NASCAR Struggles To Bring In Cash-Strapped Fans : Planet Money The sports league changed safety rules and and cut ticket prices, but fans are still slow to return.

NASCAR Struggles To Bring In Cash-Strapped Fans

 Juan Pablo Montoya crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen International. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America hide caption

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

The poor economy is hitting an American icon: Nascar racing.

Attendance at nearly every track is down, the New York Times reports, and some big-name drivers like Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick still don't yet have sponsors for next year. All sports are suffering to some extent, but the Times says NASCAR has been hit harder because it relies so heavily on a working-class audience that is reeling from job losses.

So NASCAR is trying to entice back fans through lures like arranging 99-cent-a-gallon gas near the tracks and getting nearby hotels to waive their minimum-stay requirements.

But it looks like the problems might cut deeper than the economy. The TV audience is down too, suggesting there is some kind of fundamental shift turning people away from NASCAR.

Part of the problem is rule changes aimed at boosting safety. They worked, but "stripped the sport of some of the spontaneity that made it compelling" say the Times' Ken Belson and Dave Caldwell. NASCAR is rolling back some of those rules, and fans do appear to be coming back as a result.

The bigger picture says sports just ebb and flow in popularity. Basketball, for example, has risen considerably in popularity over the past few decades. Other sports, such as tennis, don't have quite the buzz they once did. Golf was on the decline until Tiger Woods helped revitalize it.

NASCAR may never regain the high profile it held a decade ago.

To hear more about NASCAR's economic woes, listen to this interview with Ryan McGee of ESPN.

UPDATE: "Harvick" is now spelled correctly.