Ratings discussions are like talk about politics, music or the best Mexican food: no matter what position you take on the issue, somebody's going to have a problem with it, and nobody's much interested in hearing what the other side has to say about what's right and what's wrong.
But in this case, we may have some agreement, because we've got some good news. Ratings for the Loudon race on ESPN were up an impressive 19 percent over last year, with nearly 560,000 more viewers checking out Tony Stewart's win than the 2010 race. (The Chicago race couldn't be compared because it was a rainout and run on a Monday.)
More statistical goodness: ESPN saw increases in key demographics ranging from 18-to-34 males (up 28 percent), 18-to-49 males (up 20 percent) and viewers aged 55 and above (up 33 percent -- hey, they finally figured out how to work the fancy HD TVs!).
So why the increase? Two possible answers: first, the start time of the races changed to 2 p.m. ET so as not to directly conflict with football. Second, ESPN rolled out its "NASCAR Nonstop" feature, which shows the entire second half of the race with side-by-side (actually, embedded within) commercials. Fans have been screaming about this for years, and now that the network responded, perhaps fans were actually happy when they got what they wanted. Imagine that.
This also blasts a hole in the theory that NASCAR fans aren't tuning into the races because they don't have cable ... unless, of course, you buy the idea that half a million people got cable in the past year. It still allows for the possibility that the races would have more cachet if they were on broadcast TV, but to even argue that is absurd, since there's no way of proving it ... short of actually running the races on broadcast TV, of course.
The combination of competitive racing and (sorry, 48 fans) the possibility of a new champion in the mix could keep ratings trending upward for the rest of the Chase. And that's some indisputably good news all the way around.