Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Daytona 500 Ratings Decrease — Why?

The Daytona 500 is in the history books. Whether it was a great race or not is debatable. However, that is not in question is the quintessential finish that Brian France and Co. were eyeing from above.

In a world where technology is taking over and television is becoming an infrequent visit, ratings for most major sports have decreased over the past few years. Part of it is the ADD generation that just simply can’t focus on one concept for more than a few minutes. But the major issue at hand is all of the technology available for people to use given that they understand how to use it.

As television stations adjust to the increasingly difficult market, they have created online streaming systems, such as FOX Sports Go and NBC Live Extra. The two, which have been used for NASCAR races since last season, have created a wave of change in the industry, impacting ratings left and right.

As we continue to witness changes with the technology in NASCAR, we have also seen a generation shift from the men and women behind the wheel of the racecars.

Rookie Chase Elliott is just one of several drivers who have begun to make a name for themselves in NASCAR. The son of former Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott is not only Jeff Gordon’s replacement, but he also carries the pressure of being the next driver to lead a new generation of the Hendrick Motorsports dynasty. As seen in the Daytona 500, pressure can escalate rapidly, putting unforeseen weight on a driver’s shoulders in the early stages of a career that could be legend … wait for it … ary.

Q: Why were ratings for the Daytona 500 down after a seemingly perfect Speedweeks?

A: NASCAR’s season-opener historically has the highest ratings out of any race throughout the year. Starting off the year with a 6.14 overnight rating, according to ShowBuzzDaily, is not what anyone anticipated.

Down from a 7.3 overnight rating in 2015, creating a double-digit drop, is a sign for NASCAR to raise its eyebrows. It was expected that this year’s Daytona 500 would be a major hit for fans. FOX promoted the event in a thorough fashion weeks before the race, attempting to reach a fan base that it never had before. So where did things go wrong?

Let’s start with this awful commercial. The stereotypes of NASCAR fans being poor, uneducated, drunk rednecks came into full effect. It wasn’t that the commercial wasn’t good for NASCAR, but it just wasn’t the right way to advertise the biggest race of the year. Imagine if FOX promoted the World Series in the same way? Yeah, people would just laugh. That’s what happened with this commercial, failing to help NASCAR’s image, which France has sought to correct, battling against the fine line of being politically correct in the ever-changing sports world and ridding NASCAR of the stereotypes associated with it.

Along with a faulty advertising campaign, another mistake was made, one that has occurred for multiple years: putting the Can-Am Duels on FOX Sports 1, rather than FOX. The ratings for the Sprint Unlimted on FOX were, too, miserable, receiving a final rating of 1.57, according to Sports Media Watch. However, the race did create solid flow of NASCAR coverage, making fans aware that it would continue over to the next week.

(Photo: Mike Neff)
The closest finish in Daytona 500 history featured plenty of action throughout the day. However, ratings dropped a considerable amount from 2015. (Photo: Mike Neff)

But besides this, NASCAR is also competing with other major sports. On Sunday, ABC had a major NBA game being televised, featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant. Though the game started approximately two hours after the Daytona 500 took the green flag, it certainly could have made fans wary of the match-up change the channel, hoping to see something different than cars going around in ovals just past the halfway point. That game had a 2.75 rating. Once again, ADD.

Additionally, there was a college basketball game on CBS that had a 1 p.m. tip-off, which had a 1.38 rating. Oh, and there was a PGA tournament, which had a 2.77 rating.

As NASCAR looks to find different ways to fight the ratings battle against other sports, the implementation of online streaming has also helped the decline in ratings. NBC and FOX do not release data on a weekly basis for how many people log into their streams. However, with the generation shift occurring rapidly, it is expected that at least several thousand people tuned into each of the races during Speedweeks using the online service, especially for those who do not have FOX Sports 1.

Those ratings do not count when the numbers come in, unfortunately. It’s something that needs to be changed. With Sprint’s involvement as NASCAR’s title sponsor coming to a conclusion, the ratings for the online streams need to be publicly available. Obviously, if a company asks for it, NASCAR will get them from NBC and FOX. However, that is not transparent.

