(by Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY 5-27-09)
You have to wonder: What's left, theoretically, that could resurrect the Indianapolis 500's drawing power?
The merger of what had been two competing Indy-style circuits, ending a split that had supposedly hampered the sport for years, came last year. Danica Patrick was supposed to bring star power if she could also be a contender on the track — and she finished third in Sunday's race.
But ABC's coverage drew just 3.9% of U.S. TV households. That's down 13% from last year, down 40% from coverage four years ago — and the lowest rating since the 500 got live start-to-finish TV coverage in 1986.
And if the recession kept some viewers off the roads this Memorial Day weekend, it didn't mean they wanted to watch cars on TV.
Fox's NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 drew a 3.5 overnight rating — translating to 3.5% of households in 56 urban TV markets — which is off 20% from last year. But the rating not dropping off even more suggests the loyalty of NASCAR fans: After being rained out in Sunday primetime, the race was forced into a noon start Monday — then rained out 223 laps into what was scheduled to be a 400-lap race.