Charlotte Rear View Mirror


Clint Bowyer heads to Victory Lane after his post-race burnout Saturday night in Charlotte, celebrating his third victory of the season. (Photo: Getty Images)


The only night race of the Chase is held at Charlotte Motor Speedway and it’s high time more are added to the schedule.

There’s a special feeling when NASCAR races under the lights and with the championship season in high gear, as much attention as can be generated needs to be garnered.

It’s no secret that television ratings have been in decline and have continued to drop since the Chase kicked off five weeks ago.

The absence of Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have impacted Saturday night’s attendance and it will be interesting to see if Junior missing the race will affect the television audience when ratings are released.

There is no easy answer for why TV audiences are dwindling, but I think there’s one true reason: NASCAR can’t compete head-to-head with the National Football League on Sunday afternoons.

Starts have been moved around in recent seasons and after an effort to standardize green flags, we’re now back to a variety of race times.

Most Sunday afternoon Chase races kick off at 2 p.m. (ET) or so, a full hour after the NFL has already started its schedule of early games.  Why NASCAR allows pro football to get a stranglehold on the day’s sports television audience is a mystery.  Why not get the jump on the NFL and start engines at noon?

While Saturday nights would do battle with college football, I think NASCAR would fare much better in that competition than against the NFL.

College football’s audience is much more fragmented than the NFL.  Even if your favorite team is not playing or idle for a week, tuning into a pro football game on a Sunday afternoon is still something millions of Americans do every week.  The television ratings tell the story as the NFL continues to set records on nearly a weekly basis.

Three or four Saturday night Chase races – or at least a Thursday night kickoff and a pair of Saturday evenings – might be the tonic to boost the sagging ratings.  A shakeup of the Chase schedule in terms of venues, with a dash of prime time thrown in, should be on NASCAR’s radar.

  • Another week and another fuel mileage race.  Only two weeks removed from Dover, Saturday night’s race wasn’t decided by passing at the front of the field but rather fuel strategy.  It’s a symptom of 1.5-mile tracks that unfortunately are in too big a supply come Chase time.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe came up short in the fuel game at Charlotte.  What's been a strength for the "Blue Deuce" duo bit them hard Saturday night when Keselowski ran out of gas with 58 laps to go and bobbled a chance to increase his lead in the Chase.  While there may not have been much racing to speak of Saturday night, at least the championship picture became more interesting.
  • Raise your hand if you had Clint Bowyer winning three times this year?  I doubt even Bowyer or team owner Michael Waltrip had such lofty expectations.  But Saturday night’s third checkered flag continued the amazing turnaround for Michael Waltrip Racing and Bowyer’s extraordinary first season with the team.  He still has an outside shot at winning the championship but even if Bowyer comes up short, 2012 has been a standout season.
  • Regan Smith’s opportunity as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement ended bitterly Saturday night with an engine failure.  Smith had worked his way into the top 10 before the No. 88 Chevrolet went up in smoke on Lap 65.  He’ll get another shot next week at Kansas Speedway, but Smith has already won over most of "Junior Nation" as the pinch hitter for the sport’s most popular driver.

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