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NASCAR fans are very different from fans of all the stick-and-ball sports. That’s a fact. And here’s why: There’s no black-and-white, cut-and-dried rooting for one of two teams in any event. Instead, there are 36 options (teams) to choose from every Sunday or on the occasional Saturday.

To further complicate the equation, these individual teams are part of bigger teams, like Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing. With that established as our foundation, it’s understood that, on any given topic, there could be a wild variation of answers. 

That being said, veteran NASCAR reporter Jeff Gluck, for years, after every Cup Series race, has proposed a simple question to fans: “Was it a good race?” There are just two answers — yes or no. And the past two races have shown that NASCAR fans are fickle no matter what team they root for. 

NASCAR fans happy with race on Indianapolis Road Course

Michael McDowell is a likable guy. No one will deny that. If you have any question about it, go back and watch what happened immediately after the Front Row Motorsports driver won for the second time in his Cup Series career a few weeks ago on the Indianapolis Road Course. One driver after another congratulated him by pulling up next to his car and waving at him or nudging him on the cool-down lap. 

It was an underdog story. And everyone likes to root for the underdog.

However, removing any emotion from it, here are the facts:  

  • McDowell was dominant. He won Stage 1 and finished second in Stage 2. He led a race-high 54 of the 82 laps.
  • There was a single caution on Lap 2 when Joey Logano jumped the curb and sent Justin Haley into the grass and tire barrier.
  • There were 10 lead changes among seven drivers. 
  • The race lasted 2 hours and nine minutes.
  • There were no cautions during stage breaks.  

Gluck posted his question a day after the race, and more than 20,000 fans responded.

The final result: 72.6% said it was a good race versus 27.4% who didn’t care for it. That number ranked 12th overall for the year (out of 24 races) and second-best for a road course behind the Chicago Street Race

Fans unhappy after Watkins Glen

Fast forward to Watkins Glen this past weekend and the fifth of six races on the 2023 Cup schedule with right and left turns.

William Byron won the race, his fifth win of the season. Unlike the week before, the warm and fuzzy feelings fans felt (and voted on) after McDowell’s underdog win just weren’t there. Why? It’s because Hendrick Motorsports is like the New York Yankees (not the 2023 version), and it’s always fun to root against the top dog.   

But here are the race facts:

  • Byron was dominant. He finished second in Stage 1 and won Stage 2. He led a race-high 66 of the 90 laps.
  • There was a single caution on Lap 57 when Chase Elliott ran out of fuel due to a miscalculation by his team.
  • There were six lead changes among five drivers. 
  • The race lasted 1 hour and 58 minutes (second-shortest full-length race since 1971).
  • There were no cautions during stage breaks.  

Gluck posted his question a day after the race, and more than 22,000 fans responded.

The final result: 39.6% said it was a good race versus 60.4% who didn’t care for it. That number ranked 24th overall for the year (out of 25 races), with only Martinsville behind it. It was the worst-ranked road-course race.

What does it all mean?

First, the numbers don’t lie. Both races were strikingly similar with a single dominant car, the same number of cautions (including no cautions during stage breaks), the number of lead changes (a difference of four), and the amount of time for the race.

So basically, anyone reviewing and objectively comparing the two races would see they were effectively the same. But that’s the keyword: objective. In this case, NASCAR fans, just based solely on the numbers, aren’t being objective. They are letting who won the race cloud their opinions.

This phenomenon doesn’t happen in other sports. For example, let’s look at the NFL. Super Bowls 20 and 24 were the two biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history. Unless you were a fan of the Chicago Bears (1986) or San Francisco 49ers (1990), those games weren’t viewed as entertaining because they weren’t competitive.

The same holds true in the NBA and MLB. If an NBA team wins on a last-second three-point shot or an MLB team wins on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth, then those are considered entertaining games. A blowout in either sport is not.

That’s what we had in the past two road-course races — blowouts. But the two races were viewed dramatically differently by the fans. And that’s totally fair. However, that must be taken into account when looking at Gluck’s weekly poll or when listening to fans complain about the “bad racing” and placing blame on various factors, like cautions being absent from stage breaks.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the stage breaks or anything else, but simply who won the race.  

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