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Could Fun 500 Lead To More Prime Time Racing?

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 29 2012

Matt Kenseth won a Monday night Daytona 500 that drew boffo reviews. Are the TV numbers giving NASCAR ideas? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tom Copeland)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DALLAS – Fast as he is, Matt Kenseth hasn’t had time to sit back and review his victory in NASCAR’s rain-delayed and incident-marred Daytona 500. But the overnight TV numbers have stamped the 54th edition of “The Great American Race” as “boffo!”

Kenseth’s dramatic win over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a two-lap green/white/checkered flag finish capped the most-watched Daytona 500 in FOX Sports history and second-best overall in NASCAR’s version of the “Super Bowl.”

A total audience of over 36.5-million watched a race that began in primetime Monday evening on the East Coast and ended early Tuesday morning, according to fast national ratings issued by Nielsen Media Research. The 36.5-million total viewers – a measure of the audience that saw at least a portion of the race – is 22 percent higher than last year’s total audience of 30-million and 22 percent better than 2010’s 29.8-million. The total audience is second-best for a Daytona 500 on any network, trailing only the 37.0-million viewers for NBC’s telecast in 2006.

For the first time in the event’s history, rain postponed Sunday’s originally scheduled 1 p.m. (ET) start until noon Monday, with continued showers delaying the green flag until 7 p.m. Overall, it took 36 hours to complete the race from its originally scheduled start time.

“Our whole sport comes down to the fans, what they’re happy with. It seemed like it was a pretty big hit,”

Matt Kenseth hoists the Harley Earl Trophy. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Kenseth said Tuesday evening at American Airlines Center after a media opportunity with head coach Rick Carlisle of the NBA World Champion Dallas Mavericks. “I mean, NASCAR was up against a unique challenge of the rainout on Sunday and moving the race to Monday. It was still raining so they decided to schedule it for primetime Monday, which I thought was an awesome move, especially for all the fans at home that get to watch it on TV at that time at night.

“I thought it was a great plan. There was a lot of positive feedback about the race being on Monday night –they had huge viewership numbers. It seemed like everybody was excited about taking a bad situation and making the best of it.”

Kenseth’s stop in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex also served to advance the Samsung Mobile 500 on Saturday, April 14. Kenseth’s win at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last spring was among the three victories he bagged en route to an overall fourth-place finish in the point standings.

Carlisle presented Kenseth with a team autographed basketball, while Kenseth gave the coach an autographed Daytona 500 cap before Mark Cuban’s Mavs lost to the New Jersey Nets, 93-92.

The Daytona 500 on FOX won the primetime battle Monday night among adults aged 18-49 and total audience figures, posting a 4.6 and averaging 14.1-million viewers from 8 to 11 p.m. (ET). It was the network’s most-watched Monday night in 16 months, dating to Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.

In addition to Danica Patrick’s first Daytona 500 start, the race produced a fiery crash when Juan Pablo Montoya’s disabled car hit a safety truck/track-drying engine under caution on Lap 160. The incident prompted a red flag stoppage that lasted for two hours, five minutes. While down slightly from last year’s Sunday afternoon race that occurred without any significant delays, Monday night’s event was up 4 percent when compared to 2010 (7.7/16), which saw lengthy delays for pothole repairs to the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway surface.

Ratings grew gradually through the first two-and-a-half hours, climbing to an 8.2/12 (14.2-million viewers) in the 9:30 p.m. half-hour, when the Montoya wreck occurred. Ratings grew further at 10 p.m., peaking at an 8.8/13 (15.1-million viewers).

National ratings for the programming won’t be available until Thursday. But top-rated markets for the Daytona 500 included Greensboro (18.1/27), Jacksonville (18.1/27), Charlotte (16.7/26), Greenville (16.7/26), Dayton (16.1/25) and Orlando (16.0/26). Markets seeing the biggest growth from last year

Matt Kenseth cemented his place in history. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

included New Orleans (plus-46 percent, 7.3 vs. 5.0), Salt Lake City (plus-33 percent, 8.1 vs. 6.1), Fort Myers (plus-30 percent, 15.5 vs. 11.9), San Antonio (plus-17 percent, 7.5 vs. 6.4) and Tampa (plus-17 percent, 12.5 vs. 10.7).

When the marathon concluded, Kenseth emerged with his second Daytona 500 victory in four years and the landmark 300th win for Roush Fenway Racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. Jack Roush’s organization, which is celebrating its 25th year in 2012, is the first to win 300 NASCAR races.

