Through three races in the 2011 NASCAR season, the competition has been great, the lead changes have been plentiful, and the races have been much better than in recent years.
So it should come as no surprise that attendance at all three races thus far has been up as well.
According to Jayski.com, track attendance at Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway has reportedly been higher this season than it was in 2010.
Daytona’s reported attendance for the season-opening Daytona 500 was an estimated 180,000 fans, its highest mark since 2009, when the race was run partially under the lights. The estimated attendance for the ’09 500 was also around that mark.
Phoenix’s reported attendance was an estimated 75,000 fans, up 5,000 from 2010. In 2009, an estimated 80,000 people showed up for the spring event, which was also held under the lights.
The Las Vegas numbers were slightly more impressive, with an estimated attendance of 152,000 fans. That mark is higher than 2010 by roughly 2,000 fans, and is up 12,000 from 2009.
With those numbers, it’s evident that race fans are giving the new-look NASCAR a chance. The new car style, along with a matured “boys, have at it” mentality has brought with it the most exciting racing to this point that we’ve seen in roughly a decade.
Two of the first three races have featured a record number of lead changes, and for the first time since 2007 we have not had a repeat winner through three races. In fact, two of the season’s first three winners did not go to Victory Lane in 2010, and one of them earned his first career win this season.
That said, with the exception of Las Vegas, attendance is still down at all of the tracks so far from the 2009 numbers; the Vegas numbers for this season are down from its ’08 numbers. Which means that scars from the sport’s recent years of horrible racing still resonate with NASCAR, and some of its fans.
Obviously, for some fans, it will take more than just three great races for NASCAR to prove that it is a sport worth watching for more than just one race a year. And for tracks like Las Vegas, which just hold one Sprint Cup Series event per year, it could be even a few years before we see attendance numbers fully recover.
However, the simple fact that attendance numbers aren’t down from 2010 is a good sign. It means that NASCAR is headed in the right direction. And though it will be a long road, the numbers will reflect that in due time.
Meanwhile, let’s just hope as race fans that NASCAR continues doing what it’s doing, and continues on its road to recovery. One track at a time.