From most accounts, the start of NASCAR’s 2014 season has been a success.
I say most because there appears to be one lagging factor – TV ratings.
Crowds for the season’s first three Sprint Cup series races – at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas – have been solid. No sellouts but pretty close in each case.
In particular, the crowds for Friday’s knockout qualifying and the Saturday Nationwide race at Las Vegas last weekend were significantly up over last season. The qualifying crowd alone was perhaps the biggest seen in the sport in years.
The new knockout qualifying – despite some tweaks having to be made to the format – seems to be well-accepted by fans, participants and the media.
The role the new Chase format has played in the three races also seems to have generated additional excitement.
Yet TV ratings have been down (although the final rating for Las Vegas was not available as of Wednesday night).
A 6 1/2-hour rain delay for the Daytona 500 did nothing to help its cause, even though it ended up moving into an evening timeslot. The race historically is the most-watched of the season – significantly higher than any other during the season.
The fact the biggest race began as a wash certainly put a damper on the beginning of the season. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in the 500 was expected to provide a bump when the series moved to Phoenix, and that did not happen.
There is no need for serious concern this early. I would be far more concerned with ratings if this discussion was going on during mid-May.
TV ratings remain an important tool for advertisers, even with a larger share of the public using digital devices to follow sports, so they cannot be ignored.
No one need hit the panic button just yet.
NASCAR penalizes three Nationwide teams: Three Nationwide Series teams were penalized Wednesday for rules violations stemming from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas.
Chris Gayle, crew chief for the No. 11 Toyota driven by Elliott Sadler, was fined $10,000 and he and car chief Todd Brewer were placed on probation until Dec. 31 for weight attached in an unapproved location.
Greg Ives, crew chief of the No. 9 Chevrolet driven by Chase Elliott, was placed on probation until Dec. 31 after the front of the car was found to be too low. Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for race winner Brad Keselowski, was fined $5,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31 for a shock absorber that exceeded maximum pressure.
Drivers added to Showdown event: NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan will join host Denny Hamlin in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown on April 24 at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. Defending champion Busch is the only three-time winner of the Showdown.
Elliott Sadler, Hermie Sadler, Timothy Peters, Jeb Burton and Drew Herring also are scheduled to race the 200-lap event, along with many of the top Late Model racers in the region.
Advance tickets are available at South Boston ticket office and by calling 877-440-1540.
Black Jr. gets six Truck races: Late Model standout Ray Black Jr. has joined SS Green Light Racing and will run at least six NASCAR Truck Series races this season, beginning with the March 29 event at Martinsville, Va.
Black will continue to run his super late model team through 2014.
Conley set for debut: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standout Cale Conley will make his Nationwide Series debut Saturday at Bristol. Conley will drive the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Blaney’s back: Ryan Blaney will return to the No. 22 Team Penske Ford for the Nationwide series event this weekend, his first time in the car since winning at Kentucky last season. He has never finished outside of the top 10 at Bristol in any series.