It has been a while since NASCAR got to enjoy some good news when it came to viewership, but even a rain delay couldn’t keep a record number of people from watching Jeff Gordon compete in his final race and Kyle Busch win his first Sprint Cup championship after missing 11 races with a broken leg and foot. NBC enjoyed significant gains in viewership for the final race of the season culminating in a 10 year high in viewership for a NASCAR season finale.
NBC averaged 7.64 million viewers throughout the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a 46% increase over last year when the race was on ESPN. The race was also the most watched NASCAR finale since 2005 and most watched Fall race since October 2006. These numbers do not include the NASCAR HotPass feed on NBCSN, which was a race feed that had a camera on all four Championship contenders as well as the NBC broadcast along with live radio of the four drivers.
Digital numbers were also not included, even though they set viewership records as well. At 84,000 unique views of the race on NBC Sports Live Extra, that resulted in a 126% rise over average viewership of NBC’s previous Sprint Cup races this season.
These viewership records were accomplished despite the green flag being dropped about an hour and a half later than scheduled due to a rain delay. This resulted in everything getting pushed back and the race telecast running into the start of Football Night in America on NBC. Instead of moving the final laps of the race to NBCSN and starting Football Night in America on time, NBC stuck with the race and preempted Football Night in America. Then NBC moved the post race festivities to NBCSN right after the race was completed. While that resulted in some people being upset, they absolutely made the right decision due to the importance of the race.
To be fair, running late and into Football Night in America’s timeslot may have been a factor in NBC enjoying a large peak audience for the race. In the final laps, from 7:45-7:56 ET, 12.4 million people tuned in, highest since the 2015 Daytona 500. Many were already watching the race, but I’m sure some were there waiting for Football Night in America to start and contributed to the numbers. NBC probably would have gotten a higher number if Football Night in America was on instead of the race but at least they got a good number for the NASCAR race and it didn’t affect the Bengals vs. Cardinals game.
While this may have been good news for NASCAR, keep in mind that this year was kind of a perfect storm for them. While the current elimination Chase format guarantees four championship contenders every season, many tuned in this year because it was Jeff Gordon’s final race. Now that Gordon is retired, NASCAR is back to square one and will need to find a solution for their lower average viewership.