Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Viewership Is Up Across the Board for Cup Series — But Why?

Now going on five weeks into the 2024 season, there is enough data present to take a step back and look at the viewership numbers for the first portion of the year.

And to quote a rather Twitter famous member of the NASCAR media, business is boomin’ (cc: Bob Pockrass).

Just this past weekend at Phoenix, Sunday’s Cup race got 4.028 million viewers, according to the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern. That’s up 19% from last year’s numbers, when the race coincided with college basketball’s Selection Sunday show and the PGA Players Championship. That mark was also good enough for the title of the most-watched sporting event of the weekend.

See also
NASCAR Mailbox: Why Phoenix?

In fact, viewership has been up across the board. Vegas was up 9% from the previous year with 4.359 million, Atlanta had 4.546 million and Daytona had 6.0 million even after being rain delayed.

Those numbers are all well and good, and will be intriguing to look at going forward. But just as important to look at, then, is why the numbers are going up in the first place. There may be more reasons than one might think.

It’s no secret at this point that Netflix’s docuseries on Formula 1, Drive to Survive, brought out a huge amount of interest in Americans looking to join in on the fandom. The dramaticized retelling of an entire season left many on the edge of their seats, and NASCAR and its fans alike saw this.

That’s why, during last season, Netflix and NASCAR worked collaboratively on a shorter docuseries of their own titled NASCAR: Full Speed. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, but it alone did plenty of numbers. It was in Netflix’s top 10 the first week of its release, and NASCAR’s socials experienced year-over-year follower gain and traction on social media that were shocking boosts.

Whether or not the docuseries worked to the same extent as Drive to Survive is almost irrelevant in retrospect, but the point is that it did work, and it could point towards it being a key factor in driving viewership right now, no pun intended.

And sticking with the Formula 1 theme, when is the last time it had a competitive race? Max Verstappen looks to be well on his way toward sweeping the field for a second straight season, and there’s nothing sport fans hate worse than having to sit through what is essentially a blowout for hours on end.

As far as U.S. viewership is concerned, NASCAR is still king. ESPN’s broadcast of last weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix didn’t even crack one million viewers. Granted, it was on a Saturday that was competing with every college sport that’s in season at this point, but the point still stands.

There are two more things that tie in together that could be helping, too.

The finish at the second race of the season was far and away the best of the NASCAR Next Gen era, and it’s not particularly close. The race was action-packed all the way through, showing exactly how good the not-so-new-anymore car can be when it’s right.

The clip of the finish itself made SportsCenter‘s Top 10 plays and went viral on almost any social media platform anyone can imagine. Unlike F1’s recent finishes, the race was exciting and kept viewers’ attention for hours on end. An international driver was the cherry on top of the affair, and offered the perfect metaphor for where the sport is trying to grow into.

Not only was the Atlanta race thrilling, but Georgia’s own native son is healthy and running the full schedule, and that makes for good viewing in and of itself. For those unfamiliar with the sheer amount of Chase Elliott fans out there, think about it this way. Do you remember how much NBA you watched while Michael Jordan played baseball, or how many people would show up to a Patriots game that they knew Tom Brady wouldn’t play in? It’s the same effect.

Elliott’s fanbase is the largest in the sport, bar none. In fact, one could argue that it has a mind of its own. Last season, while Elliott was out, there was a bit of magic missing from the tracks, and that was felt throughout the grandstands. Now, with the Dawsonville native back on the track full time and healthy, all of his fans are back too, and that helps in leaps and bounds.

There’s no perfect formula for figuring out whether or not all of these things are truly what’s helping driver viewership up for the Cup Series. This Mississippi boy can’t do that much math, but he can tell you this: Business is indeed boomin’, and if it keeps doing so, NASCAR could be headed back into the viewership territory that every millennial can remember once upon a time.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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DoninAjax

Like I said before, anyone who thinks numbers don’t lie never took a bookkeeping course. “There’s lies, damn lies and statistics!”

janice

cause there’s nothing better to watch, i guess. especially if you want an afternoon or early evening nap. baseball season will resume shortly and so will summertime activities. and hopefully warmer and drier weather.

wildcatsfan2016

I agree with both of you, Don & janice. Also in many parts of the country, the weather is still iffy (at least here in the East it is). I used to make my plans for the weekend around the race schedule but I haven’t done that in years. If the weather is nice, I’m going to be outside. Right now, I have the race on for background noise while I’m doing other things around the house.

Joshua

Then you’re as good as a non fan and NASCAR doesn’t need you.

DoninAjax

He is another fan who doesn’t like to be “entertained” by Brian’s product..

Bill B

And that’s why NASCAR is suffering because they have the same attitude as you.
Were you a fan when NASCAR was booming in the 90’s and early 2000s, before Brian France came along?
If not then you really wouldn’t understand.

Echo

Fox has admitted that they are liars and paid big settlements for those lies. We all know NASCAR lies, so why would we believe these numbers. I don’t for a second. It’s to make advertising pay more for commercials. It’s all about money for Nascar.

Bill B

Personally, I hope NASCAR ratings do come back. I have no reason to not want NASCAR to do well anymore. My vengeance towards Brian has been satisfied for quite a while now.
Regardless, the ratings will crash when they go to streaming on Amazon…..wait for it… wait for it…

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