The biggest event of the Nascar season is in the books, and even after a record 6 hour and 22 minute delay, Nascar Nation has reason to celebrate. For the first time in 10 years, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Nascar’s most popular racer, sits atop the racing world.
In addition to a critical win for Earnhardt, it may be exactly what Nascar needed to boost sagging TV rating and attendance. The Daytona 500 is called the ‘Great American Race,’ or ‘The Super Bowl of Nascar’, which made this years lackluster attendance all the more troubling. According to Forbes, 48 hours before the race, tickets were still available on the primary market and the get-in price on the secondary market prices were as cheap as they’d been in five years. Not even a pre-race concert by Luke Bryan, arguably the most popular performer is country music, could bolster ticket prices from their low.
Prior to Earnhardt’s victory, the average price of Nascar tickets over the last four years has declined consistently from $170 in 2010 to a low of $103 last year. Over that time, Jimmie Johnson has methodically dominated the sport, winning the Sprint Cup Championship in six out of the last eight years. During that same stretch, Earnhardt. Jr. has won exactly one race. He had also been riding a 55-race winless streak prior to yesterday’s race. The last time that Earnhardt won Daytona 500 was in 2004, when he was on top of the racing world.
Between 2000 and 2005, Earnhardt Jr. won 16 races, making him the sport’s most successful athlete during the peak of its popularity. Many believe that Earnhardt Jr. and his lineage to racing royalty, was a big part of the sport’s popularity during that period. Those same fans might argue that the sport’s recent decline in attendance and TV ratings is also tied Earnhardt’s lack of success and visibility in the sport.
At the end of last season, Earnhardt received NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award for the 11th consecutive year. That’s quite a testament to his enduring popularity in the sport, win or lose. Earnhardt has made the Cup Chase three straight years after missing it in 2009 and 2010, and yesterday’s win almost certainly guarantees him a spot in this year’s Nascar post-season, which will be a boon for TV ratings and ticket sales.
Other races are not waiting around for the post-season to capitalize on his win and it’s potential impact on the sport. Moments after Sunday’s race was over, Talladega Superspeedway sent out an email promoting the Aaron’s 499 in May that stated, ” Cheer Dale Jr. to the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway! Two Tickets For $88.” As anyone who follows the sport knows, Earnhardt Jr. races in the 88 car. At $44 each, that promotional pitch prices tickets almost $30 below the secondary average and $16 below the advanced price for tickets through the box. If Earnhardt Jr. wins that race, it will be interesting to see if ticket prices rise for the rest of the season. Either way, it’s likely that Talladega will be a sell out for at least one race this year.