More than a few people have told me this year that one reason NASCAR television ratings have declined is because of Twitter.
Twitter is killing the sport, they say.
The reasoning is it's now so easy for fans to follow the races through Twitter that they can do other things on Sundays and still stay informed.
Those who promote this theory say the ratings don't show signs of less interest in NASCAR; there are just other ways to keep track of the sport that aren't reflected in the TV numbers.
I don't totally buy that argument, as the number of NASCAR fans on Twitter (even the top NASCAR-only drivers have fewer than 50,000 followers) wouldn't account for a ratings decline.
Still, it's an intriguing idea: Can you follow a race on Twitter and get the same experience as watching NASCAR on TV?
On Sunday, given 1) It was a big birthday, 2) My family was around and 3) My favorite football team was playing, I decided to try it out for myself.
For the first time all season, I didn't watch the race.
At first, I felt guilty. It was like I was cheating on NASCAR with other interests. What if I miss something???
But then I started checking the tweets on my BlackBerry. And it became clear that the race was remarkably easy to follow on my phone.
My Twitter stream was a flood of information. Journalists like Jenna Fryer, Nate Ryan and Bob Pockrass tweeted race updates mixed with radio chatter and their personal analysis of what was happening. "Official" accounts like NASCAR and the individual public relations representatives for each team tweeted facts about the running order, cautions and pit stops.
For awhile, I really didn't feel like I was missing anything. I relaxed and stopped feeling guilty.
This was easy. Who needed TV?
But it wasn't that simple. As things started to happen in the race and the action picked up, no 140-character tweets could substitute for watching the race myself. I wanted to see what was happening with my own eyes, not through others'.
Yes, Twitter told me Jimmie Johnson just spun out with Kyle Busch; but how? I needed to watch the spin, observe how much damage it caused, evaluate for myself whose fault it was.
And yes, a variety of tweets offered information on the fuel mileage situation (including predictions like "I don't think Stewart can make it!") and told me the race had taken a dramatic turn. But hitting the "refresh" button on my phone over and over again to see the next updates was draining – both for me and the battery.
I wanted to experience what was happening by watching it on TV. When there was action, Twitter turned into a subpar substitute.
Even after watching a DVR'd replay later, I still felt like I was missing out on seeing it live.
Because I'm at the track almost every week, I don't plan on trying this again anytime soon. But the lesson I learned was that while you can get by with missing the first or middle parts of the race, you can't get by with missing the end.
Like an NCAA Tournament basketball game, the end of a NASCAR race is the best part. Even if it's a snoozer up to that point, something crazy can always happen in the final few minutes (and often does).
Part of being a fan is about the community conversation. It's about Did you see that? and This is so wild! and I can't believe that just happened!
So overall, it's not worth the risk to have no idea what everyone else is talking about.
It's understandable if those who love NASCAR flip over to the NFL on Sundays, do their weekend errands or hang out with a friend instead of watching every minute of races that we all know are far too long.
And it's even possible to follow the sport on Twitter and not "miss" anything for most of the race.
But if you're going to try it, you'd better get back in front of a TV for the finish.