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Are Night Races Going Extinct in NASCAR?

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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Night races are becoming fewer and farther between in NASCAR, but, are they beginning to go extinct as a whole in NASCAR? Let’s analyze that question and see whether or not that could be the case.

Why Does NASCAR Not Race at Night as Much as they Used to?

In 2023 and 2024, out of 36 regular season races, 7 of them were scheduled to be run at night. This is down from as many as 10 per season in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The simple reason for why is TV ratings.

In 2023, the least-watched Cup Series race that ran on its’ scheduled date was the Bristol Night race, which garnered only 1.562 million viewers. The 2023 race did have a brief weather delay, but, the 2022 Bristol Night Race was also the least viewed race to run on schedule as well. One of the most highly-anticipated events of the year by NASCAR fans is an absolute dud for TV viewership.

What about the Southern 500 at Darlington, a crown jewel? That pulled in only 2.29 million viewers on USA, less than the spring race at the track pulled in, and this was before NFL season started. This year, races run at night and on schedule garnered an average of 2.72 million viewers, compared to the overall average during the regular season of around 2.89 million.

While night races do not always tank in TV ratings, they’re generally lower rated for two reasons. One, some night races take place on Saturday, and that is not when the casual fan is used to tuning in for a Cup Series race. Now NASCAR counteracted that by moving some night races to Sunday, but another problem is that competition is fierce for nighttime TV ratings on weekends.

This is the case for all sports, not just NASCAR. The highest-rated NFL TV window is the late afternoon slot on Sundays, not the primetime games. According to Sportico, of the 24 non-holiday, regular-season NFL games featured on the 50 highest-rated sporting events of 2022, 16 of them were from that late window. This is why NASCAR gravitates towards late afternoon starts.

Does This Mean Night Racing Will Go Extinct?

Looking at the 2024 schedule, it seems unlikely that NASCAR will just cut night racing off entirely. There are other reasons why NASCAR runs certain races at night. The first consideration is the weather.

The Southern 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona are both run at night to get out of the blazing summer heat, especially considering how physically grueling those races can be. This is part of why the Iowa race in 2024 will be run at night as well, and it is also the original idea behind the Bristol Night Race, which used to be run in August.

The Coca-Cola 600 is run at night partially as a consideration for the Indianapolis 500. The changing track conditions of the day-to-night transition have also become a staple part of the Coca-Cola 600.

That leads to another reason, branding. The Bristol Night Race is a major brand within the NASCAR Community, and it is routinely one of the highest-attended races of the year, even if the TV ratings are not so great. Sometimes a night race can give the race a different brand from the year prior, and that is the case with both Richmond races this year being run at night.

There are reasons to continue running night races. It seems premature to say they are going totally extinct, at least for now. However, them being fewer and farther between does call into question some of the benefits and reasons why tracks host night races. Time will ultimately tell whether or not these races go further and further into obscurity.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts