SBD/February 18, 2011/NASCAR Season Preview

Earnhardt's Legacy Presents Benefits, Challenges For NASCAR Broadcasters

Should media be celebrating, not downplaying, Jimmie Johnson's record run?
The late Dale Earnhardt's "personality, legacy and reputation continue to be a mixed blessing" for NASCAR and, "more specifically, for Fox Sports as it attempts to revive auto racing's flagging Nielsen ratings," according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill "brought up the topic Thursday as he discussed, with some frustration, the relative yawn Jimmie Johnson's five-year domination of the sport has produced among fans." Hill: "If he had done this in Formula One, he would have been knighted and parades would be held for him. I find this incredulous ... The legacy of Dale Earnhardt is both a blessing and a curse, and, psychologically, it has had an impact on the standing of drivers. The Earnhardt legacy has stood in the way of the full recognition that Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick (Motorsports) team should be receiving for what they have achieved." Barron writes that is a "problem and a challenge, particularly as Fox approaches" a pre-race show ahead of Sunday's Daytona 500 that will "include segments on Earnhardt's death and the changes in the sport that have followed over the past decade." Additionally, as it "did in the races after Earnhardt's death, Fox's announcers will remain silent on the third lap of the race in his memory" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/18). In Ft. Worth, Ray Buck writes Fox will have "several themes in mind" during its coverage of the Daytona 500. As fans at Daytona Int'l Speedway "stand and hold up three fingers" in honor of Earnhardt, the Fox broadcast team "observes a prolonged silence on Sunday's Lap 3." Meanwhile, Fox this season will "purposely accentuate the personalities of the drivers, and make it less about the car and the tires and the crankshaft." Hill is "hopefully this will attract a younger demographic (primarily 18- to 35-year-olds) to the broadcasts" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 2/18).

NEW FOR THIS YEAR AT DAYTONA: Fox during Sunday's race will unveil Thermal-Cam, designed to register variations in the heat signature of objects in its line of site. The feature will be used to demonstrate the extreme temperatures that develop during races, the on-track groove cars are using and the difference between new and worn tires (Fox). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes Fox "hadn't settled on a color scheme" for Thermal-Cam as of Thursday. Fox Sports Media Group co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks: "We don't want to make it a radar map -- with green, yellow, red -- showing a storm moving in, but it may end up that way" (USA TODAY, 2/18). Meanwhile, in California, John Maffei notes Fox "plans to have more driver-crew chief radio communications in its telecasts, steering sensors in every Sprint Cup car steering wheel and, at Daytona, two super-slow-motion cameras at turns 2 and 4" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 2/18).
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