It is possible that the ratings could be parallel with last year’s Daytona 500 if you include the users on FOX Sports Go. Instead, it makes the sport look like it is dying when in reality, it is not.

Oh, and don’t forget the people that use illegal streams to watch sporting events, too. There’s definitely plenty of people doing that whether the television companies admit to it or not.

Let’s not forget that Jeff Gordon was not in this year’s Daytona 500. Sure, people may have been tuning in for a few minutes to see what it was like without the star driver on track. But let’s face it, a lot of older, more traditional fans that don’t want to root for anyone other than the Rainbow Warrior will certainly not be tuning into a full race anytime soon.

Along with Gordon, Tony Stewart missing the Daytona 500 was another blow to the ratings. One of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, Stewart brings an influx of fans, and not having him on the racetrack certainly made some of his fans not even dare turn the television on.

Q: Chase Elliott’s wreck in the Daytona 500 was shocking to some. What do you believe his season will be like? Is he overrated?

A: Well, obviously, one race does not dictate a whole season. I still believe it is too early to determine what Elliott’s rookie experience will be like.

However, predicted to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title ahead of Ryan Blaney and Brian Scott, the pressure is really on. He has also faced pressure in some way, shape or fashion, growing up as the son of Awesome Bill Elliott while rising through the Late Model rankings. By the way, he was astonishing in Late Models, winning the 2011 and 2015 Snowball Derby – the largest Late Model Racing – along with the 2013 All-American 400.

But this is different. This is replacing a four-time champion, arguably the man who brought NASCAR into the modern era and the spotlight.

It’s a lot to take in for a 20-year-old. I’m 20 and I couldn’t even imagine doing half of what Elliott is experiencing.

Taking a similar route to the Cup Series like Brad Keselowski, it should be expected that Elliott will struggle a bit. Keselowski ran a few races for Hendrick in 2008 before competing in nearly half of the 2009 season with HMS and Phoenix Racing. Besides his unexpected victory at Talladega, his season was a mixture of outstanding runs at Darlington and Loudon, a few top 15s and a handful of sour races with his new ride at Team Penske. He turned out just fine.

That is what I see happening with Elliott. He is going to have some tough luck in 2016. He already has. He was too aggressive during the biggest race of his life to this point – his first Daytona 500. After coming out on top in qualifying, giving HMS back-to-back pole awards in the Great American Race, he appeared rather emotionless, a habit all too familiar with young drivers receiving education behind the wheel and with public relations coordinators.

When it came to the race, coming off turn 4, Elliott got himself into a sticky situation, as did teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. later in the event. But going three-wide in the middle lane on a slick racetrack early in the going was not ideal. As seen time and time again, the Daytona 500 chews up rookies and spits them out. Just ask Kyle Larson. His Daytona 500 experience was certainly not indicative of his rookie season.

However, Elliott is not living in the moment. He is under so much pressure that he cannot enjoy his experiences. Having a brief, wry smile during his post-qualifying interview with FOX on live television, one can sense he was tense. He was doing what he was told – trying to say the politically correct thing, rather than show his raw emotions that this 20-year-old just became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR’s biggest race.

This wheel man is undoubtedly the real deal. He is going to win at least one championship within the next decade – if not more. Additionally, the pressure is on as his peers at Hendrick Motorsports are aging. Kasey Kahne is the second youngest member within the team’s stable, and he turns 37 in April. Jimmie Johnson turns 41 in September, and Earnhardt will turn 42 in October.

Clearly, Elliott is the future leader of HMS. Time will tell who else will fill out the team’s roster once Earnhardt and Johnson call it quits, which will likely not be until at least 2020 at minimum. The team doesn’t have many young prospects – for now, at least – besides a slight chance it’ll hire Cole Custer down the road if for some strange reason he doesn’t go to the Cup level with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Hendrick has essentially invested its entire future in Elliott, a superstar in the making. He will be a star in NASCAR. Why? Because he doesn’t have a choice other than to be just that.

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Bill B

You can try to explain and spin the decrease any way you want, however maybe it’s just Occam’s razor at work and the real reason is the most obvious, basic math:
The undesirable demographic fans Brian has driven away with all his changes and manipulative rules is greater than the number the desired demographic he has attracted.

