Sprint Cup TV Ratings: Michigan Delivers NASCAR’s Second-Straight Increase

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For the second straight week, ratings and viewership increased for NASCAR Sprint Cup racing on ESPN.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Michigan earned a 3.2 U.S. rating and 5.2 million viewers on ESPN Sunday afternoon, up 7% in ratings and 12% in viewership from last year (3.0, 4.6M) but down 3% and 1%, respectively, from 2012 (3.3, 5.2M). The telecast earned the second-highest rating and viewership of the season for NASCAR on cable, trailing only the Brickyard 400 (3.4, 5.2M).

In a sharp turnaround for NASCAR, Sunday’s race ranks as the second straight to have an increase in ratings and viewership over last year. By contrast, 17 of the first 18 races had declines in ratings and 15 had declines in viewership.

It may be a stretch to describe NASCAR’s two-week winning streak as a change in momentum. The previous week’s increase from Watkins Glen was almost certainly due to news coverage surrounding Tony Stewart, who was involved in a fatal accident at a dirt track race the night before. Though it is less likely that the Stewart situation contributed to Sunday’s increase — the story completely disappeared from the mainstream news cycle — it may have played a small role.

Then there is the more routine explanation. It is not at all unusual for NASCAR races to generate an increase over the previous year. Even in seasons when most NASCAR races have declined from the previous year, there have been multiple exceptions.

NASCAR would certainly prefer for the increases to be indicative of renewed interest in the sport, but it remains to be seen whether that is the case. An indication could come next week at the Bristol night race on ABC. Ratings for the race have increased two straight years, with last year’s 3.9 ranking as the top non-FOX NASCAR rating since 2011. Another bump would go a long way in suggesting that NASCAR has turned things around.

(Sun. numbers from ESPN)

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