The day before Nitro Rallycross’ season finale kicked off at the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park, Chase Elliott was in Nashville picking up a fourth NASCAR Cup Series most popular driver award.
That alone was enough of an indication that Nitro’s latest wildcard was going to make an impact, regardless of on-track performance. Elliott may well be one of NASCAR’s best drivers right now, and his mammoth fanbase trumps that of any other driver, and by some margin too.
As it turns out, he was handy behind the wheel of a rallycross car too – as you’d expect from a Cup champion who also has seven road course wins (the most of any active driver in NASCAR’s top tier).
His appearance in the final at The FIRM was preceded by a second place finish in his semifinal – helped by a penalty – and an opening head-to-head win in the Battle brackets against rallycross legend Tanner Foust. That too was affected by a penalty, this time Elliott (somewhat cruelly) being the one that received it. Nevertheless, he impressed many onlookers.
As was the case with Kyle Busch back in Phoenix the on-track performance was predictably decent, even if neither did ultimately end up threatening for the overall event win, but these drivers bring a lot more to the table than merely being another good talent in a field full of many.
“If these [big] name drivers want to come in, it helps the sport and it helps bring other sponsorship and other eyes,” recently crowned series champion Travis Pastrana told DirtFish earlier in the season.
“I’m just hoping we can keep the momentum going,” he added.
So what did Busch and Elliott’s fleeting appearances do for Nitro RX as a series?
According to figures provided to DirtFish by Nitro Rallycross organizers, the presence of NASCAR drivers in the series provided a noticeable boost to the series’ online engagement.
Busch’s appearance at round three garnered over three-and-a-half times the number of impressions compared to the series’ best up to that point, with nearly one million additional social media video views.
In fact, combining impressions and video views for the first two rounds before Busch joined the series at round three in Phoenix and you’d still be over 800,000 short in the video views department and a whopping three million fewer impressions.
Elliott’s appearance in the final round meanwhile brought about a similar increase in attention on the series’ social channels, while external media coverage, particularly in NASCAR circles, leading up to and during the event had a marked increase, the kind we didn’t even see when Busch joined the party.
What’s more, looking at individual race clips on Nitro RX’s YouTube channel, Elliott’s sole Bracket race received over 51% more views than the next most popular Bracket race video. Busch’s, for reference, had 10,000 fewer views than Elliott’s, but a 75% increase over the next most popular Bracket race.
Fundamentally, Nitro RX is in its infancy, and it’s got one heck of a job to do in repairing not just the damage done to the discipline’s reputation in the US after years of mismanagement by previous series, but of that in Europe too where the staunch fanbase is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the direction rallycross is taking over there.
It’s already proved to be hugely popular though in its short five-round inaugural season, so that begs the question, does Nitro RX need NASCAR drivers to keep on improving its popularity?
Need? Absolutely not. The series is strong enough, and entertaining enough, on its own to maintain its upwards trajectory naturally. The two most-viewed race weekends of the year on the international feed were two that didn’t feature blockbuster wildcards (NBC didn’t provide United States viewership figures when contacted by DirtFish – viewers in the US being unable to view the international YouTube stream).
But these big ticket one-offs certainly do no harm.
Drivers like Kyle Busch and Elliott are household names in the US, while the speculated but ultimately non-existent participation of the likes of Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson also got tongues wagging outside of the relatively small rallycross community. Their involvement obviously provides a shot in the arm, even if they only end up running one round in a low-key way.
So why not expand that idea as Nitro RX goes global in 2022? Bring in wildcards from all other aspects of motorsport, perhaps even beyond motorsport itself, and each event can attract a new fanbase that stand the chance of sticking around for future events, regardless of whether the driver they’ve followed over remains.
Busch and Elliott could prove to be the start of something special should Nitro RX continue to invite big-name one-offs.
Who would you like to see parachuted into the series in future rounds? Leave a comment in the box below