Any Given Sunday

This past weekend was NASCAR’s first opportunity of 2002 to show how far the TV ratings have really come in the last year. Coming off two months of impressive ratings growth, this was the first weekend that NASCAR went head-to-head against the NFL on a broadcast network with ratings to compare to 2001.

So far, it looks like it’s a draw with last year. The 3.9 overnight rating for the Protection One 400 from Kansas was just one-tenth of a rating point behind the 2001 results. However, last year saw a big bump in the final ratings when the smaller markets were counted, going all the way to 4.7. This was one of the biggest “small market bumps” all of last year. It will be very difficult, but not impossible, to achieve similar results when this year’s final numbers are released on Thursday.

Additionally, this year’s race from Kansas on NBC was helped with a lead-in from the Ryder Cup telecast, complete with promos for the upcoming race. But a lackluster U.S. performance at The Belfry probably didn’t give NASCAR the monster lead-in it was looking for.

This week’s Talladega telecast is also a fair barometer for how far NASCAR’s popularity has come. This contest consistently turns in the highest ratings of the year against the strong competition from the NFL. Last year’s race got a 4.8, and NASCAR certainly hopes to at least match that number. Any number 5.0 or higher would probably make them ecstatic.

But no matter how the NASCAR ratings hold up against the NFL, there’s no denying that NASCAR has come a long way in just two years. In 2000, the NFL was considered such formidable competition that NASCAR only had one race on an over-the-air network after the Brickyard 400, and that was NBC’s single race from Homestead. Now NASCAR is ready to go head to head against the hottest property on sports television.

THIS WEEK”S NOTES: Speaking of ratings, the final Winston Cup numbers from Dover show a 4.0 on TNT. The Dover Busch race turned in a 1.4, up 27 percent over 2001.

Bernie Ecclestone says he wants to grow F1 in the U.S. But running the U.S. Grand Prix directly against NASCAR on NBC and the NFL on both Fox and CBS is not the way to do that. The ABC broadcast didn’t even warrant a dedicated U.S. broadcast team, instead offering a simulcast of British TV coverage with occasional input from Bob Jenkins and pit reports from Peter Windsor. If the rating starts with a “1” instead of a “0” it would be a big surprise.

If you want more meat to your F1 coverage, you can check out the U.S. Grand Prix effort from Speed Channel’s team starting this weekend.

The Truck Series move to Speed Channel was finally made official in a press release from NASCAR on Monday. The most interesting quotes in the release were by ESPN’s Mark Shapiro, the programming guru at ESPN and the guy who canned RPM 2Night.

“This is a great example of three companies working together to do what's best for the sport and its fans," said Shapiro. "ESPN and NASCAR both felt this move was an excellent opportunity to grow the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. We feel fortunate to have been a part in the growth of the series and look forward to working closely with NASCAR on other opportunities in the future."

It would have been more accurate to say, “We didn’t want the series anymore. We had absolutely no plans to promote it and no one in Daytona was happy about it. NASCAR wanted Speed Channel to have the series, and that’s fine with us. As you know, NASCAR and ESPN haven’t gotten along at all for at least two years now and at times it’s been really ugly. We’re turning our attention to Pardon The Interruption and Beg, Borrow, & Deal. The next NASCAR TV contract that’s up doesn’t expire for another four years. Maybe we’ll all kiss and make up by then. By that point I’ll probably have Bodenheimer’s job, then we can talk.”

If you want to learn more about Jayski, who seems to finally have agreed to go public with more interviews and things, tune in to Totally NASCAR this week. The culmination of their much-hyped search for Jayski will be in Thursday’s NASCAR Nation segment.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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