Will Bristol Dirt be back? TV ratings say, yes

The ratings are in. They’re good. It now sets up a battle between the drivers and NASCAR. Bristol Dirt produced over 4-million viewers which was up 28% over last year and the highest rated Bristol spring race since 2016. The number peaked at 4.5-million which is the No. 2 watched race this season behind only the Daytona 500. Even the Truck race was up 87% from last year with 1.1 million people watching on a Saturday night before Easter. That’s a massive number for Easter Night and Easter weekend in general and one that will show that NASCAR has likely found a new date to race on.

However, the drivers still don’t like it one bit though. Kyle Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last week that with windshields, that these cars won’t put on the best show possible. He wasn’t a fan of racing a Cup car on dirt anyways. While he says that the race ran well on Sunday, he’s still not sold on it.

Neither was Kyle Busch or Chase Elliott or anyone else for that nature that was willing to talk. Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano questioned why were were wasting a much needed holiday weekend to race.

They said the TV number better make it worth it.

Well, it was. Now what? Do we run it back for a third year? With the ending and how well the TV numbers were, I sense, yes.

These were some of the more important TV numbers of the year for NASCAR. While all the television numbers are beneficial, this set of numbers will likely make or break the future status of dirt at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway and dirt in the Cup Series in general.

As far as to why?

We saw a thrilling show and a last lap pass in the final corner for the win. It provided an unlikely finish/winner. The second year of the experiment I think exceeded most peoples expectations because of that. Mine, as well as a lot of other fans honestly had low expectations for this race coming into the weekend. If you were going to race on dirt, why not a track specifically made for dirt? Also, dirt races need to be done at night and choosing a night race on the day of Easter isn’t the best of dates to do so on.

There’s a reason as to why NASCAR has avoided racing on Easter over the years. The last time it’s happened was 1989 but that wasn’t a scheduled one. Specifically on Easter weekend, they’ve ran 20 times now, but 17 of them were between 1952-1971. Among those 17, 11 were on Easter itself and 8 on the Saturday before.

Wouldn’t it be wise to just race the night before Easter? That would benefit the in person crowd but not necessarily the TV audience.

Martinsville’s race a week prior was further proof on why NASCAR has went forward with more Sunday races than Saturday night. Nearly 4 million (3.958-million) people tuned into FOX a week prior to that for the Richmond race. The Martinsville race was more than half of the amount of people tuning in.

From 3.958-million to 1.8-million. That’s a stark drop. Hell, the Truck race on dirt almost had as many people watching than the Cup race at Martinsville a week prior.

While some could say a race on FS1 will naturally drop off than one on FOX, you don’t lose 3-million people because of that and the Truck race was on FS1 too.

Atlanta had 4 million tune in, Phoenix had 3.991 million, COTA had 3.7-million. Richmond was 3.9 and now Bristol 4.5 million. That says a lot I feel with new races having over 4 million and Sunday’s being the better of the days to race on.

Primetime TV for sports is declining in general. It’s a fundamental shift that NASCAR is working on again and they’re not hiding behind that fact either. Richmond went from a pair of night races annually to half day half night to now all Sunday afternoon’s. Kansas will be a day race against the NFL this Fall. Why Sunday’s and not utilizing Saturday night’s anymore?

“I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing,” Ben Kennedy said last year on this topic. “For a fan going out there to the track, to have the biggest event of the weekend on that Sunday afternoon I think gives them something to look forward to and builds anticipation around the weekend.

“I would say a lot of our fans, myself included, are accustomed to turning racing on, NASCAR racing in particular, on Sunday afternoon. I think we all have that habit. Certainly helped us kind of drive the decision to move that there.”

In both 2009 and again in 2010 we had 10 scheduled night races on the schedule. They were at Phoenix, Richmond (x2), Darlington, Charlotte (x2), Daytona, Chicago, Bristol and Atlanta. This year, that number is down to six (Martinsville, Bristol (x2), Charlotte, Darlington and Daytona). Out of those 6, half will take place on a Sunday night at that. That’s down from 8 of 10 in 2010.

Plus, among the past tracks with lights, Phoenix, Richmond and Atlanta doesn’t use theirs anymore for Cup with both visits now being day races. Chicago is also gone.

The shift is clear. Lights are basically a backup plan now for tracks for the event rain pushes them to night to complete. However, they’d prefer not to have to use them and get them all done in a Sunday afternoon window.

So, while a night show is best for dirt, TV may want NASCAR’s dirt race on Easter weekend on Easter Night itself. NBA has Christmas Day. NFL has Thanksgiving Day. Can NASCAR make Easter work?

2022 says it can.

That’s why these ratings are huge. The crowd wasn’t noticeably much bigger than past spring races pre COVID. The questions you have to ask yourself are –

  1. Was the Dirt race entertaining?
  2. If not, then do you go somewhere else on dirt?
  3. If so, then I think Bristol returns to the dirt during the spring race.
  4. Then, what weekend do you make this race on?
  5. Were the ratings enough to make racing on Easter weekend viable in the future?
  6. If so, do you go on the night before Easter or Easter Night itself?

It’s no secret, the drivers weren’t fond not only of racing on dirt at Bristol but doing so on Easter night too. The TV ratings were the key contributing factor to doing so in the future. If it flopped, then the experiment is over.

Well, the ratings didn’t flop and show that I think this race is now here to stay and will do so on Dirt on Easter Night. The main thing now is, how will this play out in the garage area? There’s not many off weekend’s during a season and by racing on Easter, they now lose another one.

It’s basically NASCAR vs. the drivers now and NASCAR always wins. They’ll bang the drum of 4 million fans watching on Sunday and as many people watching the Truck race on Saturday night as the Cup race at Martinsville a week prior and the last lap chaos. Bristol wants to differentiate between the two annual races and know that the concrete race in the spring had lower ratings and attendance.

I don’t think it matters anymore what those against it think. This race on this weekend is here to stay.

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