NASCAR’s Chase Hits ESPN High, Still Trails Previous Years (UPDATED)

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The Pepsi Max 400 drew the highest rating yet for NASCAR’s Chase For The Cup, though the numbers still lagged well behind previous years.

ESPN drew a 2.5 U.S. rating and 4.072 million viewers for Sunday’s Pepsi Max 400, down 31% in ratings and 32% in viewership from last year’s race on ABC (3.6, 5.953 mil). Prior to last year, the race aired on Labor Day weekend and was not part of the Chase For The Cup.

The 2.5 rating is the lowest ever for the Pepsi Max 400 (dates back to 2004). The previous low was a 3.3 for the 2008 race.

This marks the highest rated, most-viewed Chase For The Cup race this season. However, the 2.5 is the fourth-lowest rating ever for a Chase For The Cup race — ahead of only this year’s Sylvania 300 (2.3), Price Chopper 400 (2.3), and AAA 400 (2.4).

Despite the decline, the telecast was the 17th most-viewed program of the week on cable, and ESPN’s third most-viewed program.

So far this season, six Sprint Cup races have drawn less than a 3.0 rating, and ten have drawn less than five million viewers. Last year, only one race dipped below 3.0, and only two drew less than five million.

Overall, of the 25 NASCAR races that can be compared to last year, 20 have had a decline in ratings and 19 have had a decline in viewership.

UPDATED 10/13/2010: An earlier edition of this post said Sunday’s race drew a 2.9 U.S. rating. In actuality, the 2.9 was the cable rating, and the race drew a 2.5 U.S. rating.

(ESPN; weekly cable rankings from TV By The Numbers)

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