Speed announced Tuesday that 2.4 million viewers tuned into Saturday's ARCA race. That's an ARCA record, but sadly, there isn't enough data to determine how many people turned in for Danica Patrick. My guess is 2.35 million. (Kidding! But it is an 87 percent jump from the ratings for the 2009 race)
At first glance, you have to think that ARCA is happy with the increased eyeballs on their sport, even if it's only for one race and only for Danica Patrick. However, given the carnage of the first half of the race, should ARCA actually be embarrassed that the first part of the race was an unmitigated disaster?
Thankfully the drivers got the message -- or the field was naturally selected enough in the first crashes -- in the second half of the race, and the last 50 laps were unentertaining at the front of the pack, but were at least squeaky-clean by ARCA-at-Daytona standards.
If you were a racing fan tuning to an ARCA race for the first time, were you disheartened by ridiculousness of the first 30 laps? I've come to expect that ARCA drivers and restrictor plates are, sadly, a potentially deadly combination, and Saturday did nothing to help dissuade me from expecting carnage when they venture to Talladega in April.
The first crash was a prototypical restrictor plate big one, but it could have involved much fewer cars. It looked like ARCA officials walked through the stands at Daytona and selected 30 of them at random to participate in a spontaneous Richard Petty Driving Experience that simultaneously took place during an ARCA race. (Hey, that's a great idea. It could be similar to the Daytona Prototypes and the GT cars. Let's make this happen. Oh, and make sure to check out the black car at the 3:45 mark. Were that driver's eyes closed?)
Not to mention, two cars flipped in separate incidents that never should have led to a car flying through the air in the first place. I understand Jill George losing control as she hit the transition between the apron and the banking, but the corrective maneuver that she used to attempt to right the car instantaneously turned it over. I don't think she could ever replicate that again.
Despite his constant slobbering over Danica, I appreciated Darrell Waltrip's willingness to call out the drivers in the multiple crashes for their lack of driving skills. During that first crash, Phil Parsons tried to side with the ARCA drivers at first, but after a few replays knew that DW had him checkmated and changed his position.
If ARCA would have been able to get this type of exposure at Rockingham, this may be a great boost to a sport that has a very uneasy future when the supply of old Cup cars soon dries up. However, I can't imagine that ARCA is proud of the display that their drivers put on Saturday at Daytona, and I doubt that they won over many new fans. Unless, of course, you're the type of person who watches racing for the crashes. If that's the case, then ARCA plate racing is right for you.
- Danica Patrick