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Daytona race sets Nationwide Series cable viewership record

ESPN says its live telecast of the DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in ESPN2 was the most-watched series race on cable. And the network can likely thank Danica Patrick for the record.

Network officials said more than 4.2 million people watched the race on Feb. 13, when IndyCar star Patrick made her NASCAR debut. The broadcast earned a national rating of 3.2, averaging 4,271,365 viewers in 3,170,109 households.

Those numbers topped the 2006 Daytona race on TNT, which held the previous cable record of 3,954,798 viewers and 2,946,951 households.

ESPN said data showed that viewers stayed with the telecast even after Patrick was eliminated in a multi-car crash just past the halfway point. ESPN2 peaked with a 3.5 household rating for the last 20 minutes of the race as Tony Stewart held off a pack of drivers to take victory.

"While Danica certainly helped bring people to the telecast, she wasn’t the only factor," said Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president, programming and acquisitions. "Great Daytona Nationwide racing action kept viewers through to the checkered flag."

ESPN2’s 3.2 rating for Daytona was up 33 percent from the 2.4 rating for last year’s Daytona race and 28 percent higher than the 2.5 rating for the 2008 race, previously the network’s highest rating ever for a NASCAR Nationwide Series race.