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What is Causing the Downturn in NASCAR TV Ratings?

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The TV ratings for the Southern 500 are in, and for the fourth week in a row, they were a drop from the previous week. What is it that is causing this drop in TV ratings? Could it be the so-called “Case Elliott Effect” or maybe football? For Context, here is the drop from the last few weeks.

  • Indianapolis (NBC) -15.9%
  • Watkins Glen (USA) -11.2%
  • Daytona (NBC) -16.8%
  • Darlington (USA) -1.7%

The “Chase Elliott Effect”

Chase Elliott is out of the Playoffs officially now, so some believe that Elliott is what caused the downturn in TV viewership. Early in the season, every race that did not include Chase Elliott while he was injured saw a double-digit decrease in TV viewership. The next race that he missed at Gateway also saw a double-digit decrease, but there was also a weather delay to be factored into that weekend.

However, the three races heading into the Southern 500 all saw double-digit drops, where Elliott was still very much in the hunt. The Southern 500 at only a 1.7% drop was actually a far less drastic drop than the final three races of the regular season.

If the “Chase Elliott Effect” actually applied in this instance, then why are the races that Elliott had the most incentive to run well the races that saw the biggest drop? Maybe his being in a must-win situation had something to do with it, and maybe some fans wrote him off. However, he still was in contention in those races.


These last four races have all put NASCAR in direct competition with the start of football season. For the first three weeks, it was just the NFL preseason, and it was week one of college football last weekend.

In the case of both the Indianapolis race and the Daytona race, some NBC affiliates elected to either not show the race entirely or join the race in progress. The reason is that they elected to show their local NFL team’s preseason game instead. That could easily factor into a TV ratings drop.

For Indianapolis, according to, NBC affiliates in the markets of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Santa Barbara did not show the race at all. Jackson, Mississippi, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee joined the race in progress, and Kansas City, Missouri moved the race to another network. None of these are the biggest NASCAR markets out there, but there are plenty of NASCAR fans in these areas who probably were not able to tune in to the race that Sunday.

For Daytona, it was the same story as Bob Pockrass noted before the Coke Zero Sugar 400. Major markets like New York and Washington D.C. did not show the start of the race live, and Daytona Beach, Florida, the site of the race, moved it away from the normal NBC affiliate. These are some major markets that were not getting the race on their’ normal TV channel.

The Southern 500 went directly up against the biggest college football game of the weekend, Florida State vs. LSU, but the rating disparity was far less. However, does that explain Watkins Glen? Only one NFL preseason game was on that day, and the Watkins Glen race was on USA.

Therefore, Watkins Glen just flat-out performed poorly in the TV ratings, and there is no easy excuse for it. Football may partially explain it, but does it explain the entirety of the situation? Watkins Glen certainly opens up that question.


This has been a difficult year for NASCAR in terms of TV ratings, and the last few weeks have been particularly rough. They have had some outside factors that have not helped, but how much of that can really be blamed on those factors?

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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