The Danica Patrick effect is taking hold of NASCAR.
The Feb. 13 Nationwide Series race in Daytona—Patrick’s first—saw a 33 percent ratings increase from last year.
The race, which started at 1 p.m. Saturday, earned a 2.8 national rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. That means 3.1 million U.S. households tuned in.
That makes it the most viewed Nationwide race ever to air on the ESPN network.
Locally, the race scored much higher. In the Indianapolis market, the race earned a 6.9 rating (74,000 TV households). That’s more than double the local rating of the same race a year ago.
Apparently, more than a few IndyCar fans are tuning in. It also shows how strong a NASCAR market Indianapolis is. It’s often the No. 2 market behind Charlotte, NC, for NASCAR races.
Sports marketers at the race said people were lined up 10 deep before and after the race at the Danica Patrick merchandise trailer. No other Nationwide driver was even close to that kind of draw. Not even those that also compete in the Sprint Cup Series.
It remains to be seen if Patrick is a one-hit wonder and ratings will fade as the novelty of her driving a stock car passes, of if the legions of fans will continue to follow her throughout this stock-car season.
One thing is clear, there is much anticipation for her next NASCAR race, Saturday's Stater Brothers 300 in Fontana, Calif. There she’ll line up on the two-mile speedway for her second race driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports.
The run-up to the race has kept Patrick mighty busy. This week, she has appeared on “The Ellen Show”, “On Air with Ryan Seacrest”, “Good Day LA”, “CBS Evening News”, “The Bonnie Hunt Show”, “Chelsea Lately” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
But in NASCAR, like most big-time sports, there are no shortage of big egos. And a handful of drivers have already started to spew venom against Danica-mania.
Most notably, Michael Waltrip, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch have made biting comments about the exposure the NASCAR rookie is gaining.
Her following was most evident in the press room at Daytona. After Patrick crashed, 90 percent of the media there to cover the race, barreled out of the media center in pursuit of a sound bite from Patrick. The crash itself was nothing spectacular. By NASCAR standards, it was pretty boring.
A short time later, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. flipped his car and slid down the front straight on his roof, nary a single media member left to immediately check on his condition or get a quote.
“The only thing I will say is that TV has been doing a horrible job because they’ve been covering her way too much …,” Kyle Busch told SpeedTV. “You’ve got all these people watching TV and they want to hear about Danica. Well then take advantage of that and show the less-funded team, the underprivileged people that want to have funding so they can race the rest of the year. Danica is only going to be here for 12 races or whatever it is this year. It would help the rest of those teams that want to try to make a full run at it get the coverage that they need and the exposure that they deserve to try to race the full season. Just my opinion.”
I wonder if the grapes will be as sour in California as they were in Florida.