Champ Kevin Harvick Says NASCAR Should Support Grassroots Racing
As NASCAR looks to improve TV viewership and at-the-track attendance, one of its stars thinks he has an answer.
NASCAR’s yearly West Coast Swing concludes Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, in 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick’s home state of California. The winner of the three most recent Cup Series races will add Thursday’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Kern County Raceway in his hometown of Bakersfield to his racing docket. It’ll mark his debut at the track.
Harvick ran the K&N race at Sonoma Raceway, also in California, last year, winning in his first series race since 2007, during the 2017 West Coast Swing.
NASCAR has been searching the last few years for answers to declining attendance and TV viewership. According to Harvick, the answer may be as simple as a return to supporting grass-roots racing. Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing car co-owner and retired NASCAR driver Tony Stewart discussed after Harvick’s win of the Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway, on March 11 a disconnect between the top levels of NASCAR and racing’s grassroots.
“When I look at our hardcore fans, they’re all sitting at those short tracks and they’re mad,” Harvick said. “They’re absolutely mad because you don’t have a Winston who is supporting these short tracks like they used to.”
When Winston sponsored NASCAR’s premier series, it also sponsored NASCAR racing at the grassroots level with its Winston Weekly Racing Series. Local and regional series sanctioned by NASCAR have sponsors, but those sponsors don’t pour the same money into local racing that Winston did.
“Winston used to infuse so much money into these short tracks around the country,” Harvick said. “That’s what kept it going. That is what kept people showing up to these racetracks because there was point funds."
According to Harvick and Stewart, NASCAR has distanced itself from the average hardcore stock-car racing fan, creating a gap they think could be closed by some of NASCAR’s top stars returning to their roots and NASCAR and tracks amping up their support of grassroots racing.
“I think that needs to be a part of our initiative,” Harvick said of his fellow drivers being encouraged to race at the grassroots level instead of making so many personal appearances.
“A guy like Chase Elliott would love to go run Late Model races at any track in the country, instead of going to do an appearance. That’s what pushes his buttons.”
Stewart, meanwhile, was critical of tracks cutting grassroots-level support races from big-time NASCAR race weekends at their facilities. He used ISM Raceway as an example, as the track used to host the K&N Pro Series West during one of its two yearly NASCAR weekends, but cut that race from the schedule citing financial reasons. The facility, though, plans a reconfiguration that includes a move of the track’s start/finish line before NASCAR’s top series returns in November.
“Apparently, we can afford to spend $170 million to move the front stretch from there over to there. I still have no idea what the reason for that is,” Stewart said. “I guess we probably can’t afford to run any support races here that cost the track some money.”
Maybe Stewart and Harvick are onto something. As NASCAR continues to look for answers, dirt-track racing that provided the racing roots for Stewart and other NASCAR stars like Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne is experiencing a popularity surge, perhaps due at least in part to those drivers’ continued support of that form of racing.