The NASCAR Cup Series dirt race Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway was a roaring success in terms of TV ratings. However, the series still might want to consider an alternative to the Bristol dirt race that could solve several issues at once.
Perhaps the sanctioning body could turn the dirt race into its All-Star event and still draw the attention that will keep the Bristol dirt race on the Cup Series schedule for the foreseeable future.
NASCAR Cup Series Bristol dirt race produces high TV ratings
Sunday night’s race drew more than 4 million viewers, which is more than any race at Bristol since the spring race of 2016 when Carl Edwards beat Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Bristol and several other race tracks hosting Cup Series races, has announced that the dirt surface will return for its spring race in 2023.
NASCAR, SMI, and FOX Sports can all celebrate the success of an event that had many variables that might have derailed its success. The sport had not raced on Easter Sunday since 1989, rain plagued the race multiple times, and fans had debated the merits of a dirt race in a series that otherwise exclusively runs on paved surfaces.
The unique nature of the event outweighed all of those concerns, and all stakeholders likely made substantially more profit than they had when the spring Bristol race was run on its regular concrete surface.
Yet, turning the dirt race into an exhibition event similar to how NASCAR started its season might serve even more people.
The preseason Clash at the Coliseum race was also a success
The 2022 season began outside of Florida for the first time in more than four decades when the Cup Series brought the Clash exhibition race to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February, also marking the first time the sport had raced in a stadium since the 1950s.
The Clash had previously always run at Daytona International Speedway since its inception in 1979, but it had lost popularity through the years to the point NASCAR ran the 2021 edition on the speedway’s road course layout.
Life returned to the preseason exhibition this year, as 4.28 million viewers tuned in on FOX to watch the event. It more than doubled the viewership of the 2021 race at Daytona and, like Bristol, had the most viewers for the Clash since 2016.
Sure, the race was on FOX rather than its cable sports station FS1, but the increased buzz around the event was markedly different from the regular 75-lap feature that had kicked off Daytona Speedweeks in previous years.
NASCAR could use All-Star Race at Bristol the same way it used the Clash
The Cup Series All-Star Race has suffered a similar decline in interest to the Clash in recent years. The traditional exhibition event held the spot the week before the World 600 (now Coca-Cola 600) at Charlotte Motor Speedway from 1985-to 2019, aside from a one-year jaunt to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986.
NASCAR moved the 2020 edition to Bristol because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented fans from being able to attend the race had it been in Charlotte, which was under stricter capacity guidelines.
Texas Motor Speedway then got the event in 2021 as a consolation for NASCAR moving the track’s spring race to Circuit of the Americas in nearby Austin, Texas.
The All-Star Race no longer registers as a premier event on the NASCAR schedule, so maybe NASCAR could use the success it sees with the Bristol dirt race and turn that into the All-Star Race.
This scenario would still give fans who enjoy the paved Bristol races two of those events each year, and the dirt fans would get to see the dirt race become a stand-alone attraction with drivers who would not be hampered by the idea that points were on the line that could affect the playoff standings.
The All-Star Open could turn into heat races, which were popular at the Clash and are synonymous with dirt racing. The Open currently serves as a last-chance qualifier race for drivers to reach the big race even though they had not won a points-paying race in the previous 12 months.
Texas Motor Speedway would have to drop back to only its playoff race, but that track has failed to produce much excitement since SMI reconfigured the track in 2017.
The Bristol dirt race already causes integrity problems since there is no dirt race in the playoffs. Under this plan, the event could retain its made-for-TV agenda and help rejuvenate an All-Star event that has been all but swept off the NASCAR map.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference