NASCAR caps 2021 for future growth

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NASCAR will close its season this week with a three-day celebration in Nashville that will culminate in the crowning of three new National Series champions to Kyle Larson, Daniel Hemric and Ben Rhodes.

NASCAR will be doing burnouts on Lower Broadway, near the popular honkytonks Doc Holliday’s Saloon and Bootleggers Inn. Its 2022 cars will be on display at Riverfront Park and drivers will participate in question-and-answer sessions ahead of Thursday night’s finals at Music City Center.

Next, attention turns to the pivotal season ahead.

Among the problems NASCAR is facing is its Next Gen car, which is set to debut in February after a year of delay during the pandemic. The series also wants to continue to polish its sprawling 38-week schedule, which now includes more short tracks, more road runs and a gravel race – but places the season finale at Phoenix Raceway for a third consecutive season. next despite calls to spin the championship event.

NASCAR understands that it needs to improve its on-track experience for fans and recognizes the urgent need to introduce its competition and generate interest in its current generation of drivers, which has generally lacked spice since Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick have retired.

The answer could be a behind-the-scenes docusery and cameras could potentially be in Nashville this week collecting footage.

Many racing series have pursued the idea of ​​docuseries since Formula 1 and Netflix partnered with the “Drive To Survive” program that helped the sport explode in popularity in the United States. NASCAR president Steve Phelps was hoping earlier this month that talks with NBC Entertainment could lead to a show that chronicles the 2022 season starting as early as the February show run in Los Angeles.

“I think in fact if we can manage to sign a few contracts in the next few weeks, they will start production in December,” said Phelps. “They’ll be at LA Coliseum. There’s a decent possibility that they won’t just see us as a segmented time frame like they were going to do in the playoffs, but they will potentially extend it to the entire season. We are encouraged. . “

NASCAR needs its fans to care about its drivers, and it needs its superstars to be accessible to those who invest – both emotionally and financially – in the sport. Although NASCAR was one of the first sports to return to competition during the pandemic and the first sport to end its entire 2020 season, its events have been anything but normal.

To reach the finish line a year ago, NASCAR cut all qualifying and practice sessions and the three-day weekend events became one-day shows in front of fewer fans. The drivers mostly went straight from their motorhome to the race car with little engagement with their own race teams, let alone spectators.

Policies have fluctuated based on virus positivity numbers – and Phelps himself has admitted that the vaccination rate in the garage is “not high enough … to me there is a responsibility that individuals have. towards others ”- but a certain normalcy had returned by the last two races of the season. Martinsville had one of its biggest crowds in years and Phoenix saw the return of practice, qualifying and spectators roam free in the Arizona garage earlier this month.

Phelps wants the same level of Phoenix energy at all NASCAR races and the series is hoping to make sure fans get their money’s worth.

“We have to make sure that the marketing and promotion is as strong as possible. We have to make sure we’re driving scenarios, ”Phelps said. “We have to make sure the event experience is better than it has ever been. Are we happy with where it is? Were not.”

Restrictions will still be in place this week in Nashville, the second year NASCAR has chosen The Music City for its awards show. The weeklong event in 2019 was very popular, and drivers could be spotted up and down Lower Broadway at many popular downtown bars.

The awards ceremony was canceled last year. His return to Nashville promises plenty of opportunities to see the Next Gen car but few organized opportunities to get close to the drivers. Public tickets were not sold for Thursday night’s coronation of Larson as Cup Series champion, Hemric as Xfinity champion and Rhodes as truck winner.

But as NASCAR opens the 2022 season, a week before the NFL Super Bowl in February at the Coliseum for the Busch Clash exhibit, Phelps expects enthusiasm for the new season to soar.

He believes NASCAR will draw “an incredible crowd at the Coliseum” and over 40% of the stands will watch their first Cup race. NASCAR has shown in 2021 it will make bold changes to the schedule – Phelps has called this season “the most aggressive schedule we’ve had in 50 years” – and his plans to continue growing extended to Los Angeles the next day. of Larson’s victory to his first Cup title. so he can promote the Busch Clash.

Larson is the first NASCAR champion of Asian descent, and the Cup Series now includes Mexican driver Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace, the only full-time black driver at the national level. Larson, Suarez, and Wallace are all graduates of NASCAR’s diversity program, and Phelps said the show’s leadership will continue to reach out to new fans.

“We will be expanding the fan base. We do this by meeting people where they are, whether it’s physically on a racetrack or through other means. There is such a great opportunity for us, ”said Phelps. “Going to LA Coliseum to kick off our debut with our Next Gen car is proof, frankly, that we’re going to be bold in what we do. it’s the schedule or the car … we’re going to take calculated risks.

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