Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: The Real Reason for Indy’s Ratings Increase

Indianapolis Motor Speedway provided competition that is simply unforeseen for stock car racing at the 2.5-mile facility this past weekend.

From the NASCAR XFINITY Series to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Indianapolis proved to be a rare summer hit. Instead of people being excited just to be at such a legendary racetrack, they were talking about how the famed Brickyard put on not one, but two outstanding shows.

It seems unreal, and it’s because of the low expectations people had entering the weekend.

With the XFINITY Series’ use of the restrictor plate, a larger spoiler and brake ducts at Indianapolis, the 250-mile race featured a record-shattering 16 lead changes, up from the previous mark of nine set in 2014.

Forget the XFINITY Series race for a second. The Cup Series race started out as lackluster, featuring a snooze-fest for the first two stages. But when the dominant Kyle Busch wrecked as Martin Truex Jr. got loose beneath him while battling for the lead on a restart, the race suddenly became one that is going to set the standard at Indianapolis for a long time to come.

Q: Do you think the reason this race had 5.6 million views is because it aired on NBC rather than NBCSN this year? Kenneth L.

A: Ratings are tricky to get a grasp of. Obviously, NBC is one of the world’s most well-known televisions stations and a widely popular one.

NBCSN is available in about 85 million homes after inking a deal with DirecTV, according to New York Business JournalNBC, however, has an endless potential of viewers as a top broadcast network.

Any race on NBC is going to see a spike in viewers. The same can be said about races on FOX instead of FS1.

2017’s Brickyard 400 on NBC saw an increase of about seven percent for overnight ratings, earning a 3.38, which is up from last year’s 3.10 on NBCSN. That number became firm as NBC tweeted come Monday afternoon.

With 5.6 million viewers, not only does that shatter ratings from the past three Cup races at Indianapolis, but it is the highest rating of the year since Talladega Superspeedway’s event earned a final of 3.5 with 5.9 million viewers.

Obviously, the later start did play a role in NASCAR’s ratings boost this past Sunday. Starting the 400-mile race just prior to 3 p.m. ET is a strategic move by NASCAR and the broadcast companies to increase viewership. However, the rain delay, which lasted nearly two hours, carried the race well into prime time television.

Since the event lasted the better part of six hours, including rain-delay coverage, it enabled people to click back and forth from the race to other programs, contributing to the ratings boost. NBC did not release how many people watched via the NBC Sports Live app/stream on the Web.

The delayed race forced NBC to put Megyn Kelly’s show on hold until 9 p.m. Kelly’s show did not keep the NASCAR audience as expected, with ratings decreasing to 2.71 million viewers.

Even with the move to NBC, a hike in viewership is a very positive sign for NASCAR. If the ratings had instead decreased, that would have been a very negative direction for the sport to be heading.

The weather in Indianapolis may have helped NASCAR gain more of an audience as the race went into Sunday evening. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

As NASCAR moves forward, not only will it need to take a look at ways to keep the momentum, but it might even look into having Sunday evening prime time races in the summer if that’s what it takes to have high ratings.

Q: Do you believe the Cup cars will get a similar rules package at Indy next year? – Brandon B. Hornell, New York

A: For the sake of the sport, the aero package needs to change for next year. While competition in the midst of the pack is at the highest its been since 2004 – 2006 in my eyes, the leader’s advantage thanks to clean air is still absurd.

Obviously, there are going to be times when a car just dominates a race. That’s part of any sport, whether it’s seeing the New York Yankees dominate baseball in the 20th century or the New England Patriots whip the rest of the NFL. But limiting the amount of opportunities someone has to dominate in any sport is a key to making something grow, even when it seems like the peak has come and gone.

“Slingshot engage” as Ricky Bobby once said.

NASCAR can take away many lessons from Saturday’s XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis, and the use of a restrictor plate, a bigger spoiler and the addition of a brake duct made the race thrilling. Not once did the leader have an incredible advantage over the rest of the field.

If the Cup Series were to use a package like the XFINITY Series did this past weekend, it will need an abundance of testing. With the race moving to September in 2018, track conditions will be much different, meaning cooler temperatures and a better opportunity for passing since the track won’t be as slick.

“All in an effort to make drag to punch a bigger hole in the air and to allow these cars to bump draft and slingshot around each other,” Parker Kligerman, a current driver in the Camping World Truck Series and NBC analyst, said.

The added drag in the racecars can generate more passing. More importantly, it can get rid of the ridiculous clean air advantage, which Busch took advantage of, easily pulling away from Truex and the rest of the field on restarts because his car was just that good.

But when Busch wrecked, no one else could pull away from the field like he did. The problem — or not a problem depending on how you look at it — is there will always be one or two cars that can dominate a race. It’s a natural step for a team that works hard to have a competitive advantage when they find that extra “something” that is pure gold.

As Busch pulled into the garage, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth had a great duel for the lead with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. The two battled for several laps until calamity became the headline, turning a dull race into a spectacle unlike others at IMS.

That clean air advantage? It was still there. However, it wasn’t as immense with a car that was only slightly better than the one trailing it.

Overall, the aero package needs to be fixed for next year. After a horrendous race at Kentucky Speedway that saw NASCAR, the track and Goodyear being forced to add the “sticky stuff,” otherwise known as PJ1, it was clear that such an effort shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. If the cars lost some downforce, the issue at Kentucky wouldn’t have been a problem.

Fortunately, Kentucky is the only race that sticks out in terms of being lackluster this year. The sport is fortunate to have seen good racing, and if it continues to make positive changes using driver feedback and instead of advice from people who have never raced one of these cars, we can continue to see great racing like we did this past weekend.

