Earnhardt’s retirement will not bring IndyCar more fans

Dale Earnhardt Jr's retirement will cost NASCAR millions of fans
Dale Earnhardt Jr's fans have zero interest in IndyCar

The hits just keep on coming. First it was Jeff Gordon. Then Tony Stewart. Then Carl Edwards. And on Tuesday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the latest NASCAR titan to announce plans to walk away from the sport.

And the timing couldn’t be worse. Even with Earnhardt in tow the past few years, NASCAR crowds have dwindled along with its television ratings. According to Nielsen, NASCAR viewership has plummeted 45 percent since 2005 — from around 9 million viewers per race to 4.6 million last year.

In truth, Earnhardt’s announcement could provide a brief stimulus to the reeling series, as fans tune in to catch their final glimpses of the 14-time most popular driver behind the wheel.

But then what?

Danica Patrick's retirement will be the next hit for NASCAR
Danica Patrick's retirement will be the next hit for NASCAR

At first glance it seems NASCAR has more body blows to endure, as many of its remaining stars are nearing retirement age. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is 41, as is Kevin Harvick, while Matt Kenseth is 45.

Of course, there are some young faces who could step into a larger spotlight, including Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski. But can any of them fill the massive voids left by the enormously popular Earnhardt, Stewart and Gordon?

Maybe they can. Then again, it’s fair to wonder if some fans might turn elsewhere for their racing fix.

At a time when the Verizon IndyCar Series can boast it’s on the rise — Mark Miles recently told the New York Times TV ratings are up 55 percent in the last three years — might some NASCAR fans, without their favorite drivers to cheer for, start filling the stands at IndyCar events?

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