Entering this season, NASCAR's television viewership had fallen 45 per cent since 2005, a drop that in part led stock-car officials to make a number of changes to the circuit's points system and the races themselves. Nevertheless, the swoon has shown no signs of reversing itself: As Sports Media Watch pointed out earlier this week, eight of the 10 Monster Energy Cup Series races this year have seen their ratings decline from last year, five by double digits.
So seeing how nothing else has worked, why not try something completely different like having some of NASCAR's biggest stars call a race themselves? That's exactly what Fox Sports will do for the June 10 Xfinity Series race at Pocono. It's worth a shot, and could be pretty interesting.
Kevin Harvick, who won NASCAR's top-series championship in 2014, will serve as main play-by-play man with Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer as his colour commentators. Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse will cover pit road, while Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin will handle studio duties.
According to the network, it'll be the first time a nationally televised live sporting event has featured an on-air team comprised strictly of athletes actively competing in that sport.
Harvick, Bowyer, Hamlin, Logano and Patrick already served as guest analysts for Fox's coverage of the Xfinity Series, which is one step down from NASCAR's top-level Monster Energy Cup Series and usually holds its races the day before each weekend's main event. Now they'll be handling all aspects of the race instead of merely making cameos in the booth.
"This is something Fox Sports has talked about doing for a long time," John Entz, Fox Sports president and executive producer for production, said in a statement. "Several of these competitors already have joined us in the NASCAR Xfinity Series booth and done a heck of a job, and we see a lot of promise in the newcomers. Regardless of their TV experience, we have one goal for all — go out and have a blast. As long as no one sets fire to the Fox Sports booth or pulls the plug that knocks us off the air, the drivers have free rein."
That's the lowest of bars and some will say this is nothing but a desperate gimmick, but it still could be a pretty fun experiment.