Sunday’s two big races at Indianapolis and Charlotte were nearly mirror images of each other.
Both featured lots of intrigue, strategy, surprises, endurance and in the end dramatic finishes.
It was somewhat eerie to first watch JR Hildebrand hit the fourth turn wall heading to 500 checkered flag in a National Guard sponsored car only to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. experience the same fate with the exact sponsor six hours later.
But at the end of the day what the 1,100 miles of competition did for the sport of auto racing was worth its weight in gold.
The thrilling finishes gave racing a boost in public awareness and generated tremendous publicity outside the racing arena.
National and local market mainstream media as well as general sports outlets that only talk motorsports when there’s a horrific crash or some other controversy dedicated a great deal of attention to Sunday’s racing doubleheader.
The 100th Anniversary celebration of the Indianapolis 500 built-up anticipation for this year’s Memorial Day weekend race but delivering the finish it did Sunday was what really elevated the event back to its glory days, when Indy ranked up there with the biggest sports happenings in the world.
NASCAR was able to bask in that glow for its longest event of the year and in many ways matched the day’s opening drama with its electrifying finish that saw Earnhardt sputter out of fuel on the final lap only to have Kevin Harvick race by for the win.
That was big for the NASCAR world, which took a PR beating only days before with Kyle Busch’s 128 mph speeding ticket in a 45 mph zone. The sanctioning body not stepping up to at least criticize the behavior or try to make the public aware it does not condone such dangerous highway driving didn’t help the sport’s position in the eyes of many.
But despite the overall goodwill auto racing created with Sunday’s back-to-back thrilling races, it’s still crystal clear which of the two forms of the sport is far and away the most popular.
NASCAR hands down trumps Indy Car in that department.
Overnight television ratings for this year’s Indy 500 were up from last year from a 4.0 in 2010 to a 4.3 on Sunday. That’s certainly a positive to take away from the telecast.
However compare that to what the NASCAR Charlotte nightcap drew and it’s almost embarrassing. FOX reported a rating of 4.0 for the Coke 600, about flat from last season’s audience.
That’s right, a regular season NASCAR stop generated roughly the same sized audience as not just Indy Car’s biggest race of the year, but in many people’s opinion still one of the most prestigious sports events in the world.
And if you want to go head-to-head in sizing up TV numbers between Indy and NASCAR’s crown jewel Daytona 500, the results are even more one-sided. This year’s Daytona race ended up with an 8.2 mark, nearly double the size of Indianapolis.
The point is although there’s no denying NASCAR’s numbers are down in both television ratings and attendance in recent years, the sport is far from being on life support.
Held up to other forms of motorsports there really isn’t any comparison as NASCAR dwarfs everything from open wheel to drag racing to sports car racing.
Take away the NFL, which is the king of all sports even while in a lockout, and NASCAR still holds its own. Executives of the NBA, NHL or MLB would certainly love to see some of NASCAR’s television and attendance numbers in their respective leagues.
It should bode well for NASCAR as it kicks off its next round of television contract negotiations for the sport to still be as healthy as it is. Will the new deal come in for the nearly $5 billion the sanctioning body received from FOX, Turner and ABC/ESPN the last time through? I’d say yes given the audience size the sport still generates
NASCAR is still viewed as a very viable asset and there’s discussion new suitors such as NBC and its new cable sports network arm, currently known as Versus, will dive into the mix.
While it may not be on the same growth projection it was a decade ago, NASCAR remains established as a property with a huge following and one that even up against an event that transcends its sport and leaps into the general consciousness like the Indy 500 can out perform.
The final evaluation of Sunday’s giant day for auto racing proves it.
|More NASCAR coverage|