Danica’s Daytona sends TV ratings, IMS hopes soaring

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Last Monday, I wrote that Danica Patrick’s entry this year as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup racer could mean $1.5 million in ticket and other sales for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I also wrote that Patrick’s success could mean more toward rejuvenating July’s Brickyard 400 than installing lights at the IMS.

I would like to revise that.

If she keeps her car up front, and especially if she learns to finish a race strong, Patrick’s success could mean—and should mean—well over $2 million in additional revenue to the IMS during July's Brickyard 400. IMS officials still say the Brickyard 400 is profitable. But it's safe to say the profit margin is much slimmer now than it was a decade ago before attendance at the NASCAR race was halved to 125,000.

The Speedway has more to gain from Patrick’s success this year than any other track. As the former six-time most-popular IndyCar Series driver, she’s already demonstrated she has a following here in the heart of open-wheel.

The vastly improved TV ratings for Sunday’s Daytona 500 prove that people are as fascinated as ever by the fastest female open-wheel or stock car racing has ever seen. Patrick appears poised to snap Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 10-year streak as NASCAR’s most popular driver, an amazing feat for a rookie.

This year’s Daytona 500 scored a 10.0 overnight TV rating and a 22 share, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. That’s more than a 30-percent increase over last year’s 7.7 rating/13 share.

Last year’s Daytona 500 was postponed due to rain from Sunday to Monday, so the comparison to this year may be skewed a bit. But last year’s race did start just after 7 p.m. and enjoyed a prime-time slot. Either way, there’s no denying the Danica effect. This year is the best Daytona 500 in terms of TV viewership since 2006.

This year’s ratings mean about 11 million households watched, and 22 percent of all TV sets on at the time were tune in to Daytona. And most viewers didn’t tune in to watch Jimmy Johnson win.

The race scored an 8.6 rating and 20 share as the green flag dropped at Daytona, and as long as Patrick stayed in contention the audience grew. The ratings peaked from 4:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.with a 12.8 rating (14.1 million households) and 26 share.

Not coincidently, Patrick was sitting in third place late in the race as TV viewership surged. Her last lap wasn't spectacular as she fell to eighth. Still, it's the highest female finisher at Daytona ever. And her performance is certainly enough to stoke the fires of Danicamania.

Still skeptical? Consider this: Shortly after winning the pole at Daytona, Fanatics.com, a leading retailer of official merchandise, announced the sale of Patrick merchandise surpassed sales of wares for the likes of Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. She retained that lead to the finish.

As I wrote last week, it’s a long way between Daytona and Indianapolis. A lot can happen in five-plus months on the NASCAR circuit.

But for now we know this: Patrick has a very fast car. And fans care about what she does behind the wheel of that car very much. In no place is that more true than where she first zoomed into America’s consciousness—Indianapolis.

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