Poll: Auto racing more popular in America than NBA and NHL

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Back when NASCAR was white-hot in the early to mid 2000s, there was plenty of talk about the stock car series having supplanted the National Hockey League (which, it must be noted, suffered a lockout in 2004-05) as the fourth major sport in America.

Since that point, NASCAR’s popularity has cooled off while the NHL has come around nicely after yet another stoppage in 2012-13. But a new Harris Poll has revealed that “auto racing” – not just NASCAR specifically, but auto racing in general – is not only more popular in the U.S. than the NHL, but the National Basketball Association as well.

In no surprise whatsoever, the poll (which was first reported on by ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell) found that the National Football League was the most popular sport in America among adults 18 years old and up. The NFL took 30 percent of the vote, followed by Major League Baseball with 14 percent, and NCAA college football with 11 percent.

Auto racing’s advantage over the NBA and NHL isn’t big, it must be said. Auto racing grabbed seven percent of the vote for the fourth position, while the NBA garnered six percent and the NHL, five percent.

The seven percent figure for auto racing is also down from the eight percent that the sport got in last year’s Harris Poll on the same subject.

One could interpret that as some sort of justification for the recent tinkering in NASCAR, which now has a new knockout qualifying format and could overhaul its Chase post-season and points system very soon.

According to Rovell’s report, the poll also notes – perhaps in an unflattering light in the eyes of some – that “those with a high school education or less tend to gravitate to auto racing.”

I’ll just say that there are many highly educated fans within the sport as well, and leave it at that.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”