Will NASCAR Theatrics Bring Back Viewers?
by Amy Lignor
For any of the millions who once watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports and heard the words “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” they remember the footage of a skier’s crash when it came to the “agony” side of things. Everyone knew that sight was a fact – a video that was absolutely real. Nowadays, however, it seems that more and more sports are “making up” shots that appear on TV just for the purpose of gaining fans and increasing television ratings. Many sports have been accused of this over time, but as of late it is the world of NASCAR that has been brought up in headlines and conversations about what’s real and what’s actually a set-up.
We’re not talking about those horrible accidents that sometimes harm beloved drivers that fans have been routing for all their lives. Those are most definitely real and a true “agony” for everyone involved. We are talking about what many believe was a ‘staged scenario’ that occurred between NASCAR drivers Joey Logano and Kyle Busch that occurred following the Monster Energy Cup Series race, the Kobalt 400, held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 12th. NASCAR states that it will not penalize the drivers for this little bout. Everyone agrees, but some are left wondering if perhaps there was a reason to actually start a ‘battle’ between two drivers.
The race was more than exciting with Martin Truex Jr. passing the faltering car of Brad Keselowski on the white-flag lap. Truex then went on to sweep all three stages of the race. However, the excitement of Truex’s pass and eventual win was overshadowed more than a little bit when Joey Logano’s Ford slid up into Kyle Busch’s Toyota as they battled for third position. Spinning into the inside wall on the pit road, Busch ended up crossing the finish line to claim 22nd place while Logano managed fourth.
Viewers and fans watched as Busch headed up the pit road afterwards where he confronted Logano and threw a punch at Joey’s head. It was Logano’s crew that stepped in and took Busch down to the pavement in order to prevent the fight from escalating, which is where Kyle attained the bloody, bruised forehead that he came out with.
It is a fact that NASCAR grew into a national brand back in the 1970’s with massive mainstream appeal because of the drivers. Fans loved the big names and even bigger battles on the track. But over time, it was as if NASCAR became more corporate (like the NFL) and began to ‘tone down’ their more colorful drivers. It seemed that more and more drivers grew scared that they would fall out of favor with their national sponsors, which caused them to fall out of favor with their fans instead because fans grew, well…bored.
‘Stale’ was an adjective used a great deal when it came to NASCAR. Even having Monster Energy become the sponsor of the whole thing was a path NASCAR used to become cooler and bring back fans. No matter how you look at it, however, the one thing that wrestling proved was that fans come back and stay when the ‘agony of defeat’, the colorful ‘characters’, and the theatrical ‘brawls’ – whether real or set-up – are a part of the sport. So…would it be off the mark for NASCAR to do the same thing? Most say, no. NASCAR needs a little fire and building a driver duel would have more people tuning in to all the NASCAR races this year. This won’t be like hockey, of course; boxing on the ice is actually a part of the sport of hockey that’s been around a good, long time. But a few mean comments back and forth and a fight or two after the race is done would bring in more viewers to NASCAR who just want to see what the ‘aftermath’ of the race will be.
With NASCAR coming out and talking about the high emotion of the drivers that will ‘get the best of all of us at some point or another.’ Not to mention Busch stating that he was angered by what he thought was Logano’s over-aggressiveness, and Logano’s crew looking like mobsters protecting their squeaky-clean driver who stated he ‘did nothing wrong,’ sets the perfect scene.
People who do not normally watch NASCAR, or those who turned away a while ago because it had become far too calm for them to get excited about it anymore, will now have something to sink their teeth into. Frankly, if the fight was real, it will bring new viewers who want to see what will happen next. If it was a set-up, the same thing will happen. Why? Because people still want to see the ‘agony of defeat.’