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Just highlights the fact that the quality of the racing, the particular track, actual attendance or any of the other factors which we think affect ratings really do. Maybe its more what else do I have to do this afternoon.


““Slingshot engage” as Ricky Bobby once said.”

Great! Use a quote from a farce. The “fans” today think a slingshot is what David used on Goliath. Maybe. Brian has made sure the slingshot is gone forever.

The viewers weren’t up because of the 3 o’clock start. It was because of the length of Brian’s product into prime time and says more about what it was up against. I guess the tiddly winks show was over and Chinese Checkers hadn’t started.


Absolutely, on the Xfinity package to Cup next year for Indy. The competition was much better, but even so, a good car and or tires made a difference. I was surprised Byron held off Menard who was flying through the field at the end. This package has a lot of potential. However, I am wary of using it beyond Indy, and I only see it as a stop gap in Cup until a Gen-7 car is introduced.

ben stern

With all the torn-up cars, it would have to be a stretch to call the indy race, a race. Since the drivers feel so secure in the cars, they evidently don’t consider getting hurt and drive very aggressively. With so much money now involved so what if I wreck a quarter or more million car. Not racing!

Sol Shine

Agreed. I thought the series of wrecks at the end were a disgrace. You’d think “professional” drivers could do better than that shtishow. I’m sure the casual viewers that thought they’d be watching bingo or a talent show by that time were real impressed by that lunacy.


I did not watch but a family member was PISSED OFF!! The family member kept screaming from the other end of the house “these guys are professionals”. “Oh come on now, really” “WTF”. Had to give a big yell and tell that person to STFU don’t want to hear it not interested!


DoninAjax, you are so correct about the viewership. I had been out for the afternoon (I actually left before the race started) and when I got back and started dinner, I happened to flip thru the channels and ta da, the race was still on. Mind you, that was about 7 p.m. ET. I watched one wreck, switched channels while the red flag was on, flipped back & yep, they are still trying to get the race done. I do have to say that the number of times NASCAR restarted the race made me feel somewhat ill since they once upon a time said that it was “for safety reasons” that they were no longer going to race back to the caution. So what is the difference between multiple restarts with the resulting wrecks vs racing back to the caution. I didn’t actually watch the end of the race.

russ, yes, IMO the viewers and ratings are related to what else do I have to do this afternoon AND what is the weather like where I am. If the weather is crappy, I will probably turn on the race at least for a period of time. If the weather is good, I’m not sitting inside watching the “product” that NASCAR is currently selling.


This race carried over into at least 2 other programs beyond its time slot. I’m sure those people expecting to watch what was on the guide but ended up seeing the race counted towards the total amount. Very skewed in my opinion. If not for all the aggressiveness as a result of having to take anything you can get on the first lap of a restart, the race ends up being a snoozer. The number of wrecks does not define what a good race is.

I won’t even address the excitement of only 16 lead changes in a 250 mile Xfinity race. The bar is set pretty low indeed at Indy


How many dangerous situations arose racing back to the caution compared to the safer situations with double file restarts?

Sol Shine

Not trying to be rude, but what does one have to do with the other? Just not seeing a connection. Most participants, drivers included, thought racing back to the caution was insanity, not much opposition to double file restarts from them though.


Most drivers probably thought it was insanity until they could keep a driver who could beat them a lap down. How safe are double file restarts Do you think the drivers think they’re safer than racing back to the checkers. How many times did a driver not give another driver the lap back? As I recall, most times the leader slowed down when the caution came out unless he didn’t want to.

Let me try my point a different way. What are the number of times racing back to the caution created a dangerous situation compared to double file restarts? To me, a dangerous situation is a dangerous situation. The drivers aren’t exactly singing the virtues of them.

Bill B

I agree with you Don.
Here is a better way to frame it.
How many cars have been wrecked during the double file restarts?
How many cars were wrecked as a result of racing back to the line?

I don’t ever recall someone hitting another car racing back to the line (although I am sure it happened at some point). Conversely I have seen lots of cars wrecked on the double file restarts, especially when coupled with the GWC finishes.


well based on my observations wrecks that happened on double file restarts is WAY more than were wrecked racing back to the caution.

Sol Shine

Didn’t seem to be many bums in seats, I’ve seen more fans at the local Saturday night track than what were in most of the stands at Indy. I know the joint holds 300K or so, but still, it didn’t look like they had 1/5 of that.


The ratings thing reminds me of a couple of years ago when rain at Homestead delayed the Game 7 moment and it spilled into the Sunday Night Football window, drawing much higher ratings as the result of accidental viewership.

Al Torney

Racing back to the caution and double file restarts have nothing to do with each other. Why the comparison?
Number of lead changes in a race is very deceiving. Lead changes can and are made in pit stops..the lead car pits and the second place takes the number one spot is a lead change. Actual lead changes where the number two car passes the lead car under green for the lead are still to few during a race.
TV ratings are subject to deception. A point at one time meant one million viewers. Now it means in excess of one and a half million viewers. Which means in most households there are more then one person watching the race. I seriously doubt this is happening. But the entire tv industry buys ino this so it is all we have to go on.
The Cup race Sunday was one in a thousand. How many times have you seen the two lead cars wreck out of a race. I can remember the famed 1979 Daytona 500 having it happen. And if course the Petty-Pearson wreck in the 500 but Pearson still won that one. If Busch and Truex don’t wreck the Brickyard 400 is a yawner as usual. I wouldn’t go next year expecting to see the same wreckfest. The speedway in reality is just a bad place to go to see a race. There is just to much crap in the infield blocking to much of the racing. That’s why I would never attend a race there. Most people who attend the Indy 500 go because of the tradition not the racing.

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