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Aside from driver Denny Hamlin suffering an injury, Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway is just what NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France “wants the sport to look like,” according to David Newton of ESPN.com. France yesterday said, "What I know is when the racing is tighter and there's more passing, there's just more excitement and more contact and more things that happen. That's kind of what NASCAR is all about.” Hamlin’s wreck with Joey Logano during the Auto Club 400 marked the “second time in two weeks the drivers were involved in an on-track incident.” But France said that he has “no plans to talk to them about settling their feud.” France: “What they did in the last 20 laps is exactly what we would have expected them to do. This is a contact sport. It's always been a contact sport, especially late in the race.” Newton noted Hamlin's crash “raised the question of why there weren't SAFER barriers on the inside retaining wall where his car hit, and why tracks aren't required to have SAFER barriers everywhere.” France said that NASCAR is “studying Hamlin's crash carefully, and that if experts recommend SAFER barriers are needed where it occurred, the governing body will make that recommendation to the track.” But he added that the solution “is not as simple as putting barriers everywhere.” France: "There's not a one-solution-fits-all-problem with the wall. Some walls, it might sling the car back into the racing groove at the wrong time. They'll never put SAFER barriers up everywhere because that's not the best approach.” France also believes that the “quality of racing is better than ever” with the new Gen-6 car. Still, he “didn't rule out tweaks in the future or a change in the package for restrictor-plate racing at Daytona and Talladega” (ESPN.com, 3/26).
COMING OUT SWINGING: NBC Sports Network’s Dave Briggs noted Fox' overnight ratings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400 were up 32% on Sunday and said, "Obviously not because of the racing, probably because of the fighting.” NBC Sports Net’s Michelle Beadle said of the improved ratings, “It’ll be interesting to see what they are when they come back after Easter.” Briggs noted Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip "might have the greatest idea for NASCAR." He said that fans "shouldn’t necessarily shun the fighting, you should actually embrace it and promote it.” Beadle: “I like the idea that they're embracing it. Controversy is never bad when you want your sport to be talked about, period” (“The Crossover,” NBCSN, 3/26).
IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe “offered fans a much-needed fresh face in the winner’s circle at Sunday’s opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.,” and series officials are “hoping it won't be his last,” according to Anthony Schoettle of the INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL. If Hinchcliffe “continues to race past the big boys at Penske Racing and Ganassi Racing, he could someday be on the radar beyond the world of motorsports.” But IndyCar officials “will have to promote Hinchcliffe to reap the benefits of his recent success,” and driver promotion “hasn’t been a strong suit” for the racing circuit. Hinchcliffe is “not a cure-all for IndyCar’s challenges,” but featuring a few winning drivers like him “can only help.” In addition, he is “good for his sponsor” Go Daddy after he replaced Danica Patrick last season. He “might not have Patrick’s sex appeal, but he gives Go Daddy something she never could -- a driver who is good enough on ovals and road courses to contend for the overall IndyCar title” (IBJ.com, 3/26). In Toronto, Dean McNulty wrote under the header, “James Hinchcliffe’s Indy Win A Breath Of Fresh Air.” Team Owner Michael Andretti said that Hinchcliffe's win “accentuates the fact that the series has personalities and that should translate into more fans watching on television and in the stands” (TORONTO SUN, 3/26). USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan wrote Hinchcliffe has “the magnetic personality that a struggling series is desperate to promote in order to regain its mojo.” Voted the series' most popular driver last year, Hinchcliffe is “charming, engaging and occasionally goofy.” His win should “be a major stride toward brand identity -- for both Hinchcliffe and IndyCar” (USATODAY.com, 3/24).