Despite empty stands, NASCAR’s Sunday Brickyard 400 is a ratings winner

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The NASCAR fans that didn’t fill the stands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday must have stayed home and watched the race on TV.  Despite a firestorm of complaints about “boring” racing, Kyle Busch led 149 of the 160 laps to win, and shots of empty seats, the Brickyard 400 was the most watched race at Indy since 2013.

According to numbers provided by Nielson, and happily reported by NBC, Sunday’s race averaged 5.2 million viewers and delivered a 3.1 Household (HH) rating.  That marks an 11% gain over last year’s race, also won by Kyle Busch, albeit in a bit more dramatic fashion. The viewership peaked between 6:15-6:30 p.m. ET with 6.1 million viewers and a 3.6 HH rating.  NBCSN was the also the number one network overall among average viewers, Adults 18-49 and Adults 25-54 in the race’s 3:30–7:00 p.m. ET window on Sunday.  The Adults 25-54 win is particularly important in the TV industry as that is the metric most TV executives and advertisers rely on to gauge the success of a program.

There were several big storylines Sunday.  Tony Stewart appeared in what is most likely his last Cup race at the venue his considers his home track ,and Jeff Gordon, five time winner at the Brickyard, was called out of retirement to sub for the ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Kyle Busch also made history, as he became the first NASCAR driver to sweep both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series poles and victories in one weekend.

In a press release NBC also pointed out that the TV ratings weren’t the only positive numbers.  Live streaming of Sunday’s race via and the NBC Sports app set an all-time high, generating 5.2 million live minutes, up +93% vs. same event in 2015 and best race ever on NBC Sports’ live streaming platforms.

The race was also the most-watched NASCAR Sprint Cup race presented on cable since the Nov. 2014 Championship on ESPN, a span of 36 events. And it was the most-watched sports program of the weekend across broadcast and cable, as well as the most-watched cable telecast of any genre.

There has been an ongoing discussion since Sunday about the poor attendance at the race itself.  Whether ticket prices or the heat advisory in place, there isn’t a definitive answer. One thing is certain there were a lot of people viewing the race either on TV or online.