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ISC president blames lack of star power for tracks' attendance dip

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The view from the business suite can be quite different than the one behind the steering wheel when assessing why the grandstands aren't full.

International Speedway Corp. saw a decline in attendance by 10 percent for its six NASCAR Cup Series races from March through May. In discussing the reasons why with financial analysts Thursday, ISC president John Saunders matter-of-factly mentioned the lack of star power.

"Weather was an important part, but all in all, the attendance was a little bit softer than expected," Saunders said. "We still have an issue with star power and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands."

Few would argue that the recent retirements of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick -- as well as Matt Kenseth being a part-time driver -- have drained some of the star power from the sport.

"We still have an issue with star power and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands." ISC president John Saunders

But does that mean the young drivers feel they bear the sole responsibility to win for the sake of the sport?

"A little bit," Bubba Wallace of Richard Petty Motorsports said Thursday before practice at ISC's Daytona International Speedway. "But there is a lot of boring stuff that we still have that has been the same thing at ISC tracks that we could update to get more fans out.

"So it kind of goes in hand in hand from us behind the wheel to the people that are here hosting us. It is a group effort."

The young generation with limited Cup experience includes past Xfinity Series champions Austin Dillon (28 years old), Chase Elliott (22), Chris Buescher (25), Daniel Suarez (26) and William Byron (20), plus heralded talents Kyle Larson (25), Erik Jones (22), Ryan Blaney (24), Ty Dillon (26), Wallace (24) and Alex Bowman (25).

Those drivers combined for 90 wins in the two NASCAR national development series but so far have combined for just nine wins (Larson 5, Austin Dillon 2, Buescher 1, Blaney 1) among them in Cup Series races.

"I might not post stupid videos every week or stuff like that to try and gain fans -- I try to gain fans on the race track," said Larson, who finished second to Kyle Busch in an epic finish Sunday at Chicagoland and won a sprint-car race Tuesday night in Pennsylvania.

"It's not a big deal to me to try to sell myself as somebody I'm not. I don't put big pressure [to win]; I just like to race hard and try to gain fans that way. I felt I did a good job last week."

The 10 percent drop in attendance came at races at ISC tracks in Phoenix, California, Richmond, Talladega, Kansas and Martinsville. Richmond saw an increase in attendance, ISC reported, but snow plagued the Martinsville weekend. The average ticket sold to a Cup race was up 1 percent at $74.52.

"It doesn't bother me that [Saunders] said that, I just want to know what we can do about it," said Austin Dillon, who has advocated for changes in the aerodynamic packages to increase parity. "How do you move forward with that? The guys in this sport are talented enough to win."

Three drivers -- Kevin Harvick (age 42), Busch (33) and Martin Truex Jr. (38) -- have combined to win 13 of the 17 races this year. Clint Bowyer (39), Joey Logano (28) and Austin Dillon have won the others.

Blaney said he feels no pressure to win for the sake of the sport.

"Honestly, this whole 'young guys need to win now' thing is getting old," Blaney said. "We're trying. We're trying our hardest. It's not like I go out there and I'm happy for fifth every single week. ... It's not a competition here between young guys and old guys, it's a competition between 39 other cars and yourself.

"No matter what your age is or your experience level, everyone is trying to accomplish the same goal. I think it would be healthy for the sport if we just see more variation in winners in general."

"Honestly, this whole 'young guys need to win now' thing is getting old. We're trying. We're trying our hardest. It's not like I go out there and I'm happy for fifth every single week." Ryan Blaney

Austin Dillon, who carries the famous Richard Childress Racing No. 3 on the side of his car, has always been talked about in conjunction with generating interest in the sport.

"I want to be one of those people, obviously, that fans gravitate too, for sure," Dillon said. "I've got a lot of people, though, not just fans, that I'm out there trying to win for each and every weekend, with the company at RCR that depend on us to run well -- that's the way they eat back at home.

"I want to go win and bring that personality to the sport. I feel like I have a good personality and enjoy having fun. But it comes with winning, too."

Wallace said fans likely view him as a driver who has been promoted despite being 22nd in points and hasn't won anything albeit having finished second in his first Daytona 500. He said new fans don't understand his challenges of a team that has less funding than the sport's elite.

"They think we're all going 200 miles an hour, which is true," Wallace said. "My car handles way worse than Harvick or Kyle's car at 200 miles an hour and we're holding on to it. [These are] differences ... the sport needs to illustrate to the fans better of the budgets that make all this stuff happen and make you a winner.

"Just because the cars look the same, they go through tech and everything, they're damn sure not the same."

The young drivers also, obviously, don't have the experience of the veterans.

"We have to work up to it," Wallace said. "Those guys have been in the sport for 15-20 years. Hell, I've got 14 years going until I get to that point."