NEW YORK -- The largest TV audience for a prime-time NASCAR
race watched Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s stirring victory at the site of
his father's death.
The Pepsi 400 in Daytona Beach, Fla., drew a 5.8 overnight
rating Saturday night on NBC, which was airing its first race under
a $2.8 billion NASCAR TV rights deal it shares with TNT and Fox.
That means 5.8 percent of the television households in the
country's 50 largest markets were tuned in. Overnight ratings
measure about 60 percent of the country.
That preliminary rating represents a 41-percent increase from
last year's Pepsi 400, broadcast by CBS, and continued the trend of
improved viewership numbers this season for NASCAR.
Over the season's first half, Fox's ratings were nearly 30
percent better than NASCAR races had in 2000, when events were
scattered around the TV dial.
The previous best overnight rating for a NASCAR race in prime
time was the 4.9 generated by Fox's coverage of the Coca Cola 600
on May 27, the same Sunday as the Indianapolis 500.
Another positive sign for NBC: The tune-in increased each
half-hour from 8-11 p.m. EDT during Saturday's broadcast from
Daytona, moving steadily from 5.0 to 7.0.
Earnhardt led a remarkable 116 of 160 laps, but his dominance
showed most as he moved up from seventh place to the lead in a late
3-mile span in the first race at Daytona since his father died in a
last-lap wreck during the Daytona 500 in February.
"We had a great, emotional story that obviously captivated a
lot of people," NBC Sports VP Kevin Sullivan said Sunday. "People
watch sports on TV for stories like last night's, and that was
borne out by the ratings."
The market with the largest audience was Greensboro, N.C., with
a 14.2 rating (each point represents 1 percent of TV homes),
followed by Orlando, Fla., with 13.5.
The country's largest market, New York, produced only a 2.8
Full national ratings will be released during the week.
NBC's coverage Saturday had a few glitches related to its
graphics package, because the company providing the technology
"wasn't able to deliver the signal," Sullivan said.