Three-ring circuit ‘Have at it’ policy hikes drama, but ratings continue to tumble
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
When NASCAR officials told the boys on the track to “have at it” back in the preseason, it appeared to be in response to complaints from TV viewers and those watching trackside that the racing had become boring.
Well the boys are having at it. They are wrecking each other a lot, especially during double-file restarts and more especially on the road course at Infineon Raceway, a wrecking exhibition that Jeff Burton described as “horrendous.”
Interestingly, fans don’t seem to be responding to the wreckfests like some thought they might. There have been lots of empty seats at tracks this year, and TV ratings continue to tumble.
TNT, which broadcast the Infineon Raceway event that was as rough-and-tumble as they come, even in today’s NASCAR world, reported that ratings were down 21 percent from last year. And TNT, which airs a summertime stretch of Cup racing, is down 12 percent in race ratings for the year.
Maybe fans would prefer a little law and order on the track, and some mutual respect between drivers. There are some drivers who would like to see that too.
Tony Stewart said what NASCAR is experiencing on the track these days is a lack of patience.
“There’s a phrase we use all the time: ‘Give and Take,’” he told reporters at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week. “There is a lot more taking anymore than there is giving among the drivers.
“It is not due to respect … everybody respects each other out there. The equation is out of balance right now between give and take. …
“It is getting worse and it is probably going to get worse before it gets better, it looks like.”
Stewart said part of what fans are seeing is young drivers coming into the sport who aren’t accustomed to running 500-mile or 500-lap races.
Indeed, many young drivers today came up through the Legends ranks, where the “bump and run” is the most successful on-track maneuver.
And there’s not as much self-policing among the driver corps as there once was, Stewart pointed out. For NASCAR’s part, series officials said all along that what they really meant by “have at it” was for the drivers to police the sport rather than having officials step in too often.
But self-policing doesn’t seem to be happening too much these days.
“In this era, we have lost some great race car drivers, and nobody really wants to have to self-police on the race track like we used to,” Stewart said. “If you did something wrong to somebody, they waited. It may have been five, six, 10 weeks down the road, but somewhere along the line, you got paid back and you got wrecked and while you were sitting there wrecked and going, ‘Why did I get put here?’ it makes you think about … well, maybe it’s about something I did earlier.
“You just don’t see as much of that as you used to, and that was the way it used to fix itself, and in my opinion, that is what it needs to get back to again.”