NASCAR Versus March Madness

This coming Sunday could prove to be an interesting one for NASCAR. Or, rather, next Monday could prove to be interesting for NASCAR. Monday, of course, is when overnight TV ratings are released … and, on the heels of the less-than-stellar numbers out of Atlanta, it will be interesting to see how this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (above) does against the competition.

On the face of it, things stack up pretty well for NASCAR. Bristol is a legendary short track, notorious for close, hard racing and the resultant increase in on- and off-track outbursts that make for both great racing and even better entertainment. It is the first short-track race of the year and there are any number of story arcs that play well for NASCAR — can Kurt Busch stay hot at a track where he’s won five times? Will Jeff Gordon end his 45-race winless streak on the half-mile oval where he’s won five times? Will Junior break through at a place he won in 2004?

However, there is of the backdrop of the economy and the surprising news that Bristol’s streak of 53-straight sellouts is in jeopardy. Perhaps more challenging for those overnight ratings is the NCAA Tournament, whose second-round games will be in full swing on Sunday.

NASCAR has gone head-to-head with the NCAA Tournament and lived to tell about it. It will survive this matchup as well. And though the Tournament traditionally devours everything in its path, NASCAR has proved resilient, ranking as one of the stronger non-college-basketball broadcasts. Nevertheless, Sunday will be an interesting test of the sport’s strength in a weakened marketplace.