Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NASCAR NOTEBOOK; Shaky Economy Hurts Crowds

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

NASCAR NOTEBOOK; Shaky Economy Hurts Crowds

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

RICHMOND, Va. - One reason television ratings are up this year compared to the last three years might be that NASCAR fans are staying home to watch races rather than sitting in the grandstands.

The Richmond International Raceway had empty seats for the first time in 17 years Saturday night for the Crown Royal 400.

In 10 races, there have been only three announced sellouts - for the races at Daytona Beach, Las Vegas and Bristol, Tenn.

"It's a real tough time economically," Mark Martin said. "Definitely, I know that it's tough economic times. We feel it at our dealerships. I see it when I roll up to any kind of fuel pump, gas or jet fuel or whatever you name it, it's putting a hurt on a lot of people."

Richmond always has been a fan favorite. But a shaky economy added with an expansion to nearly 113,000 seats has made it tough to sell every ticket.

The Martinsville Speedway found a way to make money with its empty seats by selling space for companies to hang their corporate banners. There weren't big enough voids Saturday night, but losing a sellout streak that lasted 34 races was tough for the speedway to accept.

"As far as ticket sales, there's just no question that our economy is tough right now," said Jeff Burton, who grew up in nearby South Boston, Va. "Fuel prices are way up. There are a lot of things going on that make it harder for the heart and soul of our sports, which is average, everyday middle-class; that's what our sport has always been supported by. When they're feeling it and they're struggling with their finances, then we feel it too."

While attendance is down, television ratings are up. According to Nielsen Media Research, ratings have either tied or beaten last year's numbers in eight of the first nine races.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. …

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