Sports

NASCAR Chases Holiday TV Viewership With Easter Dirt Race

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kevin Harvick was on his annual family vacation at the beach when he was forced to cut them short by three days early to return to work for the first time in his career on Easter Sunday.

NASCAR since its inaugural 1949 season has deliberately used Easter as a weekend off — often the first natural break in a 38-race season — and industry staff have planned this week for a rare vacation. The weather-related postponement has actually led to 10 races on Easter Sunday over the years, most recently in 1989 when a snowstorm forced a schedule change, but NASCAR never deliberately chose the date.

Until this year.

NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy, great-grandson of the NASCAR founder, worked with Fox to schedule the second Cup Series race at the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday night under lights in a bid to attract a larger television audience.

“When you think of all the other sports leagues with the NFL on Thanksgiving, the NBA on Christmas, this is our opportunity to run on Easter Sunday and give a lot of momentum to our fans watching at home,” said said Kennedy during the race. announcement. “We value family time a lot. I think to that end, by having it later in the day, and in prime time on Sundays, we want to make sure that for the fans, the families, the team members, the drivers, they have the opportunity to celebrate earlier in the day.

“Then for fans who can tune in at night or get out on the track that night, the ability to get out there and still be together and watch NASCAR racing felt important to us.”

But as Harvick returned from the beach earlier than expected, he warned the decision to race Sunday night had better be a monstrous payoff. By scheduling Bristol for Easter, NASCAR stripped the first series of cups from all but one weekend from February to November.

“The only way to be successful is for TV ratings to skyrocket. That’s the only way to be successful on Easter night,” Harvick said. finds where it is for a TV rating, so if there is no TV rating, you should never do it again.

“It’s an experiment, and I’m okay with experiments if it’s beneficial. If it’s good for the sport and good for the ratings and good for a number of things, then I’m all for it. But it will be the real indicator of success if this rating is much higher than it was.

But not everyone is on board, as deliberate racing at Easter is unheard of in a sport that begins each event with a summons and optional church service on the Sunday before the race. Bristol Motor Speedway has scheduled a live Easter celebration worship service at the track to be held three hours before the green flag.

“Not a big fan of racing over Easter. I feel like it’s a very special day, a day as important as Christmas, if not more, so I’m not mad about it,” the winner said in title Joey Logano. “I also understand where it makes a lot of sense for a sport to do it. But it’s different from other sports. When other sports play each other over the holidays, there are a few teams here and a few teams there. It’s 40 teams.

“Maybe it will be fantastic. I’ll have my family with me so that’s good, but it’s going to be a lot different Easter than what we’re used to. Having a church service for the industry, I think that part is good.

TIPS

Kyle Larson is the FanDuel favorite at 9-2. … Bristol’s conversion to a dirt track last year was the first Cup race on dirt in 50 years. But NASCAR had first surface experience before the modern era with 501 dirt races from 1949 to 1970. Jim Roper in a Lincoln won the first Cup Series race on dirt in 1948 at the Charlotte (Old) Speedway of 0.75 miles. … NASCAR has won 77 different drivers on clay, led by Hall of Famer Lee Petty with 46 wins. …. Grammy Award-winning worship leader Chris Tomlin and Pastor Max Lucado will headline a live Easter celebration service before the race. Rascal Flatts lead singer Gary LeVox will perform.

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