Tight title race not helping NASCAR's ratings

By Jenna Fryer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 19 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

"I don't care what people have to say. I just care about how our team performs and what we do," Johnson said. "We certainly have our issues and it is what it is and there are so many ideas of what it might be that I can't sit here and say it's because of me. If we're trying to blame someone, we can pick someone. I can be that guy if everybody wants me to be that guy.

"But I think the problem was there before I came."

NASCAR's done its best over the last 15 months to lure fans back through a series of on and off track adjustments. Among them were universal start times, the return of the traditional spoiler to the race cars, and a loosened governing policy this season that's encouraged a show of personality through a "Boys, have at it," mentality.

It hasn't mattered, though, as ESPN's ratings for the eight Chase races it aired — one was on ABC — are down 24.7 percent this season. The entire season, which is shared by Fox, TNT, ABC and ESPN, is down approximately 9 percent.

NASCAR chairman Brian France believes a portion of the ratings decline can be blamed on shifting a bulk of races to ESPN this year. Last season, ABC aired 11 of the 17 races it owns while ESPN had six. This year, ESPN took 14 of the 17, including nine of the 10 Chase races.

"We took ourselves out of some more homes by doing that," France said. "We did some things to try to help in one area that might have had an effect in another."

Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, said a variety of factors contributed to the decline in ratings, and NASCAR's drop is on par with the NFL's increase this season.

"The NFL has been up about the same amount that we've been down in these windows, they are up a full rating point and we're down about .9," she said. "We're looking at everything and obviously want ratings to be going up and everything to be climbing. But we've got the best competition coming down this weekend, that's all we can ask for.

"I really feel like if people aren't watching it, they are just missing it."

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