NASCAR has received plenty of negative publicity in recent years.
From declining fan attendance and TV ratings to longtime sponsors and superstar drivers exiting the sport, NASCAR has been viewed as losing its place among the top-tier of American sports.
But Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage has grown frustrated with that narrative, and feels the sport is in better shape than most believe with a NASCAR triple-header on tap this weekend at TMS.
He points to the increased TV ratings early on this season, plus the less-publicized platforms of fans consuming content through streaming devices and engaging via social media.
He mentions the racing being better than ever by objective measures such as number of drivers finishing on the lead lap and margin of victory.
He views longtime drivers and sponsors leaving the sport as an opportunity to bring in fresh faces.
“NASCAR is on the rebound,” Gossage said. “There’s a little sizzle to NASCAR that’s been missing for a while. There’s momentum and it’s building. That’s a good thing.
“I’ve always been bullish on NASCAR and I’m very bullish on it today. This is the top rung on the ladder.”
But Gossage understands why NASCAR has found itself in this predicament.
The sport has tinkered too much with a product that speaks for itself, making a seemingly endless list of changes to its playoff format the past decade.
As Gossage said, “The beauty of our sport is that it’s pretty simple. You start here and in 500 miles you end here. The first one to cross the line wins. The simplicity is part of its beauty. We try to complicate it more sometimes, but it doesn’t really need to be dressed up too much.
“NASCAR got out of their lane a bit and got their fingers in too many things, and ignored the product. I think they’re back to focusing on the product.”
Bringing in new sponsors is great, but not all have been the right fit.
Monster Energy has been the title sponsor of the Cup Series since the 2017 season, and has a contract that runs through 2019.
After this season, NASCAR is expected to re-evaluate how it sells that title sponsorship.
Gossage predicts the sport will lean toward having four or five premium partners, rather than a single title sponsor.
“I think instead of having one sponsor out promoting the sport through their product, you’re going to see four or five,” Gossage said. “I think that would be a real plus, a real positive for the sport.
“NASCAR took off in the 1980s and 1990s, not because there were some marketing geniuses, but because sponsors started purchasing different things and there were all different kinds of posters on windows or products with the sport. You can’t buy that. That was how the sport was promoted and advertised.”
NASCAR has also gotten in its own ways at times when it comes to making headlines for the wrong reasons. Just last year, former CEO and chairman Brian France was arrested on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated days after one of the sport’s brightest young stars, Chase Elliott, won his first race.
Elliott’s victory couldn’t even last an entire news cycle in the sport.
But NASCAR has since revamped its leadership with Jim France taking over as NASCAR chairman and CEO and Steve Phelps being named NASCAR’s president.
The early signs have been promising of the direction the sport is headed, the latest being NASCAR’s willingness to adjust its schedule to help tracks such as TMS avoid conflicting dates such as a race weekend on the first day of deer hunting season in North Texas.
Gossage is on board with the France family running the sport, despite reports that the family could consider selling it.
“The France family is the sport and I like Jim France a lot,” Gossage said. “ I think they made a smart move by moving Steve Phelps to president, and [NASCAR vice chairman] Mike Helton is not only a friend, but I helped him get his first job in racing.
“I have a lot of faith in them to get the momentum back on our side. I really do think better things are ahead of us. They’re trying to do all the things they can do to make fans happier.”