How NASCAR is coping with its slipping audience

The growth of NASCAR over the past decade has been one of the stories of American sports – and not only was the series getting huge viewership, it was attracting stars from other series and its drivers were breaking left-turn-only taboos at Le Mans and the Race of Champions.

Still, the dream couldn't continue unabated, and lately NASCAR has been battling dwindling audiences at some of its big races and disappearing big-money sponsorships. To get around it, teams are doing three things: getting more sponsors, finding those sponsors further away from the traditional corporate playground, and engaging in "non-traditional sponsorships."

Even big teams like Richard Childress Racing are playing the volume game, expecting to have more than 40 sponsors helping it pay for this season. If a marquee player needs to go to such lengths it's to be expected that little teams have to work even harder, and there are only so many blue-chip firms to go around. That's how you get Quicken Loans, American Ethanol and Freescale Semiconductor showing up on fenders and at corporate events.

And non-traditional sponsorships are how you get the AARP involved. When the non-profit wanted to publicize its drive to end hunger among the elderly, it sponsored Jeff Gordon's car for 66 races over three years, from 2011 to 2013 – but won't sponsor the other remaining 42 races in those seasons. That kind of creativity is what NASCAR hopes will allow it not only to enjoy its popular moment, but popular longevity.

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