Daytona Postscript ? Ratings Up or Down? How Crowded was Daytona? Is Matt Too Boring?

The reports, analysis and summaries have filtered in from Daytona, it’s now my turn to offer my two cents worth.

Are the ratings up or down? If you read the FOX Sports press release on Monday it read,

“Abbreviated Race One of America’s Most-Watched Sports Events – The rain-shortened Daytona 500 last Sunday (2/15) reaffirmed its status as one of America’s premier annual sports events. Despite losing to rain what are historically its most-watched laps, this year’s average audience of 16.0 million viewers places the Daytona 500 ahead of many of the country’s iconic sports events including the NCAA Final Four (15.4 million viewers), Beijing Olympics (15.2 million), 2008 NBA Finals (14.9 million), Kentucky Derby (14.2 million) and the final round of The Masters (13.1 million) and US Open (12.1 million). The Daytona 500 also maintained its position as the No. 1 motorsports event on television, outdistancing last year’s Indianapolis 500 by 122% (7.2 million).”

However, if you see past the spin, Paul Gough of Reuters reported,

“Sunday’s Daytona 500 ratings were lower than last year’s race, and Fox Sports blamed it on the rain. The telecast Sunday afternoon and early evening averaged 16 million viewers, Nielsen Media Research said Tuesday. That’s down from last year’s 17.8 million.

Viewership increases in the final laps but that wasn’t the case this time. The Daytona 500 was called because of rain with 48 laps remaining; Matt Kenseth won the 152-lap race after a steady rain, a caution flag and a 16-minute delay.”

Some blame NASCAR’s leadership, bland drivers, fixed races, whatever. I’ll blame overall ratings dropping in ALL sports, with the exception of the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, NASCAR beware, if the trend continues, advertising revenues will fall and that will impact the sport heavily. NASCAR’s ten plus years of $100 and up race tickets and hotels gouging the fans will be felt first as they already are. As reported by there were rooms to be found in Daytona last weekend,

“For the first time since the early 1990s there are vacancies at the hotels near the Speedway at Daytona. While vacancies at beach hotels for “Bike Week” have become common in the last several years, hotels and motels near the track have customarily been full and featured seriously ugly pricing for any openings. For whatever reason, economic or other, this year most of the hotels near the track have rooms available, including the Hampton Inn near the tunnel entrance and the Days Inn located across from the former dog track and near Barnes & Noble, about a mile from the same entrance.

That particular Days Inn has open rooms at a rate $219 per night, while the “Crampton Speedway” as it is somewhat affectionately known, has open rooms at $199 a night. Previously pricing at the Hampton has topped $250 per night for Daytona, and required a multi-night stay.”

Ed Hinton of has an interesting article on the Daytona you don’t see at,

I have to call out AP’s Jenna Fryer as she claims that tickets sales at the Auto Club Speedway in California are going to be soft because of Matt Kenseth,

“Matt Kenseth is not boring or bland. Get to know him a bit, and one might find he’s actually rather funny. Sure, he’s a bit quiet in a crowd. But the driver with a dry wit is also calm, consistent and a very classy NASCAR champion. He just won’t sell any tickets. That’s the conundrum NASCAR faces following Kenseth’s win in Sunday’s rain-shortened Daytona 500. It was a popular victory inside the garage, where the 2003 NASCAR champion is regarded as one of the good guys.

Outside of that bubble, though, Kenseth is no threat to challenge Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s reign as most popular driver. Fans will never root against him the way they do Kyle Busch, and, it’s a good bet unproven 18-year-old Joey Logano will draw more interest than the well-established Kenseth.

And interest is what NASCAR needs more than anything, particularly as the sport moves West this week into the less-than-enthusiastic Los Angeles market.

A thrilling Daytona 500 finish and a dynamic winner would have been akin to a winning lottery ticket for Gillian Zucker, who try as she might just can’t catch a break as president of beleaguered Auto Club Speedway. Give her Junior, Jeff or Jimmie to parade through her market all week, she might be able to move some tickets.

Instead she’s got Kenseth, a guy so steely that the rare emotion he showed after the victory likely will be the lasting image of this year’s race.

Jenna, the LA crowd just isn’t into NASCAR, heck they don’t even have a NFL team. It’s not Matt’s fault. The reason why the Long Beach Grand Prix is so popular is because you don’t have to watch the race! The LA crowd would rather show off their Prius and talk about how good they look. Jenna, go to Chicagoland Speedway and ask them how popular Kenseth is. Ask the Milwaukee Mile how Kenseth brings in most of ticket buyers on their Governor’s Cup weekend, which features primarily Midwest short track drivers. Some fans cheer ‘names’ and drivers that have won a single race in the last few years, if they switch to the #17 car, they’ll have more to cheer about.

I’m glad that Kenseth won, he’s a racer, works hard, and granted he’s no Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch. But he’s not like some drivers who can talk for three minutes and not say a thing. Bravo Matt!

There’s been some speculation that the race was called too soon. I’ve had the opportunity to seen it from three angles. I’ve been the fan in the stands, wet, tired and crabby and wondering why they’re waiting so long to call off the damn race. I’ve been in the media center waiting and waiting, wondering when I’m going to be able to send in my story. I’ve also been in the room with track operation and the sanctioning body. Believe me all sides are heard. The main concern is for the fans, but television is also a consideration as are the teams, the track workers and the press. Last week, the rain started and as the weather radar showed, it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Even though the race started later than it did in the past, fans, teams, workers, etc. all had been there since the morning. It was the sound call, as the minutes ticked off, televisions all over America were switching channels. Later that evening Darrell Waltrip was on SPEED Channel’s WindTunnel program and said it was still raining at the track. The right call was made.

It’s Fontana this week, my pick is Carl Edwards, the defending race winner has an average finish of 6.6 and his Roush team has a strong tradition at Fontana. My darkhorse is Kevin Harvick, who has momentum and improving stats at the 2-mile oval, in his previous two starts Harvick has an eighth place finish in the spring race and a career-best fourth last fall.

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