Rain on race day is always an unwelcome sight in NASCAR. For the first time this season, a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event was postponed to Monday as rain washed out Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Rainouts mean fewer fans can attend and a smaller TV audience will tune-in as the races are typically run on the following afternoon.
Scheduling for mid-day Monday has been the long standing precedent for races unable to run on Sunday. However, the impact of an event not running in its preferred time slot is more consequential now than ever before.
During NASCAR’s prime in the early 2000s, catering to peak viewership wasn’t as critical due to a steady following. However, racing when exposure is at its greatest is crucial today to grow the sport.
The potential of a Monday night race played out unexpectedly during the 2012 DAYTONA 500. When rain postponed Sunday’s event, it was rescheduled for Monday afternoon.
However, additional rain on Monday led to a further delay, and the “Great American Race” was pushed to a 7 PM primetime start. A total of 36.5 million people tuned in at some point during the event, making it the second-most watched DAYTONA 500 in history.
While only the season-opening event could attract a Monday night audience of this magnitude, its success shows the potential for moving delayed events to Monday evening again in the future.
Even if running under the lights on Monday is still unable to match the audience of the scheduled Sunday race, it provides a better opportunity for fans who work or attend school to watch the event.
A Monday afternoon running does favor fans attending the race but as NASCAR looks to increase its following, catering to the TV audience might be the best path to take.
Rescheduling Bristol to run under the lights would have provided a perfect opportunity to showcase the best of NASCAR and short track racing to a primetime audience.
The atmosphere, beating and banging, and unpredictability of Bristol are among the characteristics NASCAR wants new fans to be exposed to, and running on Monday night would provide an ideal time to reach people interested in the sport.
Many logistical obstacles may arise trying to run on Monday evening as TV networks often have set primetime lineups and other networks are airing their regular programming. However, it’s worth taking a shot to grow the sport and seeing how it unfolds before not considering it all together.
It’s unlikely that regularly scheduled primetime events will be added to the schedule in the near future. But NASCAR can make the most out of a postponed event and test the viability of weeknight races now by running a rained out Sunday race for Monday night at a track with lights. It has shown great promise before and can again while pleasing fans and attracting new viewers.
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