NASCAR attendance up in 2021 season

NASCAR president Steve Phelps noted an “unacceptable [low] level of tickets sold” in select marketplaces during the 2021 season; Meanwhile, attendance is up at most tracks

NASCAR attendance has been a discussion point, for years. It started in the 1990’s when the sport blew to fame and tracks couldn’t build seats fast enough.

Around 2008, the decline of NASCAR became highly visible. Bristol Motor Speedway, a track with 160,000 season previously had a multi-year waitlist for their night race. Yet, the fans suddenly had room to distance themselves from neighbors in the grandstands.

New problems surfaced in 2020 with the COVID pandemic. NASCAR went racing with closed grandstands at many events.

For 2021, attendance is up, at most tracks. Overall, the sport is up in comparison to 2019 numbers. NASCAR ended their 2021 season on a strong note. The championship race at Phoenix, was sold out for the second year in a row.

However, the weeks leading up to that didn’t look good. Both Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway saw light crowds. It doesn’t look good, especially in the playoffs. And given attendance is up at most venues, it leads to believe the issue could possibly be a track specific issue.

Attendance is a nice source of revenue for a race track. But, it’s far from the only source and it might not even be the most important source. TV revenue brings a hefty 65% to the tracks.

Related: How do NASCAR tracks make money and how much?

NASCAR has options in their agreements. One of those options is for NASCAR to set a ‘minimum attendance’, that could be mandated at their discretion. Would NASCAR take that route?

Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch - Texas Motor Speedway - NASCAR Cup Series
FORT WORTH, TEXAS – OCTOBER 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 DEX Imaging Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 AAA Insurance Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 17, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Steve Phelps on NASCAR attendance (Texas Motor Speedway)

“I think we can all agree that Texas, it wasn’t our best foot forward for the year, which is unfortunate, but it happened,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps commented during the championship weekend last month.

“Specifically around Texas, we’re going to work with Speedway Motorsports to determine what’s happening in that marketplace, then what can we do collectively that will help ticket sales in that marketplace. We’ve got a group that we’ve put together that includes Speedway Motorsports folks, it includes people at NASCAR, to address what I would suggest would be an unacceptable level of tickets sold in that marketplace.”

“Obviously the facility is massive. It is a huge facility. So I think it exacerbated an issue that existed there, which they did not sell enough tickets.”

Related: Humpy Wheeler talks financials of bringing a NASCAR Cup Series event to Eldora Speedway (2018)

Kansas Speedway - NASCAR Cup Series
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 02: A general view of the NASCAR Cup Series Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 02, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Kansas Speedway: Low ticket sales

He added, “As it relates to Kansas, Kansas is a track that NASCAR owns,” Phelps stated.

“I thought we were going to see an incredible crowd at Kansas based on the number of tickets that we sold. We sold a lot of tickets. It was above 80% of the capacity, which at this particular point I’d take 80 plus at most of the facilities that we have, at least right now. We are trending towards increases.”

“Unfortunately we only scanned 60% of the tickets going through the turnstiles. Weather was a challenge that day, or supposed to be. I’m frankly surprised we got the race in based on where the forecast was. Obviously the nice folks in Kansas, Missouri, other parts of the Midwest, decided they were not going to attend even though they bought a ticket.”

Related: NASCAR sponsorship costs? New court documents provide numbers

Talladega Superspeedway - NASCAR fans
Talladega Superspeedway – NASCAR fans

NASCAR attendance: Trending upward

Kansas, Texas and Darlington all saw declines in tickers. But, they may have been the only ones as despite select issues, NASCAR attendance is trending in the correct direction once more.

Phelps stated, “For us, you look at attendance, for our NASCAR tracks, we are up every single race versus 2019 with the exception of one race. That race went from one race to two races, which was Darlington.”

“We aspire to be sold out everywhere. The fact that we are trending positively versus 2019, that’s a good thing. Are we satisfied with it? We’re not.”

“But I think, again, the number of races that across our Cup portfolio that were down, it may have been three, I don’t know the exact number. I believe Texas was, Darlington was. I don’t know if there was another race that was.”

“Went through a great stretch in the summer where we had sold-out racetracks or racetracks that looked fantastic. That’s what we want to do. We need to do that by doing a number of different things.”

He clarified, “We need to make sure that the marketing and promotion is as strong as it can be. We need to make sure we are driving storylines. We need to make sure the event experience is better than it’s ever been.”

Phelps added, “Are we satisfied with where that is? We’re not. We’re going to constantly get better.”

Related: NASCAR races will likely move behind a paywall in the future (at least some races)

NASCAR driver Chase Elliott signs autographs
ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN – JULY 04: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, signs autographs for fans after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America on July 04, 2021 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
At track experience was modified

Drastically modified is more like it. For most tracks during the 2021 season, NASCAR never turned a lap of qualifying or practice. That placed teams at the track for race day, only. Without multiple days of practice, the fans don’t need to show up early either.

Steve Phelps stated, “I think it’s everyone’s role. Not just the drivers. Do the drivers have a role in it? Of course they do. They’re the stars of the show. We need to make sure our drivers understand the role they play.”

For 2022, practice and qualifying are set to return.

“It will be good to get back, nothing has been kind of announced firmly, to get back to practice and qualifying on the weekends.”

“We’re unlike stick and ball sports where, hey, you may go and tailgate for the day on a Sunday if you’re the NFL. For us, (indiscernible) loading and camping here on Monday. That’s an important part of who we are as a sport.”


Phelps added, “But we must do better on what that race weekend experience is going to be. We can always improve. Whether that’s through technology, wi-fi, whether it’s through opportunities for kids to do things that are exciting and fresh and new, opportunities for us to have 20-somethings come.”

“What I would say, even in a limited scope that we have in terms of what the race weekend experience looks like, if you walk around the garage, you walk around the grandstands, walk around the midway, we are seeing more young people come to the racetrack, more families come to the racetrack, more people of color that are coming to the racetrack, and that’s exactly what you want.”

“If you’re a brand, you want to make sure you’re refreshing your brand with new people coming into your franchise. That’s what we are seeing.”

Where does NASCAR go in 2022?

Phelps hinted, “I won’t get into the exact numbers that we have from a Daytona 500 Speedweeks standpoint, but we haven’t seen advanced ticket sales like this in decades.”

Related: ISC president cites lack of ‘star power’ for NASCAR’s attendance decline (2018)


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