Racing has had its peaks and valleys over the course of the last few decades. In the 1980s and through the mid 90s, open wheel racing was the pinnacle of motorsports. Unfortunately, the split in 1995 caused Indy Car racing to drop to the lowest depths that they’ve ever seen.
Meanwhile, NASCAR was on the rise. When Jeff Gordon went from the USAC path to NASCAR instead of Indy Car, it was the start of something big for the boys down south. Throw in the split, it was what NASCAR needed to start their rise.
From 1995 through the mid 2000s, NASCAR became arguably the second biggest sport in the United States. They were right there below with the NFL. NASCAR was the craze. Tracks could add enough seating quick enough.
But, as always, good things always come to a change. NASCAR failed to adapt while Indy Car started to.
In 2008, the split between the IRL and Champ Car ended and they became a unified IndyCar Series again. A few years later, Jay Frye and Mark Miles came onboard and the series started to kick it into high gear.
Meanwhile, NASCAR saw their numbers dipping by the year. The two series were going in opposite directions. Granted, NASCAR had millions of followers while IndyCar was the lowest of lows, so they had a ton to gain while NASCAR had a while to fall.
Now, IndyCar and NASCAR has seen their numbers start to even out. While IndyCar saw another gain in attendance and viewership numbers, it was a bit smaller than in year’s past. NASCAR, has shown that the bleeding has stopped and that their numbers are leveling off too.
NBC Sports’ first year as the exclusive media partner of INDYCAR resulted in a 9% viewership increase for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season vs. 2018, according to data from the Nielsen company and digital data from Adobe Analytics.
The 16 races in 2019 averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.105 million viewers across NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, up 9% vs. 2018 (1.011 million on ABC, NBCSN, digital). Eight races were broadcast on NBC this season vs. five network-broadcast exposures last year on ABC. NBCSN televised eight races this year as compared to 11 last year.
The season was punctuated by the first-ever Indianapolis 500 on NBC. With a thrilling finish and 300,000+ fans in attendance, the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” averaged a TAD of 5.475 million viewers, up 11% vs. the 2018 race (TV-only 4.913 million, ABC). Excluding the Indy 500, the seven remaining races broadcast on NBC averaged a TAD of 929,000 viewers, up 3% vs. ABC’s four non-Indy 500 races last year (906,000).
Other highlights include:
- The season-opening St. Petersburg race in March on NBCSN averaged a TAD of 499,000 viewers, making it the most-watched INDYCAR season opener in the network’s history. The TAD of 499,000 viewers was up 93% vs. NBCSN’s first race last season in Phoenix (primetime; 258,000).
- June’s Road America race on NBC posted a TAD of 1.108 million viewers to stand as NBC Sports’ most-watched INDYCAR race to date, excluding the Indy 500.
- NBCSN’s most-watched race of the 2019 season was at Pocono in August, which averaged a TAD of 553,000 viewers to stand as the most-watched INDYCAR race on cable since last season’s finale from Sonoma on NBCSN (638,000).
- The series finale Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., averaged a TAD of 736,000 viewers on Sunday afternoon, up 15% vs. the 2018 series finale at Sonoma, which aired on NBCSN (638,000). The race averaged a household rating of 0.50 and a TV-only audience of 732,000 viewers.
Across NBC Sports streaming platforms, the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season delivered a total of 12.9 million live minutes and an Average Minute Audience (AMA) of 6,300 viewers.
Basically, what we’re seeing now is the true fan base. NASCAR will produce TV ratings between a 1.0 and 2.0 while IndyCar is between a .5 and a 1.2.
So, what does the future hold? Now is a time for both to start rising again and to do so, it’s a good point for both to work together. The ironic thing is, both of their futures in terms of their on track racing product are heading in opposite directions.
NASCAR is going with slower speeds, less horsepower and more downforce. They’re aiming to make the racing closer in action by cutting horsepower.
IndyCar is going with higher speeds, less downforce and more power.
It’s literally the polar opposites and through this point of the year, both are showing numbers to prove that their directions are working. Ironic, I know.
Statistically, 2019 has been a highlight reel for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Despite Martin Truex Jr.’s rather convincing win last week at Richmond Raceway, the Margin of Victory on the season averages 1.649-seconds and in 15 of the 28 races so far, it’s been less than 1-second.
The NTT IndyCar Series certainly had close racing in the recently completed 17-race season, and the proof is in the finishes.
On six occasions, the race winner’s margin was less than one second, the most for a season over the past five years. Thirteen of the 15 races that finished under green – or 86.6 percent of the time – the winning margin was less than three seconds, again the most over a five-year span. Two tracks – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway – also established Indy car records for closest margin of victory this season. Scott Dixon nipped Chip Ganassi Racing rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist by 0.0934 of a second at Mid-Ohio while Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato edged Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing by 0.0399 of a second at WWT Raceway.
Last year, there was only one finish of less than a second: Sato’s 0.6084-second victory over Ryan Hunter-Reay at Portland International Raceway. Also, there were only six finishes where the winning margin was less than three seconds.
Races that end under caution do not have an established margin of victory. That means this year’s races at Toronto and Pocono were not factored in.
Margin of victory less than 1 second:
Margin of victory less than 3 seconds:
Also, for NASCAR, the average number of race leaders (8.89) is the most since 2014 (9.75). The lead changes per race (17.43) through the opening 28 races is the most since 2015 (17.79).
Green Flag Passes are up 38.1 percent from last year and Green Flag Passes for the Lead are up 64.3 percent (in 18 of 28 races – including all 1.5-mile tracks). In fact, new records were set at six events – at Las Vegas-1, Kansas-1, Bristol-1, Chicago, Kentucky and Indianapolis).
Five of the last six races, the mark for Green Flag Passes was better than the 10-year average.
So, while both series are starting to rise together, how they run their races couldn’t be further apart in terms of their concepts. Despite that, they’re thriving in their own ways.