Despite a record 68 lead changes, the 2013 edition of the Indianapolis 500 didn't draw viewers. The race's 3.8 overnight rating on ABC was its lowest ever, down 7% from 2012 and 12% from 2011. Since the race began to be broadcast live starting in 1986, this year marks the first year where the overnight has dipped below a 4.0, the previous low set in 2010. This also is the first time in history that the race has drawn under a 4.5 rating in five straight years.
As for what's causing the ratings decline, the popular reasoning is because there aren't any American drivers to grip the public. That's all well and good, but two Americans (Ed Carpenter, who won the pole and led the most laps during the race, and Marco Andretti of the famous Andretti family) were both on the front row to begin the race, and three more Americans (AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and JR Hildebrand) qualified in the top ten. Five Americans would end up finishing in the top ten of the race, and a pretty popular driver in Tony Kanaan ended up getting the win.
So what could you blame the declining ratings on? The popularity of NASCAR and the decline in popularity of open wheel racing in America is probably a good bet. Formula 1 races have been shuffled off to mornings on NBC Sports Network. IndyCar races are also on NBC Sports Network and are struggling, especially when compared to broadcasts on ABC.
I don't think this is a death knell for IndyCar by any means, but it's not a step in the right direction. Open wheel racing is becoming more and more of a niche sport, and while the diehards will always tune in, the casual fans couldn't care less.