NASCAR and IndyCar are two of the most popular motorsports series in the world. They have large fan bases and through the years have treated fans to legendary races. Knowing both organizations are among the finest in motorsports, you may ask which is more popular in the NASCAR vs IndyCar debate.
NASCAR is more popular than IndyCar in terms of total number of fans (50 million vs 28 million), average race attendance, and average number of TV viewers per event. When you compare NASCAR vs IndyCar, NASCAR’s viewership sits at about 3.7 million, with IndyCar trailing at 1.7 million.
Below, we will elaborate on why NASCAR is more popular than IndyCar, before we go into more detail regarding each organization’s average attendance, television viewership, and social media following. We will close by answering whether the two sports are growing in popularity.
Is NASCAR More Popular Than IndyCar?
NASCAR is more popular than IndyCar. While the two rank as among the world’s most popular motorsports (although well behind F1), their fan bases are dramatically different. This mainly stems from the differences in race formats, the type of cars, plus the fact that NASCAR has been around longer.
NASCAR vs IndyCar Popularity
|Total Fans||40-60 million||28 million|
|Events Per Season||36 (points races)||17|
|TV Viewers Per Event||3.7 million||1.7 million|
|Average Race Day Attendance||70,000 – 80,000||35,000 – 45,000|
Note that the figures in the table above for average race day attendance are based on the limited data we have for the first half of the 2022 season in each series. For the IndyCar figure, we have omitted the two outliers of the Texas race (5,000) and the Indy 500 (325,000).
These numbers skew the data significantly, and so the average is more of a reflection of the ‘typical’ attendance at an IndyCar race. If you include the Indy 500, it can look like IndyCar races see more fans in attendance than a NASCAR race, but this just isn’t usually the case outside of the Indy 500.
Why Is NASCAR More Popular Than IndyCar?
NASCAR is more popular than IndyCar because it is more established and NASCAR hosts 39 races per year compared to IndyCar’s 17. IndyCar has come in various forms over the years, with the name ‘IndyCar’ only being officially used since 2008. NASCAR has been running since 1949.
This is similar to alternative American football leagues that have sprung up. Take the USFL, whose ratings pale in comparison to those of the NFL. Or the AHL in professional ice hockey, whose popularity wanes when compared to the NHL. IndyCar has faced the same growing pains over the years, even though it has its roots back in the 1920s.
NASCAR, however, was much further along, having existed since 1948 and running its first season in 1949. IndyCar does have the Indianapolis 500, which has been around since 1911, but again, the fact it kept changing names and the organization was constantly in flux meant it was going to struggle against the solid organization that is NASCAR.
NASCAR’s Established Brand
NASCAR also had events established as Crown Jewel Races, like the Winston 500, Daytona 500, Southern 500, and World 600. Interestingly, in later years, NASCAR added another Crown Jewel called the Brickyard 400 (1994-2020), run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of the Indianapolis 500. But this event never saw the popularity the Indy 500 has since its inception.
The Indy 500 is what many associate with IndyCar, both in the USA and especially around the world. This makes it quite the outlier in the 17-race season, but it’s one area where the series has the advantage over NASCAR. But having just one mega race in a season isn’t enough to keep eyes on the races throughout the rest of the year, where NASCAR wins overall.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR is more popular than IndyCar
• This is largely because NASCAR is a more established series that hosts more races per year
• NASCAR has more total fans than IndyCar, and it sees higher TV viewership
NASCAR vs IndyCar Attendance
When you turn on a NASCAR race, however, you may see half-full events, a stark contrast from the late 1990s and early 2000s, which is long thought to be NASCAR’s last golden era. And while NASCAR’s popularity has declined in recent years, the 2022 season saw a potential rebound with 50,000 attending the Clash at the Coliseum, an exhibition race.
Of those 50,000, 65% said in a survey that it was their first time watching a NASCAR race live. Just weeks later, the 101,000-capacity grandstand sold out at Daytona. The Spring Phoenix Race sold out for the first time since 2012, and the Spring Atlanta race enjoyed its highest attendance since 2014.
While NASCAR hit a rough patch following a strong late 1990s and 2000s, the signs are that its attendance figures are perhaps slowly on the rise again. And for IndyCar, this means its competitor may continue to hold the edge, even if IndyCar is also growing in popularity.
In 2019, IndyCar’s attendance for its first 16 events encroached the 1.5 million mark. This gave them an average of 94,000 per event. However, when you look closer at most of IndyCar’s oval events and non-street racing events, you will find another story.
In July 2022, IndyCar ran back-to-back events in Iowa, and each day, officials projected a turnout of 40,000, with 80,000 in total. This shows us that IndyCar’s attendance has been wildly inconsistent, as the March 2022 race at Texas Motor Speedway further indicated. Projections for that race ran at about 5,000 attendees.
While IndyCar’s 2019 average was about 94,000, it can range as high as 325,000 at the Brickyard to just 5,000 for events like the Texas race. Clearly the typical IndyCar race is very different from the statistically average race. By this we mean that, if you turn on the TV to watch a random IndyCar event throughout the year, you’re unlikely to see 94,000 fans in the stands!
Pre-COVID vs Post-COVID
COVID-19 affected all sports, and IndyCar and NASCAR were no exceptions. Each sanctioning body either closed off events entirely to fans for the duration of the 2020 and 2021 seasons or they capped attendance at a specific number, such as 135,000 for the Indianapolis 500 and 30,000 for the Daytona 500.
Attendance in IndyCar was on the upward swing before the pandemic hit while NASCAR also finally started showing signs of life regarding their declining attendance. Clearly we’ll need to wait to see how both sports fare in the coming years to see if the pandemic had a lasting impact on attendance figures, for better or worse.
