But because the IRL's new TV home, the Versus cable channel, isn't carried in as many U.S. households as ESPN2, a rating point isn't worth as much. So viewership was down slightly from last year. This year, 388,864 households tuned in, compared to 485,604 in 2008.
This year's Long Beach rating is a dramatic improvement over the 0.3 rating (233,000 households) the IRL earned for its debut on Versus April 5 at St. Petersburg. The TV rating for the St. Petersburg race was down 60 percent from the same race a year ago.
"We see progress," said IRL spokesman John Griffin. "We attribute the improved rating to three things: The NASCAR race on Saturday night, the attraction and history of the race at Long Beach, and people getting more focused on where to find Versus. At this point, we couldn't be happier."
IRL officials hope the momentum carries over to the series' race at Kansas City April 26. "Now we're going back to our roots with a one-and-a-half mile oval," Griffin said.
After Kansas City, the IRL is off a week before heading to Indianapolis for three weekends of action, followed by weekends at Milwaukee and Texas.
While the Indianapolis 500 race is on ABC, Versus will air all four days of qualifications May 9-10 and May 16-17 and Carburation Day activities May 22.
The Milwaukee race will air on ABC, while the Texas race will air on Versus.
"This is the result of our new, compact schedule," Griffin said. "We think the timing of these races will help us build fan following."