does Denny Hamlin who, despite some early right side damage, came through to take the checkered flag. What I love about NASCAR are the close calls; the drivers who can demonstrate why they are in those cars and I am not. Any damn idiot can wreck a car, which is why the smart folks ensure the idiots are left typing up columns such as this and leave the professionals to do what they do best. Sure, there was some carnage out there, but I failed to see any idiots. I did see some folks taking chances, some who got bit when the rubber no longer wanted to meet the road, and one or two who made 200 mph mistakes.

Was I burning with excitement, did I feel an itch scratched as the three-month layoff came to an end? Not really. Something is missing, something more than just the disappearance of the backstretch seats I sat in when Kevin Harvick won the Daytona 500 in 2007. Back then, we sat in the southwest corner in a grandstand that was quite full for both the big race and the Saturday Busch event. In recent years, those numbers dwindled to the point the seats and the butts that once filled them are no longer to be seen. Attendance overall has fallen so far NASCAR is too embarrassed to even announce attendance figures for any event.

Do you remember those commercials from back in the day? While they started coming out in the late 1990s, most of us got to see them and the races on a regular basis from 2001 through to about 2011. They were funny, clever, and certainly aimed at NASCAR fans. Not so much these days. It seems even the sponsors no longer have it bad. I got me a nice black Goodwrench jacket hanging in my closet. I have not worn it in ages. My ole No. 3 ballcap and the National Guard edition have since been replaced by a L.A. Dodger chapeau. At one time my family would gather at each other’s homes for races, especially the big ones. Now, I am the only one who continues to follow the circuit. Why is that?

NASCAR has done some good things; more SAFER barriers, but the job is not yet done. The cars are safer and back to looking more like stock cars. At least that damned unsightly flat decked splitter is gone. Still, for every good thing we can come up with, a lot of fans, or former fans, can pick out a handful of examples of where things have gone wrong. Handing out franchises, or charters, makes business sense, but when all they do is select the 36 entries that attempted each of the last 108 races in order to make the determination who gets what, it comes across as amateur hour. In fact, an hour is about all it would have taken any of us to come up that idea.

The No. 98 of Premium Motorsports, and formerly owned by Phil Parsons Racing, failed to attempt five races the past three seasons and lost out. The team led by Kurt Busch did not exist in 2013 while Carl Edwards got into his new car last year. Despite their victories won in those rides, both needed more than a million dollars spent to buy a Charter from Michael Waltrip’s defunct operation. A team has to finish among the worst three Charters for three straight seasons to be in danger of losing it, and there is no provision to earn one through success. What in hell is up with that?

I am sure there are some who totally disagree with me. I envy those people, who still can hardly wait for the next Sunday afternoon, or Saturday night, who go into a funk on those rare off weekends wondering how they might fill the void. I still get excited when Daytona, Talladega, or Bristol are the feature tracks. I have learned to love watching the action from Fontana and Watkins Glen. I still look forward to each race, but it is nowhere like it was a few years ago. Sadly, as FOX Sports does not broadcast to the north country, the truck series for us has gone the way of the dodo. As for the XFINITY Series, when 23 races are claimed by Cup guys, obviously the regulars of the circuit must not be worth watching, so I do not.

In truth, it does not really matter if one schmuck from Canada is losing the spark. However, I get the feeling that I am not alone. I might not even be any longer in the minority. If that is true, then maybe it should start to really matter, at least to NASCAR.

How bad have you got it? I do not know where it went, but I sure would love to feel that way again.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Ron Thornton
Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.


  1. I agree with Both Robert and Ron. The point that I can say I lost the vast majority of my energy to watch these races was a couple of years ago, when NASCAR was poised to crown and champion who hadn’t won a single race all year and it was possible that he may not even had to win Homestead and still receive his crown. Sad.

  2. It’s painful to see the drop in interest in NASCAR, as to be honest, (and as one who saw Gordons’ first race) the racing has seemed quite good recently, now that the mind-numbing Johnson era seems to be over, so I find it hard to complain about that.

    I suspect all of NASCAR’s contrived efforts to “increase the excitement” is what’s responsible for a lot of it, along with the public’s perception of big money ruling the game. Letting the season’s point winner have the championship always seemed reasonable to most fans, but now NASCAR has turned it into a needlessly contrived circus.


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