IndyCar, Indy 500 still have a long way to go

I guess it's a matter of the glass being half full or half empty. I'm not here to argue about that. But the way some local news outlets wrote up this year's Indianapolis 500, you'd think the cup runneth over for the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That's simply not the case.

Several things are worth pointing out. Yes, TV ratings were up from last year, by about 7 percent nationally. But last year's 4.0 was near the worst ever in the televised history of the race.

And yes, the Indy 500 national overnight ratings topped NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 held later the same day. But IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard rightly pointed out the Indy 500 is the open-wheel Super Bowl. NASCAR's Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, last year notched a 7.7 national TV rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. And remember, NASCAR ratings are sliding, so it's no great victory to claim triumph over a wobbling giant.

Another important thing to remember is that we're comparing an overnight rating of 4.3 for this year's Indianapolis 500 to last year's final rating number. The final (more detailed) number for this year's race won't be out until Thursday or Friday. It's not uncommon for the final rating to be a bit lower than the overnight rating.

While Americans JR Hildebrand, Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick provided nice story lines, that doesn't cover up the fact that last year a record low nine Americans raced in the Indy 500, and this year that number was only up by two.

I'm certainly not saying the cup is empty either. I've already reported that according to Speedway boss Jeff Belskus, 2011 attendance was at a five-year high. Corporate hospitality also was up, along with merchandise sales and just about every other revenue stream in May. All my spotters at the track backed up Belskus' claims about increased attendance for this year's Indy 500.

And overall, there was a bit more buzz. Hildebrand's bad fortune turned out to be good business for the Speedway. The race was the focus of prime-time shows on ESPN, CNN and CNBC on Monday and into Tuesday.

Progress yes. Out of neutral, most certainly. But is the IndyCar Series in high gear? Without a doubt, the answer is not yet.

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