The media furore around Danica Patrick's pole position in the Daytona 500 - the first by a female driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship - helped significantly boost TV viewing figures for Fox Television's coverage in the United States.

In US broadcasting language, the race achieved a 9.9/22 rating/share - meaning that an average of 16.7 million viewers comprising 22% of all TV viewers watched the race on Sunday, which ran for three hours from 1.30pm ET.

The green flag was seen by 14.3 million viewers, and ratings peaked from 4.30-4.45pm ET when 21.4 million viewers watched Johnson held off Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s in the final run down to the chequered flag. Danica Patrick was in third place at the final restart with six laps to go, and despite being shuffled back in the final charge for the line she still managed to finish in eighth place after earlier having become the first female driver ever to lead laps in the Great American Race.

An estimated 31.6 million Americans watched at least part of Sunday's Great American Race, the best for a regularly scheduled Sunday afternoon Daytona 500 since 2008's 33.5 million viewers.

As well as the media appeal of Danica Patrick, there was also the draw of the first proper race outing for the new Generation 6 stock car, styled much closer to their production model counterparts, and also victory for the popular Jimmie Johnson.

News coverage of the frightening crash at the end of the proceeding day's Nationwide Series support race, which saw 28 spectators injured after a car breached the catch fence and scattered debris into the grandstand area, may also have contributed to the upturn in viewers for the Daytona 500 itself.

Direct year-on-year comparisons are difficult because the 2012 Daytona 500 was delayed by rain until Monday evening for the first time in the event's history. The prime time race had more competition for viewers, and so the 2013 race saw a 24% rise in viewership over that anomalous occurrence.

Sunday's rating reaffirmed the Daytona 500 as one of the biggest events in sport in the US. It was the top-rated sports event on any network since the Super Bowl with more viewers than the 2012 Kentucky Derby, the final round of the 2012 US Open or the final round of the 2012 Masters.

In the UK, the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is shown on Premier Sports TV, a subscription channel broadcasting on Sky 428 and also online.



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