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Will the Sprint Cup tour finale provide long awaited new momentum for NASCAR?

   Joe Gibbs: another championship looming? And what's his take on NASCAR's weak TV ratings? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Three of NASCAR's Big Four team owners – Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick – are all sweating out the final hours of the NASCAR season, each with a shot at the championship, in one of the best title runs in years.
   The stock car tour this 'Boys, have at it' year has been filled with more action, on and off the track, than in a long time.
   Yet Sunday's Ford 400 looms as much a question as the first nine races of this 10-race championship chase: TV ratings have been down every week, and in significant numbers, and it's unclear why. 
   Has NASCAR peaked, after a glorious run over much of the last 15 years?

   One question: What do the demographics show? Where has this sport lost fans? In what parts of the country? Is it down across the board, or are there some areas where the drop is more than in others.
   Pin-pointing all that might provide a clue as to the problems and possible solutions.
   And the numbers are out there somewhere, though none of the sport's officials has been willing yet to put demographics up for debate, which is curious.
   For example, how is NASCAR doing in the Southern California market?
   How is NASCAR doing in the Northeast, in the Boston market, and the New York City market?
   How is NASCAR doing in urban America? How is NASCAR doing in suburban America? How is NASCAR doing in rural America?
   How is NASCAR doing in the Midwest, now that Kansas City and Dallas-Fort Worth and Iowa and Chicago are part of the equation?
   Perhaps the most crucial question -- How is NASCAR doing in the Southeast, its heartland? Is this sport still holding its own in the part of the nation where it was born?
   Isn't it time for someone with all the numbers to answer those questions to step up and show us?

   Richard Childress: best shot at a seventh NASCAR Cup championship in years (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And what do Childress, Gibbs and Hendrick think about all this?
   Childress, who comes here looking for his first championship since 1994, is upbeat: "I don't think Rome is burning in NASCAR. I think we still have a great sport.
    "We have great fans.
     "I think the economy has touched every sport at some point. I think that we will come back and be as strong as we ever were.
     "The fans, they're going to get their NASCAR fix, and I just think it'll be back.
    "Rome isn't burning in our series."
    Gibbs points to some strong sponsorship support: "We've had two of our biggest sponsors re-up in this period. I think it shows that for them it works.
   "I think we have our best years still in front of us."
    Gibbs points to expansion potential in the Northwest, in the Seattle area.
    And Gibbs says NASCAR executives haven't been sitting on their hands: "NASCAR has done one of the best jobs I've seen in the 19 years I've been involved of really saying and getting involved with our race teams and with what the fans want.
   "They've made strategic changes which has helped our sport, helped our racing."
   And Gibbs says NASCAR isn't alone in its struggles. "Hey, this has hurt most other sports. I've got friends in the NFL...."
   Gibbs points to the economy as hitting NASCAR particularly hard: "If you think about our fan base, most of them travel an average of 200 miles to go to a race, they stay two and three days.
    "That puts a real bind on the economy for us.
   "But I think we're going to come rolling back out of this."

   Homestead-Miami Speedway, right at the edge of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Hendrick says he agrees with Gibbs and Childress. And he says "it's the best racing I've seen since I've been in the sport.
    "When I first started, you didn't have to beat but two or three cars to win a championship. Now you've got 15 teams capable of winning it.
    "I think our season is long, but the racing is the best I've ever seen.
    "But when you turn on TV, you might watch the World Series, football, they're cranking up college basketball. It's so much for people to see...
    "So I can't explain the ratings.
    "But the stands...Phoenix looked full. (NASCAR announced a crowd of 70,000 for last Sunday's race)."
    However Hendrick himself has been out on the front lines of the economic struggle, with long-time sponsor DuPont cutting back significantly in its backing of four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
    "It was awful quiet (on the sponsorship front), with the economy being soft, from new sponsors and sponsors wanting to re-up, or even new people coming in," Hendrick said. "But that activity has gotten a lot stronger.
    "The economy is not fixed yet. But I can definitely feel a difference.
    "I think NASCAR has done everything they could do. We're a victim, just like everybody else, of the economy.
    "But I feel very good.
    "At the end of '08, when the world looked like it was going to come to an end for everybody -- banks, companies, the whole U.S. and worldwide economy....
     "I feel much better (now). And we're seeing a lot more activity.
      "I think we're on a tremendous upswing.
     "And I think this chase is proof-positive that NASCAR came up with the best formula for the fans and to make it competitive."
     So if Sunday's championship doesn't produce some punch, what to make of it?
     Here are the numbers to consider: the 2008 finale here drew 6.6 million TV viewers, with a 4.0 rating on ABC; and the 2009 finale drew 5.6 million viewers, with a 3.5 rating on ABC.


      Rick Hendrick: A fifth straight championship? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Yeah,keep fiddling while Rome

Yeah,keep fiddling while Rome burns. Like the owners that stand to lose the most are gonna go against the grain. Until new blood gets in the top reaches of ownership and Nascar management (which wont happen) then these dufus's will continue to see a decline. Have fun beating your head against the wall Nascar because that seems to be about the only thing left you know how to do well.

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