NASCAR had a rare increase in television ratings last weekend, likely owing in large part to the breaking news story involving Tony Stewart.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Watkins Glen earned a 3.1 U.S. rating and 4.9 million viewers on ESPN Sunday afternoon, up 15% in ratings and 18% in viewership from last year (2.7, 4.2M), up 11% and 10%, respectively, from 2012 (2.8, 4.5M), and the highest rated and most-watched edition of the race since 2010 (3.2, 4.9M).
The race aired just hours after Stewart was involved in an incident at a dirt track race that resulted in the death of another driver. Though Stewart did not participate in Sunday’s race, the news attracted mainstream media attention and likely contributed to the larger-than-usual audience.
Considering the overall performance of NASCAR this season, the relatively strong performance for Watkins Glen would seem to be an anomaly. Entering Sunday’s race, only one NASCAR race all season had an increase in ratings and three had an increase in viewership.
Furthermore, Watkins Glen is usually one of the weaker performers on the NASCAR schedule. In each of the last two years, it was the second-lowest rated race through this point of the season (excludes the All-Star Race). This year, however, the race earned the season’s second-highest rating on cable, trailing only the Brickyard 400 from Indianapolis.
In other words, even a seemingly good week for NASCAR TV ratings was nothing to celebrate.
(Sun. numbers from ESPN)