The massive dip in television ratings for the Indianapolis 500 was simply a pandemic-induced blip.
Sunday's race won by Helio Castroneves and broadcast on NBC was watched by an average of 5.58 million people. That's up nearly 50 percent from the audience that watched the postponed 2020 Indianapolis 500 that was won by Takuma Sato.
The 2020 race was run in August with no fans in attendance after the pandemic forced the race to not be run on its traditional Memorial Day weekend spot. Just 3.7 million people watched the 2020 race and it was the least-watched Indianapolis 500 since the race was broadcast live.
Sunday's race was also the most-watched 500 on NBC. The network picked up Indianapolis 500 television rights in 2019 after ABC no longer had the rights. The race was broadcast live on ABC from 1986-2018. Just under 5.5 million people watched the 2019 Indianapolis 500.
The audience for Sunday's race peaked at over 7 million viewers at the end as Castroneves tied A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Bobby Unser for the most Indianapolis 500 wins by any driver (four). Castroneves passed Alex Palou with two laps to go to win in his first IndyCar start of the season and in his first Indianapolis 500 start for a team other than Team Penske.
A large audience is good news for IndyCar as it looks for a new television deal for the 2022 season. The Indy 500 is the flagship race for the series and the reason the series has an appealing television contract. A ratings bounce back is big as IndyCar will either extend with NBC after the season or find a new network for its races.
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