I am not a casual NASCAR fan. I have no hate for the sport, and I certainly don't dislike racing. I'm immensely interested in F1 and have been obsessed with Ayrton Senna for many years. Racing is a blast, but I'm a casual fan that NASCAR hasn't managed to rope in.
But I watched the Daytona 500 on Monday night. In fact, I went out of my way to rig my girlfriend's TV (a TV that wasn't even connected to an antenna) to make sure I could see it.
I wasn't alone. Fox announced a ratings pull of 7.7. Last year it was an 8.2. In 2010, was a 7.0. Both of those races were held on a Sunday afternoon, of course. Most NASCAR races are.
Even though Monday night placement was the product of a massive amount of bad weather, the race getting pushed back created a question worth pondering: Would NASCAR be better off running some of its races on Monday nights?
The idea that the race was initially rescheduled to start at 12 p.m. ET on Monday never made sense to me. Why start the race when no one can watch? Why not just push it to primetime from the outset (unless, of course, approaching rain meant needing to get the race started ASAP)?
The change may not be as crazy as it initially sounds. Planning on a Sunday day of grilling and racing? Well, plan on a Monday night of the same. A rare event, that you're not used to having with friends, and well after football has stopped. If you were a Monday night football fan, your scheduled void could be filled by racing.
Now, I'm not foolish enough to believe that every Sunday race should be pushed to Monday nights. There's a bit of tradition, to say the least, in a weekend trip to the track to catch all the action, take in the sights and sounds and be a part of a sort of communal experience that is unique to racing. Those fans are the heart and soul of NASCAR, and shouldn't be cast aside. Which is why moving every NASCAR race is just too much.
But if the idea is to expand the brand and gain eyeballs, think about the possibility. The next six months, Sundays will mean a lot of entertainment/recreation options to many fans. Afternoon baseball, March Madness, the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs and perhaps most of all, a lot of great weather to enjoy on a day off. But what do Monday nights mean? Anything? Nothing to me. There will be playoff games in those sports, sure. But beyond the NCAA basketball national championship being on a Monday, there is nothing that stands out until football season starts again. The thought: Monday Night Racing could have a nice ring to it, no? If ratings last night were any indication, it could hold up. The race beat out all other programming from 8-11 p.m. It was also the second-most watched Daytona 500 in history.
There are other obstacles, of course. Tradition means a lot to NASCAR. It's roots are paramount to understanding its culture. Beyond that, there are always wrecks (at Daytona especially), and they are always at the end of the race. How many people were still awake last night as the checkered flag flew? The Twitter frenzy I followed during the jet dryer fireball significantly dropped off once the race got going again. That's not good. You can't have races ending at 12:45 a.m. ET. It probably needs to be at least two hours earlier, for the sake of the families and the children (and apparently everyone else with a pulse) that tune in. On the flip side, NASCAR already does have a race at least once a year (like this year's IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway), and it's a popular event. Sure, race days are great. Racing at night is special, though. Everyone can feel it.
You may argue that the base is strong and tradition is important, and for these reasons, things should remain as they are. But the last few years have seen a decline in the sport's popularity, and perhaps solidifying the base isn't an issue anymore. The sport should actively try to find a way to end up on the casual sports fan's calendar, and taking over Monday night when football goes to bed for six months seems like as good of an idea as any. And it's true that Monday Night Football isn't what it used to be in terms of popularity, but the NFL audience is massive. Night of the week hardly matters to a nation that will tune in regardless. It is a problem NASCAR would love to have.
Had the race been run and broadcast on Sunday afternoon, I would have checked on it here and there between outdoor activities, and probably missed the end while preparing to watch the Oscars. On Monday night, there was no question what I was watching. NASCAR was by far the best option available to me on network television. And it was cool to see the cars racing under the lights for the biggest single race prize in the sport.
I was irritated when Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick were knocked out early. I was blown away when Juan Pablo Montoya created a massive fireball. I was amused at the Twitter eruption that followed and in which Brad Keselowski participated. And at the end, I was even rooting a little for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to find a way to whip around Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, despite it being an utterly hopeless task.
I cared about a NASCAR race that I would have largely ignored on a Sunday with plenty of other distractions.
Every Monday night would be too much, and it would stir up a loyal fan base that doesn't need to be inconvenienced after years of devotion. Even if an uproar emerged from the occasional switch to Monday nights, it's more likely that a loyal fan base will remain largely loyal after adapting to the change, simply because the alternative options aren't exactly appealing to the base. There's not another racing circuit that even comes close to comparison in America. Baseball, basketball and hockey? They've always been there, why turn to them now? It's not like they're free of controversy themselves. And the chase for the cup was created to build drama as the season moved along. Well, why not build more drama with races that are spotlighted, just like the Daytona 500? If a sport can make its biggest race of the year an opener that has no greater bearing on the champion crowned in October than a race in early July, it speaks to reason that it could build some showcase Monday night races throughout the season.
Even once a month, moving a race to Monday night would pull in a sports fan (or even non fan) that simply has nothing else on his or her plate that night. No better option on the channels.
Might as well watch NASCAR, and maybe, in the process, become a fan. For a night, it certainly worked for me.
Max Thompson is the Senior Editor at ThePostGame. Follow him on Twitter: @maxthompson.
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