With the deal Disney has in place to buy Fox, we've reported that there's a good chance more of NASCAR's premier races will become nighttime events. Might be good for the network (I say "might"), but I'm not so sure it's in racing's best interest.
Ever since NASCAR introduced night racing back in 1992, it has become the debate of purists vs progressives. Racing has evolved so why not run it under the lights like so many other sporting events. If they could put lights at Wrigley Field, why not Martinsville. The answer lies in another question: just because you can, does it mean you should?
Don't get me wrong, I like night racing and think it should stay. But I also feel it has become common and no longer special. Think back to when the NFL debuted Monday Night Football in 1970. It reigned supreme as a ratings giant for three decades. It was more than a football game. It was a spectacle that stood out from an otherwise crowded NFL field. Then came Sunday night football, then came Thursday night football. MNF was no longer special. Ever since, the ratings have been in decline, not just for Monday, but Thursday and Sunday night as well.
NASCAR took a spectacle and made it common. Too much of a good thing. Looking back at the 2017 season, every televised night Cup race dropped in ratings from the year before, according to Nielsen, which was a drop from the year before that. Eight races and none captured the tv audience it once had. If Fox/Disney think the answer is to add more night races, they might want to rethink that. Viewers are at best tired, at worst apathetic. Maybe NASCAR and networks were thinking 'Let's get away from a head-to-head with football', but most of the night races have been in the spring and summer when football doesn't even factor in. Night races during this time are actually battling nicer weather and later sunsets where people don't want to be inside watching TV.
Put TV ratings aside and think attendance. Although NASCAR is no longer releasing attendance figures, we know fewer people are coming to the track. Prices have gone up, interest has gone down. Adding more night races won't help and even hurts the chances for this to be a family affair. Follow me here for a second. If I want to bring my family to a night race, I'm probably looking for a way to spend the night rather than get out of the parking lot at 1 a.m. and drive home tired. That's an extra $100-$150, plus I lose part of my next day. It makes for a less family-friendly option than a day race. Yes, it's cool, but as a dad, financial considerations usually win out over cool.
Deep in a race fan's heart, they want to see great racing. That's a far better possibility with races during the day. Night races are good for speed, day races are good for some speed and everything else. If I can use another baseball analogy, it's like the National League vs the American League. There is far more strategy involved in a baseball game played in the National League. American League is about stacking your lineup with power because you don't have to worry about your pitcher hitting. NASCAR teams must be more strategic about when and how they make their moves on a looser track, when to pit and what to do when they pit. It's less about raw power and more about the finesse of racing. Otherwise, you get to watch the same few cars lead for most of the race.
As I said, I like night racing. It's a wholly different experience for the fans and the drivers. It breaks up an otherwise long season. But it's no longer special, and adding more to the calendar isn't going to make it so.