South Florida sports fans have a choice of two live events to catch in person Sunday:
At 1 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, a facility between Miami and Fort Lauderdale with a capacity of 65,326, the lowly Miami Dolphins (2-7), who have won two games in a row, play an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills (6-3), shooting for a playoff berth.
At 3:18 p.m. or so at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a facility off the Ronald Reagan Turnpike an hour from South Beach with a capacity of 43,000, a 400-mile stock-car race will be held to determine the 2019 NASCAR champion, with four drivers eligible to win the title.
As the Dolphins continue to play out the string, a big trophy will on the line 47 miles to the south. Hard Rock Stadium is one-and-a-half times as big in seating capacity as the race track. So take a guess which is a cheaper ticket on StubHub.
Youâd be incorrect if you guessed the Dolphins. At the close of the business day Wednesday, 369 tickets were priced under $35 for the NASCAR race on StubHub. There were 42 tickets priced under $35 for the Dolphins game.
The NFL is more popular than NASCAR â no news flash there. And NASCAR is not an athletic competition in the traditional sense. But when a âchampionshipâ auto race is less appealing to potential ticket-buyers than a blah NFL game in the same market, NASCAR might need to come up with more new ideas.
NASCAR, much to its credit, has done so, partly. This will be the last season finale at Homestead; the race there will be held March 22 next year. The 2020 championship race will be held Nov. 8 at Phoenix, which should have another full house of 42,000, as it had last week.
To steer wider of conflicts with football, NASCAR is also tightening its season schedule, which will end a week earlier in 2020 than 2019. NASCAR has done some schedule shuffling â moving, for example, the Brickyard 400 at Roger Penskeâs track in Indianapolis to the star-spangled July 4 weekend. More non-white-guy drivers would help.
But NASCAR has not indicated that it will do anything with the format used to determine a champion, which was designed to make the end of its season more significant. Instead, the four title-eligible drivers will be participating in what will look like any other Cup race.
Homestead has been the last race on the eternal 36-race Cup schedule since 2002. Five years ago, NASCAR rewrote its rules to guarantee that the Homestead race would decide the title, and a year later, 7.6 million fans watched the race in NBCâs first season with NASCAR.
Viewership of the Homestead race dipped to 6.1 million in 2016, to 4.7 million in 2017 and to 4.2 million last year â a 46% drop in three years. People lose interest over a season that runs for an entire human gestation period and is decided by what looks like any other race.
A year ago at Homestead, the field basically got out of the way of the four title-chasers with about 100 laps to go, with Joey Logano winning the race and the championship over Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
(Truex, Harvick and Busch are back this year. I wrote two months ago that this guy will win. I am sticking to my guns.)
It has always seemed strange that a slowpoke at Homestead could, intentionally or unintentionally, wreck out a title-chaser. But sponsors of the non-title-chasers have paid good money to plaster their logos on the cars, even if they have zero chance of winning. Incidentally, there will also be a race within a race Sunday among playoff qualifiers for fifth place.
The format has turned the championship race into a crapshoot and its champion looking less than legitimate. So why not have a separate race for just the four title-chasers? Three of the cars eligible this year are owned by Joe Gibbs, but he says they can duke it out with each other.
The same format apparently will be used in 2020, the last year of NASCAR As We Knew It. But if NASCAR really wanted to do it, there could be a 200-mile, four-driver-only title race in 2021, perhaps preceded on the same day by a 200-mile race for everyone else.
It would be different. NASCAR says it would like to change things up, and here youâd go. It would be a legitimate championship race. Shootouts are fun. Just imagine the attention it would get if the title-chasers wrecked each other out and would have to sprint to the finish line!