It’s worth restating again that it’s nigh on impossible to find accurate figures for IndyCar and NASCAR attendances throughout the course of a season, and so it’s easiest to compare events for which we do have solid numbers from the organizers. Even these are few and far between though, and the easiest numbers to get a hold of are TV viewership numbers for each series.
NASCAR vs IndyCar TV Viewership
NASCAR and IndyCar both enjoy average TV viewership in the millions. In the first half of 2022, NASCAR’s average TV viewership on Fox was a steady 3.7 million per race. This is NASCAR’s best start to a season since 2017. IndyCar’s average in the same time period was about 1.72 million per race, which is also the highest since 2017. Clearly both series are seeing positive trends in TV viewership.
While NASCAR continues to outpace its open-wheel rival on an annual basis, just like in attendance, there are a few outliers. IndyCar’s street races and the Indianapolis 500 routinely bring in large numbers of viewership both at the track and on television.
Things Are Picking Up
Like its attendance, NASCAR’s total viewership declined during its dry period in the 2010s. It was a trend that continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2022 Daytona 500 averaged 8.87 million viewers. It was still substantially lower than its peak during the early 2000s, but post-COVID-19 trends see its viewership increasing once more.
While it is true NASCAR and IndyCar were heading in different directions in the previous decade, NASCAR has since shown a reversal in this trend. It’s a slow reversal, but with a street race of its own occurring in 2023 plus the success of the Next Gen car, NASCAR may eventually trend steadily upward once more.
Things To Note
It’s worth noting that TV deals play a big part in the viewership for any sport. Sports are always negotiating new deals with broadcasters, and so any given year’s viewership figures can be skewed because they moved from a smaller network to a larger one, or vice versa. However, one thing is for sure and it’s that both series’ viewership figures are trending upwards.
NASCAR vs IndyCar Social Media Following
|Total||2.2 million||11.2 million||410%|
NASCAR and IndyCar each have large social media followings and they are not short of subscribers and followers regardless of whether you look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube. Social media engagement is hugely important for any business, and often those who engage in social media properly can expect a larger following on all platforms.
NASCAR generally posts to Facebook a few times per day, while IndyCar is slightly less active but still posting daily. On YouTube, IndyCar has 4,700 videos compared to NASCAR’s 15,232. Despite this fact, NASCAR only has 600,000 more subscribers than IndyCar while their following more than quadruples them on most of the other platforms.
NASCAR’s Twitter outpaces IndyCar’s by the largest margin, with NASCAR enjoying 7 times as many followers as IndyCar. They often post up to a dozen times a day while IndyCar is far less active. NASCAR also gets far more engagement there and on Instagram.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR has higher attendance, TV viewership, and social media engagement than IndyCar
• Both series are trending upwards in terms of TV viewership
• Social media is where there is the widest disparity between the two motorsports
Is NASCAR Growing In Popularity?
NASCAR is growing in popularity, with the first half of 2022 boasting the best TV viewership figures since 2017. 3.7 million people tune in to the average NASCAR race, and it’s possible that attendance figures are beginning to trend upwards again as well.
For years, NASCAR found its popularity in a steep decline. It is possible that the introduction of the Next Gen car, inclusion of more road courses, and the planned 2023 street race have helped save NASCAR, negating the consistent loss of sponsorship, plus the divide between new and old school fans.
Long-time sponsors like Lowe’s, UPS, The Home Depot, DuPont, and even Mars Inc (as of 2023) have pulled out. You look at NASCAR in the recent past, and you may have seen sponsors from companies you never heard of. But when those newer sponsors like Ally and Axalta became more familiar faces in the late 2010s, that alone is a good sign as it shows faith in the sport.
The older NASCAR fans generally prefer the smaller tracks in the Southeast, like North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, and the Nashville Fairgrounds, none of which have hosted a Cup Series race in decades. Like any other sport looking to expand its product, NASCAR also realized it needed to keep up with sports like Indy, who races on ovals, road courses, and even the street.
Decline In Popularity Or Transition?
NASCAR’s numbers during the 2022 season were encouraging enough to conclude that perhaps the sport isn’t dying or even losing popularity. Maybe it was just transitioning into a new era. And when that new era arrived in 2022 with the Next Gen car, fans started returning to the tracks and tuned in on television or online.
One season is far too small of a sample size to tell if NASCAR is growing in popularity. But if the 2020s continue to trend upward, it will be easier to conclude that NASCAR is once again growing toward perhaps another golden era.
Is IndyCar Growing In Popularity?
IndyCar is growing in popularity, with figures for the first half of the 2022 season suggesting the highest viewership for the series since 2017. This is a similar trend to the one seen in NASCAR viewership, but it’s unclear how F1’s entry into the US market will affect IndyCar’s popularity.
While NASCAR saw a freefall in the 2010s and an increase in popularity starting in 2022, IndyCar has seen an upswing in popularity. One reason for IndyCar’s growing popularity may stem from a key competitor, Formula 1, whose popularity has also grown in America.
Yes, it is true that IndyCar has seen inconsistency in some respects like fan attendance, but it is also true that they have been part of what is being called a motorsports surge in the United States, which could also explain NASCAR’s brewing renaissance.
IndyCar vs F1
While IndyCar is part of this surge, there are doubters among the community who fear IndyCar won’t keep up because of Formula 1’s increasing popularity. This is a double-edged sword for IndyCar, as in some ways Formula 1’s popularity has helped, but in other ways, it could take popularity away from IndyCar.
When you compare NASCAR and IndyCar, you will find that NASCAR remains the more popular of the two series. Both sports have gone through periods of decline and growth, but NASCAR is by far the biggest of the two in terms of total fans, race attendances, and online engagement.
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