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 Journal. NBC, 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.
The 5.6 million viewers for Sunday’s @NASCARonNBC coverage ranks as the best delivery for the Brickyard 400 since 2011 (ESPN 6.38 million)
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) July 24, 2017
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.
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.