The NFL has to deal with all the same issues you so quickly used to justify the ratings decrease (except for Brian and his ever changing rules) yet their ratings keep going up or remain steady (and this year’s 500 wasn’t much longer than a football game given the lack of cautions, bad weather, and jet dryers blowing up).

BTW, when reaching your conclusion about competing sporting events draining the viewer pool, did you look back for the last few years to see whether or not similar competing sporting events occurred or did it just sound good and help support you argument?


Viewers, after listening to DW, find something else to either look at or do. It is amazing that Fox continues to keep DW. He is obnoxious and runs a close first to his brother who Fox also seems to like. Gordon is a pleasant suprise but don’t expect for him to be back after having to team up with DW. Look at other sports with retired atheletes, none are anywhere close to being obnoxious as dw and his brother. Go figure!

Bill W.

Spot on paltex.

Ken S.

It is already quite obvious that with DW and Jeff in the box that there are two big egos at work!

Tim S.

I feel for the Gordon fans who want to follow him as a broadcaster but have no way to do so without enduring the Waltrip duo. I couldn’t listen to any of my favorites that way either.


Tim S, yes! If there was only a filter I could get that would block out any sounds made by any Waltrip for my TV, it would be awesome.


Nicely said, Bill B. I think it is interesting, too, that the effect of Gordon’s fans potentially NOT tuning in to watch entire races any more seems to have caught the writers and NASCAR by surprise.

Brian France made NASCAR all about “change” and worked energetically to get rid of those fans who didn’t meet whatever his standard was. He was successful. Just changing things for the sake of change, not to improve the racing, was a mistake because it took away the reason why most fans tuned in or went to the track in the first place.

I watched some of the race but since I haven’t been glued to the TV for NASCAR for several years and won’t be going forward. My viewing now depends on 1 – do I have something better to do? and 2 – is the weather nice? If the answer is yes to both those questions, I won’t be tuning in, even as a casual fan.


Maybe its as simple as ” its boring and I’m not going to waste (insert number) hours watching when only the last 5 minutes matter.”


If I’m not mistaken, the Sprint Unlimited was on Fox this year, not Fox Sports One, poking a hole in that argument.
Why? All anyone has to do is read most of the comments on the articles here the last few years to figure it out. These are the people that remember a better pre-Chase (not Chase Elliott) NASCAR, hold onto a sliver of hope that it can be better and still care to some extent. And they are not among the 4 in 10 people who watched the 2013 Daytona 500 but did not watch this year’s edition.


Maybe a lot of fans were attending tracks with real race cars. If you want to see big block modifieds here’s the recap of the last night at Volusia County. Check the video.



I am not buying some of the excuses listed in the article above as to why the rating were down. For example, it states that some people are watching the race illegally, which doesn’t show in the ratings. I am sure there have always been people watching illegally (not paying for cable…etc), so this should not have an impact now.

I used to attend several races a year and watch most at home, but now I do not. I used to enjoy watching the older guys (Earnhart, Wallace, Elliott…etc) They made me feel like they were just “good ole blue collar boys” out there doing what they loved to do. Now, it is a bunch of young guys with trophy girlfriends or wives who a lot of people don’t relate to.

I am predicting the worse year ever as far as tv ratings are concerned. If Dale Jr. ever leaves the sport it will get even worse.

Brian H

Baloney, these are all minor factors. The problem was reduced hp, a horrendous aero package that shut down the outer groove and ensured a toyota parade for 4 hours ( I turned off volume after being reminded 3x that toyota had been in Cup 10 years, But Still Hadn’t Won the 500).No passing on track, only in pits – Wow! What a horrible waste of valuable time

Kevin K

Seriously, if you think those are the reasons why ratings are down, it only shows you have no clue on what you are writing about, which, unfortunately, is very common amongst folks who try to report on motorsports.

The reason why NASCAR ratings are in the tank – and have been for many years now – is the ever changing rule book to try to force a “game 7”. Be it at the given race that weekend (debris caution) or for the entire season (the “chase”).

Zzzzzzzz! Wake me up for Homestead. On second thought, do not wake me up at all.

NASCAR deserves everything they have now, because they kept trying to change the rules to bring in new fans and all they did was tick off the old ones. Now they have neither.

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