West coast is up next, can NASCAR keep momentum going?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — The first month to the NASCAR season has almost come to a close. Yes, there’s only been two race weekends and a third in the upcoming one in Fontana, but as we head back west to California, the question now is, can the momentum continue through the west coast swing.

2022 is a new era in NASCAR. A new car which features new number placement, a new way to pit cars, a new schedule for a second year to go along with basically a new everything. It took a leap of faith and arguably a major risk to move the Clash from NASCAR’s backyard at the Daytona International Speedway to the LA Coliseum.

It paid off. That was a major success. An 168% TV increase paved the way for more opportunities to grow this sport even further in suburban markets.

It drew a 2.32 rating which equates out to 4.283-million. By comparison, Fox Sports 1 saw 1.577 million viewers for the 2021 race which was a .93 rating. That was down almost 1 million people as 2.455 million tuned into the 2020 Busch Clash.

Granted, the 2020 race was on a Sunday afternoon on the oval compared to 2021 on a weeknight on the road course. 

Still, this year’s race outdrew last year’s by almost 3 million people and nearly doubled the last one held on a Sunday afternoon on the Daytona oval.

The guts that it took for NASCAR to take the leap and try an event like this and then seeing how practice went and how smooth everything has gone. The doors that are open have been blown wide open now,” said Kevin Harvick.

Also, the season finale at Phoenix last year drew a 1.95 rating with 3.214 million viewership. So the Clash out drew the championship deciding race by a million people as well. 

On top of that, the estimated attendance was north of 50k and some reports of 60k+. Daytona was lucky to draw 10k over the last few years, so they saw 5x the crowd and over double the viewership. 

Mission accomplished.

My photo from pre race Sunday in Daytona

Then we went to Daytona for the annual season opener. A buzz was hanging around the Florida racetrack for Speedweeks that saw chamber of commerce weather all week capped by a sold out Daytona 500.

Austin Cindric topped Bubba Wallace in the third closest finish in the events 64 year history. The estimated crowd of 135-150k were treated to a hell of a debut of the Next Gen.

Also the worries and concerns from this car seem to have dissipated. It wasn’t really a talking point on Sunday.

Now, can NASCAR sustain this out west? The attention is back. The youth movement is here. We get a 23 year old Daytona 500 champion beating a 28 year old Bubba Wallace by .036-seconds at the finish.

27 year old Chase Briscoe was third. 28 year old Ryan Blaney fourth.

29 year old Kyle Larson won the pole for this years race after taking home last years championship.

26 year old Chase Elliott signed a five-year extension to remain with Hendrick Motorsports, arguably NASCAR’s top team again.

You get team owners like Emmitt Smith (Xfinity Series) and Floyd Mayweather showing up. That comes after Michael Jordan and Pitbull entered last year.

NASCAR is booming again and the season will have nothing short of major storylines to come from it.

12 months ago was the debut of Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing. Pitbull and Michael Jordan would attend their first Daytona 500’s as stakeholders in the sport. Now, a year later, not only are they back but they’ve each expanded. Both are two car teams now and in the sense of Trackhouse, they’ve bought out Chip Ganassi Racing, moved into their shop and have plenty of assets to make this work for the future. 

“This is just a vision kind of coming together,” Marks said. “I mean, this has been in the works for probably really two years now. So for us to be able to put all the pieces together, to stay steadfastly committed to that vision and the goal of what we’re trying to build, to see it all come together here as we prepare to get ready for the Daytona 500 is pretty awesome, pretty special.”

That’s the same vision that both Suarez and Pitbull feel as well. They each feel like the best sport to grow this vision for the Latin American population is NASCAR in fact. 

“NASCAR has no limits,” Suarez said. “Already we want to make this sport as wide as possible. We are not just talking about Mexico. We’re not just talking about Latin America. We’re talking about worldwide. Actually that’s Pitbull’s nickname, Mr. Worldwide. So why not?

“Pitbull is a Latino, like myself. I was amazed to know that his biggest fan base is actually not in the United States or not in Latin America. That tells you how big his impact that he’s going to be able to get for this racing, for this organization. Hopefully we can do an amazing things together.”

These aren’t the only new teams too. GMS merged with Petty and formed a two-car team. Kaulig is here with two full-time cars. NY Racing Team and The Money Team make their debuts on Sunday. 

“This is huge for The Money Team Racing, huge for Floyd, for Pit Viper,” TMT driver Kaz Grala said after making his way in via the Duels on Thursday night. “This mattered a lot to us. There really was no option but to make this race. This is why we did what we did was to race in the Daytona 500. We didn’t come into this week ready to accept any other fate.

“It’s big for us being a new team to be able to do this. It’s huge financially. It’s huge exposure, the marketing. We want to run a part-time schedule this year. We want to try to run some of the road courses, maybe some of the closer, less-traveled races. To have a good showing like this and to hopefully have a good showing on Sunday will go a long way towards helping build this program into what they aspire to be, a full-time opportunity, and I’d love to stick with them for that.”

Another partial new team is RFK Racing. Roush Fenway has been around for decades but Brad Keselowski left Team Penske to join the team that has lacked success for a while now to be a driver/owner.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #1 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Keselowski and his teammate Chris Buescher took the checkered flags in the Bluegreen Duels at Daytona on Thursday night. These were the first victories for the organization in nearly five years.

“It’s just really good,” Keselowski said of his win. “It’s just so important. There’s a lot of guys and gals on my team that have never won a race before. The company hasn’t won a race in five, six years now, five and a half, something like that. That’s any kind of race.

“It’s really important to get that winning habit built up, and the only way you can really do that is to go win. That builds confidence in each other and builds expectations. Not just the expectations, that’s probably not the right word, it builds a reality that those expectations can happen. We had a really poor showing at the Clash, and we needed something to offset that, and this is a great offset for that.”

Sunday further shifted NASCAR to a new era for the sport. A much brighter one too.

Now, can they keep the attention on them? They’re back in the LA market, then Las Vegas then Phoenix. Three of the biggest markets the west has to offer before coming back east to Atlanta.

NASCAR has the “it” factor and a boon coming. Can they sustain it better this time around?

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