“They were holding this banner in front of me (in Victory Lane) and I was trying to ask what it meant,” said Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Best Buy Ford Fusion prepared by veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig. “They told me and it was pretty neat, 300th win. You know, Jack has given a lot to this sport and the sport’s given back. I feel good for Jack that we’ve been able to win some races for him (22 victories in 437 starts) and a championship (2003). You feel bad when you don’t perform up to what his standards are. So it was nice to be able to get that win for him.”

Kenseth and teammate Greg Biffle combined to lead 83 of 200 laps in the extended race, with Kenseth taking the lead for the final time with 37 laps remaining and holding the point through the GWC finish. Kenseth became the ninth driver with multiple Daytona 500 victories and the first to win both a duel race and the 500 since Earnhardt Jr. in 2004.

“The Daytona 500 is such a unique race,” said Kenseth, 39, of Cambridge, Wis. “If you look through all the history, and not just the last 10 years, anything can happen in that race. It’s produced a lot of different winners and a lot of crazy races. So it’s pretty special to win one but it’s really special to win two, for sure, and get on the list of guys that have a couple trophies.

“The first (in 2009) was really, really exciting for us. I don’t feel I’m particularly good at restrictor plate racing, the style of racing we do at Daytona and Talladega (Superspeedway). That week was a very long week. We weren’t very competitive. We wrecked a car in the Shootout. We wrecked a car in the Gatorade (Duel) races and had to come from the back. Had some handling problems in the 500 and just got to the front and got the lead when it started raining. Worked hard all day to get there and saw the rain coming and was able to win that race.

“I mean, that was a really exciting one for us. I wasn’t really expecting it. I wasn’t really ready for what came after that _ it was a pretty exciting week and got to do a lot of neat things. Being able to win it a second time is totally different. We had a pretty dominant car, I thought, all week winning the qualifying race and the 500 as well. Going into overtime _ the green/white/checkered and all that stuff _ was pretty darn exciting. So it’s really hard to put one on top of another.”

Kenseth is well-aware that a victory in the Daytona 500 does not guarantee a “boffo” season. Kenseth won the first two races of the 2009 schedule _ at DIS and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. _ but failed to qualify for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time since its inception in 2004. He posted just five top-five finishes in the final 34 races en route to a 14th-place overall result.

“The Daytona 500, I almost think of as another season,” said Kenseth, who made his Cup debut subbing for two-time Daytona 500 champion Bill Elliott at Dover International Speedway in 1998. “You’ve got two weeks of Speedweeks and all that. Once the Daytona 500 is over, whether you’re first or last, honestly, when I get to the first race (Phoenix International Raceway) I kind of reset. And I forget about it and go racing because the rest of the season is so different.

“Out of 39 weeks we race 37 times at all different styles of racetracks that are totally different than Daytona, and your performance at Daytona doesn’t really mean anything for your performance at Phoenix and Vegas, California and the rest of the races coming up. I kind of reset, try to get through the first four races, get to the Easter break and have a general idea of who the contenders are going to be. Hopefully, you’re one of them.

“But I don’t think you can pick a favorite this early in the year. The championship doesn’t get settled until Thanksgiving and the Chase isn’t set until the middle of September. I think you have to get very minimum to the Easter break. The first five races is a pretty good mix of what we do all season long. Maybe not necessarily where you are in points or where your finishes are but how you ran and performed in those five races will give you a pretty good idea of how your team stacks up.”

In related TV news from Daytona, ESPN’s live telecast of the Nationwide Series season-opener on Saturday _ a crash-filled event won by Texan James Buescher of Turner Motorsports _ broke the previous record as the most-viewed race on cable television for the series. The telecast earned a household coverage rating of 3.3, averaging 4,433,249 viewers in 3,304,012 households, breaking the record of 4,271,365 viewers in 3,170,109 households set for ESPN’s telecast of the Daytona race in 2010.

Ratings and viewership for the Daytona telecast were up 37 percent from ESPN’s telecast of last year’s race, which earned a 2.4 household coverage rating and averaged 3,246,875 viewers.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 29 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Tony Geinzer says:

    I know I am not wild about a Monday 500, but, let just have some ground rules. I would not like a Red After Halfway like Monday and restart, because I feel that should be the Red and Checker Mercy Rule. I know Lights have been reopened at other places like Indy, but, I would like to see how the schedule weighs out in 2013 or 2014.