While many fans are drawn to NASCAR for the speed, competition and history, six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson believes the biggest draw of all is the wrecks.
Wait a minute, the wrecks? Surely that may draw the casual, non-racing fanatic to the sport, but the majority?
That is what the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway when asked what he felt fans wanted to see.
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"It’s hard to say all, but the majority wants to see wrecks," he said. "They want to see arguments; they want to see pushing and shoving after the race, bump and runs. The physical side, the raw emotion is what the majority are after."
Johnson quickly pointed out he understood wrecks were not why all fans loved NASCAR, but said times are changing and there is much more competition for people’s attention these days.
"I know my (Twitter) timeline is going to blow up here with fans that don’t want to see that, but I think they are in the minority," Johnson said. "I just feel that the world has changed, the way people view anything and everything is different and no one has the special sauce. We are all trying to learn and understand what it is, but when a few drivers make a fool out of themselves on the race track, there always seems to be a good spike in ratings."
After two decades in the sport, Johnson’s Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon has seen a host of changes in NASCAR and its fan base. Coming into the sport at a time when Richard Petty was making his final start, Gordon broke the mold of a NASCAR driver, bringing new fans to the sport and racing in a host of different cars and championship formats.
The four-time champion believes what fans want is ever evolving and a moving target NASCAR constantly has its eye on.
"It seems like whenever I think I know what they want, they seem to ask for something different," Gordon said. "I would think they want exciting racing and great tight battles down to the finish. Obviously fans have their favorites and those that they pull for and they want to see them in the mix."
Leading the Chase standings after the first race in the Eliminator Round, Gordon says he loves the excitement this new Chase format is creating and hopes the fans do, too.
"This format is amazing. I hope that they like it," he said. "I don’t know how you make it any more interesting or any more exciting or tense than what they have. We feel it here in the garage area. I would think that they would sense and feel it. And from a lot of fans that I’ve spoken to, they do. Like at Talladega. They felt that intensity and nervousness. That’s going to happen again as we go through Phoenix coming up here in a couple of weeks."
Regardless of the format, wrecks, fights and arguments between competitors on and off the track have been drawing race fans to racetracks for nearly seven decades.
From local short tracks to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, some of the greatest memories are made when sheet metal and feelings are torn up. Yet at the same time, close races and great, clean finishes often create unforgettable memories, too.
Either way, the fan element of NASCAR is one of the most important in the sport and the sanctioning body and its drivers have a keen eye on what moves the needle.
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