Maybe the NASCAR bosses hoped no one would notice. And, really, what else could they do?
There was no good reason to sell tickets for the backstretch grandstand for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, where, when the green flag dropped, there were still more than a few seats available in the main grandstand.
So they didn't try.
But those 57,000 empty seats on the backstretch for stock-car racing's showcase summer event at the sport's most celebrated track were telling -- and what they said had as much to do with NASCAR's greed than the nation's sputtering economy.
At the turn of the century, NASCAR rode a surge in popularity that transformed a mostly regional racing circuit into a coast-to-coast phenomenon and the fastest-growing sport in America.
New tracks were built. New fans filled them. New sponsors filled NASCAR's coffers with new money.
"We want to grow our audience, our awareness," NASCAR chairman Brian France said before the start of the 2007 season. "We want everybody in the country to be a NASCAR fan."
Nothing wrong there.
Except this: As NASCAR raced into the mainstream and onto Madison Avenue, it deserted its blue-collar, good-ol'-boy roots and left behind the longtime fans who faithfully supported a sport -- through good times and bad -- that was as much a part of their culture as country music and pickup trucks.
That was a mistake.
It was a mistake to abandon Rockingham and leave Darlington with only one date, while racing twice in California, Phoenix, Kansas and Texas and once each in Chicago and Las Vegas.
It was a mistake to think new fans in nontraditional racing markets would embrace NASCAR with the same passion as those in the Southeast, where folks were raised on the sport and held it sacred.
It was a mistake to chase the fast money at the expense of too many lifelong NASCAR fans that couldn't help but feel they were taken for granted -- and, in some cases, still struggle to recognize a sport that has seen a run of changes during the past decade.
And the economic downturn has only magnified those mistakes.
Those new fans in new NASCAR markets?
For many of them, the novelty is gone. Not nearly as emotionally invested in the sport as hardcore fans in Dixie, they soon became bored with watching guys drive fast and turn left. And in a bad economy, lukewarm fans are deciding to stay home rather than spend big to attend races.
As for those once-devoted, paycheck-to-paycheck NASCAR fans who don't like what has happened to their sport ...
Many of them, too, feel such a disconnect to today's NASCAR that they've decided the show isn't worth the cost of going to races -- tickets and parking, travel and hotels, food and drink -- especially in tough economic times.
"Given the way we're structured," France told the Charlotte Observer last week, "it's had a greater effect on us."
We saw that at Daytona.
But the NASCAR bosses are deluding themselves if they believe the economy is the only problem.
They need to look beyond the empty seats. They need to look in the mirror.