SPEED.com is reviewing the biggest stories of the NASCAR year. Today: No. 7 — Speedways react to attendance challenges, and No. 8 — Roger Penske finally appears in championship territory.
When it comes to international sports magnates and shakers and movers at the highest levels of auto racing, Roger Penske has a seat at the table.
He has been there, done that. He has guided teams to a dizzying assortment of major race victories and championships. He has employed some of the best drivers in the business — in both NASCAR and open wheel. When he speaks, people listen.
But, despite a NASCAR history that stretches back to 1972 and the days of drivers Mark Donohue and Dave Marcis, Penske entered the 2010 season with no NASCAR championships.
That’s relatively amazing when Penske’s resume is considered: 22 national racing championships and 15 Indianapolis 500 victories.
The drought finally came to an end this season, and a youngster named Brad Keselowski did the honors. Keselowski ran away with the championship in the Nationwide Series, allowing Penske, already recognized by several halls of fame, to step into the NASCAR champions circle for the first time.
Meanwhile, as Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Todd Bodine raced to NASCAR championships, fewer people were showing up to watch them.
The 2010 season continued to challenge most speedways along the NASCAR trail as the economy, although gradually improving, impacted ticket sales.
Tracks called on innovative forms of promotion, driver involvement and cut-rate ticket pricing to attract fans to their turnstiles.
In some cases, the results were promising. In others, grandstands were far from full and crowd numbers were down from previous seasons. Even such fan favorites as Bristol Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway had ticket sales issues.
NASCAR attempted to spice its competition by massaging its rules to promote more aggressive racing, and the changes were largely successful. Still, it was a task during the season to recharge attendance at most venues.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.