Stewart blames media for empty seats, ratings woes

Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates after winning at Watkins Glen on Sunday. Although attendance at the Glen topped 100,000, some drivers admit being frustrated over the focus on empty seats.

There are a lot of theories on why tracks have so many empty seats and why television ratings are down.

A new one being floated is the media.

Tony Stewart said reporters -- not the Car of Tomorrow, the economy, restrictive driver availability or the lack of passing at the end of the race -- are a main reason why it's been difficult for NASCAR to match the attention the sport used to demand.

"When you finally tell someone that the racing is bad enough, long enough, you're going to convince people that it really is," he said. "The result of that is not having as many people in the grandstand because of that."

Attendance figures and ratings have become sensitive issues for tracks and NASCAR. Race officials clearly are working harder and being more creative to bring fans back to the track, and they are clearly frustrated by the media's attention to empty seats.

No track was a bigger target than Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the spring race has been played out in front of as many as 40,000 empty seats.

At the same time, track president Ed Clark always reminds people that if 40,000 people aren't at his track, 85,000 people are there.

Perception, however, became reality last week when the track lost one of its two annual Sprint Cup Series dates to make room for a new race at the 65,000-seat Kentucky Speedway.

Stewart said everyone, including the media, shares in the responsibility for waning interest.

"The facts show that the racing is better than it's ever been; it's more competitive than it has ever been," Stewart said.

"Everybody has gotten so spoiled over the last 10-15 years that we've all lost sight of what we've really got here."

Jeff Burton said racing needs everyone to work together to turn things around. He also said fans are smart enough to recognize the truth.

"The ultimate goal for NASCAR is to make this the best racing in the world," he said. "That's one thing I have always had a lot of respect for is that is what they are trying to do. They are trying to move the ball forward to make this the best racing in the world."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

CARFAX 400

(23RD OF 36 RACES)

WHERE: Michigan International Speedway at Brooklyn, Mich.

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday

TRACK DIMENSIONS: 2-mile tri-oval with 18-degree banking

BROADCAST: Television -- noon, ESPN; Radio -- 12:15 p.m., Motor Racing Network, Sirius Satellite Radio 128

2009 WINNER: Brian Vickers

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