Chase Off Course


Jimmy Johnson won the Chase for the Sprint Cup title for a fifth consecutive time last Sunday. Unlike past years, Johnson didn’t have matters all sewn up going into the final race of the season.

In fact, Johnson was 15 points behind Denny Hamlin entering the final race Homestead-Miami Speedway, while Kevin Harvick was 46 points back. So, NASCAR’s Chase finally worked, providing a real race, real drama. So, why, didn’t more viewers come to ESPN’s viewing party?

Can you imagine if a stick and ball team was going for its fifth consecutive crown (or more) — like the New York Yankees, UCLA Bruins and Boston Celtics in days of yore? The hype, spin and in of today’s 24/7 news cycle, coupled with the embrace for the dynasty du jour, or hate for the Evil Empire of the particular sport, would have surely brought many casual viewers to the screen.

That obviously wasn’t the case on Nov. 21. Driving into the teeth of an NFL Sunday, ESPN averaged some 5.605 million viewers, off slightly from the 5.607 million that saw Johnson take home title No. 4 on ABC the year before. I guess Bristol and NASCAR official can take some solace in a 33% rise among guys 18 to 34.

All of NASCAR’s Sprint carriers, Fox, TNT, ESPN/ABC, saw their audiences skid off course this past season. Instead of capping the campaign and affording a little Nielsen hope going into next season, where NASCAR officials hope to modify and improve matters, Johnson’s fifth consecutive title and the nation’s relative ratings indifference has all the players spinning their wheels — again.