Johnson, Byrnes: Sport evolves with new format to grow fan base RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Jimmie Johnson stood outside his motorcoach two days prior to the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway , expounding on an answer about the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format and its impact on the sport. "Times have changed, the world has changed, there isn't an easy answer for it," Johnson said. "What I'm trying to do is look at the statistics. Is viewership up? Is attendance up? I don't know the viewership answer, I've heard mixed reviews." Johnson was informed that ratings were up the previous two weeks at Texas and Phoenix. "That's a good sign. I know attendance, it looks like, has been up at a lot of tracks in the Chase . Phoenix was sold out, Chicago was really full, that's what I'm really looking at," he said. "Especially when I'm getting older in my career, I want the sport to be around, I want it to be around for generations to come. The world has changed, and we need to change with it." The revolution will, of course, continue to be televised (and tweeted, and instagrammed, etc.). Viewership was up for the 36th and final race at Homestead, which produced a sellout crowd, while the rating remained level with last year. Steve Byrnes, who has been a stalwart presence in NASCAR television for three decades, assessed the state of the sport prior to Homestead. "I still think that we are a work in progress, meaning we had this amazing growth and popularity, and everybody was kind of puffing their chest out," Byrnes said. "Then when the economy staggered, we staggered with it. I think we're still trying to catch up and find out what the fans really want. They’re trying everything they can." Those efforts produced a strong finish to the 2014 season and valuable momentum for NASCAR heading into the New Year. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Jay Mohr takes to the towns of NASCAR and spreads the word about the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup .
Driver's back not healed 100 percent, but Gordon feels just fine in the car Had it been spoken in more than a mostly joking manner, Jeff Gordon 's off- the -cuff statement back in January that he'd ride off into stock-car racing retirement if he won his fifth title in NASCAR's premier series would likely have been the bombshell of the year. "I wish I was standing here with that issue right now," Gordon said after accepting sixth-place honors at last week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards show in Las Vegas. After coming oh-so-close to cashing in on that big if, a rejuvenated Gordon said that his heart was never in it to walk away and close the books on his Hall of Fame-worthy career. After enjoying a season with four wins and a championship bid that thrived until the next-to-last race, the 43-year-old veteran is eager to keep the momentum -- and a near-record streak -- rolling next year in what will be his 23rd season at NASCAR's top level. "I never had any intentions of doing that," Gordon said at mention of the word retirement. "I love this sport, I love being competitive. Yeah, I had that health scare with my back in May but was able to pull it all back together and go on and have a great year and not have to miss that race. I was asked that question and I answered it as honestly as I could, but also I'm having some fun with it, and I'd have liked to have had that issue, like I said. "Don't worry, I'll be back next year. Maybe I'll say the same joke in January and we'll see where it goes." The Hendrick Motorsports driver has a streak of consecutive starts that currently stands at 761. He is expected to tie the all-time record of 788 set by Ricky Rudd next season in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs opener Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway ; he'd break the mark the following weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . But the back ailment Gordon referenced threw that ironman streak into peril last spring, when spasms during Coors Light Pole Qualifying caused him to sit out practice on the eve of the Coca-Cola 600 , the series' longest race. Gordon eventually completed all 600 miles. His back, though, still isn't quite without lingering pain. "No -- 100 percent? That was a long time ago," Gordon said. "But it doesn't seem to affect me inside the car and that's the most important thing. It hurts afterward, it hurts during the week, but once I'm inside the car, I'm able to focus on what I need to do." While Gordon drew a fair amount of teasing because of his age during some of Champion's Week's more candid moments, his stature among his peers was unquestioned. During the NASCAR After the Lap tell-all, all 16 Chase qualifiers were asked if they were fans of Gordon as they took their first steps into the sport; nearly every hand went up. "It was humbling, I'll be honest," Gordon said. "Maybe even if they were (fans), they might not want to admit it. The fact they were admitting it means a lot to me." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup sixth-place finisher, Jeff Gordon, gives his speech at the Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas.
Round-by-Round and Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Grid explanations
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup second-place finisher, Ryan Newman, gives a speech at the Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas.
The intensity in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup topples over at Texas and Kevin Harvick goes for two, winning the season finale and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seventh-place finisher, Matt Kenseth, gives a speech at the Sprint Cup Series Awards.