Even without fans in attendance, NASCAR's return reached a lot of eyes Sunday.
According to FOX Sports, Sunday's race at Darlington averaged 6.32 million viewers and was the most-watched competitive sports event on cable television since this year's Daytona 500, which reached more than 7 million viewers.
"A great day for sports in general," Hall of Fame driver and FOX NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon said after the race. "People connect to sports and people connected to what was going on out there (Sunday)."
The broadcast, which was primarily conducted remotely from FOX NASCAR's Charlotte-based studio in order to limit the number of people on-site amid the coronavirus pandemic, earned a 3.7 television rating, according to Nielsen.
Viewership was up 38% from NASCAR's last race at Phoenix before the season was postponed in March. The audience peaked in the final quarter-hour of the race, won by No. 4 driver Kevin Harvick, at 6.8 million viewers.
"To be entertained and have a race of this magnitude and the history of this track," Gordon said. "You could hear in Kevin Harvick's voice just how much that (win) meant to him and his team and also to the fans."
"Even though the (fans) weren't there," Gordon continued. "They weren't present at the track."
The top five locations where fans tuned in were traditional NASCAR markets in the southeast. In order of television ratings, those were Greensboro, N.C. (9.5 rating), Charlotte, N.C. (9.1), Indianapolis (8.9), Nashville, (6.7) and Jacksonville (6.4 rating), per FOX Sports.
The numbers also indicated that racing may have reached new fans. The biggest demographic gain in viewership was among men ages 18 to 34, which was up 47% since the last NASCAR Cup race before the pandemic forced the sport to shut down in March.
"We are back," FOX NASCAR announcer Mike Joy said. "What a long 10 weeks it was, but what a great day it was for the fans, especially for Kevin Harvick, (and) for all NASCAR, for this sport to make its return and to do it in a safe manner and have a great race to show for it."
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