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Does NASCAR Have an Attendance Problem?

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

When watching the NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway on Sunday night, fans noticed that the at-track attendance at the track was…bad. A track that used to bring in crowds of 110,000 people with seats ringing the track now struggles to fill grandstands half the size they were at NASCAR’s peak. Does NASCAR have an attendance problem, or is it merely a track issue?

  • NASCAR underwent a steep attendance drop throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s. It was once billed as the “World’s largest spectator sport”, but not anymore.
  • At the same time, we have seen tracks sell out races in recent years. Highlighting that NASCAR attendance just might be on the upswing, but, is that a result of more fans in the stands, or NASCAR catering to a modern audience?
  • Fans are quick to point out attendance issues. While NASCAR doesn’t get nearly as much money from ticket revenue as from the TV contract, at-track attendance is a good measuring stick for the health of the sport.

The Decline of NASCAR Attendance

It’s no secret that NASCAR crowds are not what they once were. Back in the 2000s, races routinely sold out with more than 100,000 people. Then, crowds began to dwindle, and tracks like Bristol and Richmond had long sellout streaks end.

In 2013, NASCAR stopped releasing attendance figures, which makes it impossible to know exactly how much crowds fell off. Compare the social media post below to the one earlier in the article, which highlights just how drastic the falloff has been at Richmond in particular.

As a result, NASCAR began tearing down grandstands at certain tracks to fit the smaller crowds of the time. Tracks like Daytona, Dover, Talladega, Homestead-Miami, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Phoenix, Richmond, Texas, Charlotte, New Hampshire, Martinsville, and Michigan all reduced capacity throughout the 2010s and early 2020s.

However, following the pandemic, NASCAR crowds began to show a small resurgence. However, there was a slight asterisk to this.

Modern Resurgence?

In the early 2020s, NASCAR began tinkering with the schedule, including taking dates away from some tracks and giving dates to new ones. The result was an uptick in sellouts throughout the early 2010s. New tracks Nashville and Gateway sold out the grandstands, and Road America brought in over 100,000 people.

The tracks that lost dates also saw an uptick in attendance for their lone date. Look at the Pocono Raceway infield crowd in 2023 compared to the first of its two races in 2019.

Phoenix began routinely selling out the Championship race in the fall, and the spring race in 2024 also sold out. Martinsville has sold out the fall race two years in a row. The Daytona 500 has been a sellout every year since Daytona Rising was completed in 2016. Steve Phelps claimed in NASCAR’s State of the Sport Address in 2023 that NASCAR had 50% more sellouts in 2023 compared to 2022.

However, this is not necessarily because more fans are coming to more races, it’s primarily due to tracks nowadays being more suited to modern NASCAR crowds. NASCAR is not pulling in 100,000 people routinely as it used to, and NASCAR knows it.

We mentioned how Phoenix routinely sells out, but, the track’s capacity is between 41,000 and 51,000 depending on which source you use. This track used to bring in over 100,000 people in the 2000s.

Daytona, which sells out the Daytona 500 every year, has a capacity of 101,000. This race brought in upwards of 150,000 people in its’ heyday.

The new tracks are in the same boat. Nashville (38,000) and Gateway (57,000) both sell out with grandstands much smaller than tracks were in the 2000s. Iowa Speedway hosts its first Cup Series race this summer, and that track only holds 25,000 people.

That’s not to say crowds are bad, but the only hard data we have to compare it to the crowds of the height of NASCAR. Obviously, that’s not a fair comparison.

The Tracks That Still Struggle

Even within the modern resurgence of NASCAR attendance, some tracks continue to struggle for multiple reasons. Three tracks that highlight this are Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Richmond.

Indianapolis has a bit of an asterisk next to it. The track has a grandstand capacity of more than 250,000 people, so, a respectable NASCAR crowd of 50,000 or 60,000 looks absolutely barren. The Indianapolis Star claims that 60,000 people were at the 2019 race, which looks incredibly empty on a track as big as Indianapolis.

NASCAR used to sell out this race every year, but, those times are long gone. Indianapolis Motor Speedway also still pulls in large crowds for the Indianapolis 500, so, the track can’t tear down grandstands. As long as the crowds are ultimately comparable to other tracks on the schedule, NASCAR will likely stomach the bad aesthetic to race at Indianapolis.

Bristol and Daytona have similar issues. The Night Race at Bristol and the Daytona 500 both fill the grandstands at the tracks, but, the other races don’t. If NASCAR wants to race at those places twice, they just have to accept that crowds will not be great for the lesser events.

Las Vegas and Richmond do not have that excuse. Both tracks have torn down grandstands in recent years, but, the crowds are still barren. We already discussed Richmond, but, Las Vegas pulled in a sparse crowd in the fall of 2023.

Ultimately, NASCAR doesn’t have an attendance problem, per se, it’s just not what it once was. Unfortunately, when the only official attendance figures we receive are sellouts, it’s tough to tell exactly what attendance figures truly do look like.

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Joshua Lipowski

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