Ratings news regarding NASCAR have been rather pessimistic in recent years. The sport has gradually declined since its highs in the mid 2000s thanks to a number of factors – a growing contingent of cookie-cutter drivers, continuing a shift away from its core audience, the domination of Jimmie Johnson, and constant tinkering with the rules and format of the championship. Did you know they changed the chase format again this year? Really!
However, it's easy to forget that NASCAR ratings still do really, really well in comparison to every other sport not named the NFL. Although it's not one of the four major sports, you can favorably compare NASCAR ratings with any other sport. That's why NBC is back investing in the sport and why Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN are relying on NASCAR and their 5.8 million average per race viewers as a building block for their cable networks.
The biggest audience of the year for NASCAR is always the Daytona 500. With a six hour rain delay that pushed the race into primetime, ratings were naturally down. In spite of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory, ratings dropped almost in half from last year's race – 16.7 million to 9.3 million.
But the most interesting (and most encouraging) statistic for NASCAR is just how well their rain delay coverage did. Fox drew a 4.0 rating for their lengthy rain delay coverage, which beat an NBA doubleheader on ABC that drew a 2.6 rating.
A NASCAR rain delay beat the NBA head to head. Read that again so you can let it sink in. A NASCAR rain delay beat the NBA head to head. And what's more, the rain delay coverage almost beat the last afternoon of Winter Olympics coverage that drew a 4.4 rating on NBC. That's a real testament to the loyalty of the NASCAR audience and the fact that it is still a powerhouse in the sports world. After all, it was the Sprint Unlimited race that led Fox Sports Live to beat SportsCenter head to head for the first time last week. And with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory, I'm sure many within the sport are counting on him to bring back some more casual fans that may have left NASCAR in the last decade.
I don't know anyone that has the patience to sit through a rain delay, but perhaps the secret was just to show last year's race and make people believe they were watching it live. At least we finally know why so many people thought Jimmie Johnson won this year's Daytona 500!