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Volume 24 No. 117

NASCAR Season Preview

A handful of NASCAR team execs, owners, officials and drivers believe that '11 "will be a year of recovery for NASCAR after two very taxing seasons of declining television ratings and attendance, plus truly trying economic times, especially for the teams," according to Tom Jensen of As the Sprint Cup Series kicks off Sunday with the Daytona 500, team officials are indicating that "sponsor interest is coming back after a couple of fallow seasons." Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark said, "What we've seen in the last year is way more interest." Team Owner Rick Hendrick agreed, noting that "total sponsorship dollars for his four-car Sprint Cup team will be up slightly in 2011 compared with 2010." Hendrick: "I personally think that brighter days are ahead for our economy and for our sport. Again, there has been a lot of activity. ... You’ve got people out looking, shopping, where (two years ago) the phones weren’t ringing and people weren’t returning your calls, either. That part of it feels real good." Team Owner Roger Penske said, "I feel better. There's more people that today -- maybe not writing big checks, but there are more people interested in putting their toes back in the water" (, 2/17).

TIMES ARE A CHANGIN': The AP's Chris Jenkins reported Greg Biffle believes that he and other drivers "expecting to sign new deals in the near future are going to experience a market correction," given how the "economy's slow recovery continues to buffet NASCAR." While his primary sponsor, 3M, has "weathered the recession and Biffle expects them to re-sign with him and the No. 16 team for next year and beyond, the driver also knows he'll be taking a significant pay cut in his next contract with Roush Fenway Racing." Biffle: "The sponsor dollars go down, let's say, 40 percent or 35 percent. That's a significant number, so that's got to come from somewhere. It's going to be cut back at the team for engineering, personnel, driver salaries, all the way down. We're going to have to economize what we're doing to continue on." But Jenkins noted despite "wide-ranging cuts to advertising budgets in recent years, NASCAR officials say there hasn't been a mass sponsor exodus from the sport." NASCAR Managing Dir of Corporate Communications Ramsey Poston said that the "number of sponsors has remained relatively stable -- about 400 companies still invest in the sport, including about 100 in the Fortune 500 -- even if they have scaled back spending." Still, "many of the companies that stayed in NASCAR aren't as willing or able to spend as much as they did at the peak of the sport's popularity in the mid-2000s." Driver Jeff Burton believes that the economy "has hit NASCAR harder than other major sports." Burton: "We're still in tough economic times. Things are not that different today than they were six months ago" (AP, 2/17).

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY: YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Hart wrote NASCAR "did show some flexibility" this offseason by implementing the new 43-to-1 points system, because "it's not every day a sport revamps the way it keeps score." But ultimately, NASCAR "blew this opportunity." Instead of "rewarding winning more, the new points system actually devalues wins by a small fraction." Hart wrote because there is "nothing substantive about the points change, we can only assume NASCAR thinks the Chase is good as-is, and that they blame the decline in television ratings -- down more than 20 percent for this year’s playoff -- and the public’s general ambivalence toward the Chase on you, the folks, for not getting it." What NASCAR officials "don’t seem to be considering is that maybe you have something better to do, like, say, watching a football game," or that maybe "it's something else entirely." Hart: "Whatever the case is, NASCAR didn’t do anything to address those concerns" (, 2/15).

NASCAR in the 10 years since Dale Earnhardt's death has "emphasized how safe its cars have become," but "many in the industry say the racing circuit -- enduring a five-year slump in crowds and TV ratings and seeking a younger audience to replace its aging fan base -- should remind its fans that those who drive in its races still risk life and limb every lap," according to Nate Ryan in a cover story for USA TODAY. Earnhardt's death at the '01 Daytona 500 "helped spur a revolution of safety improvements that has resulted in 359 consecutive races without a fatal crash" in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. But there is a "growing chorus within NASCAR to focus not on what Earnhardt triggered in death but what he represented in life: a cantankerous, John Wayne-esque icon of hard-nosed racing." New Hampshire Motor Speedway Exec VP & GM Jerry Gappens said, "Race fans like that element of danger. They don't want to see someone get hurt, but they like the ragged edge. I think we harped on safety because so much time and money was spent, but maybe it's time to put talking about it so much on the back burner." Ryan notes NASCAR "subtly has begun trying to showcase its wilder side." It has "loosened the reins on posting wreck photos on its website -- the type of photos that virtually disappeared from its website after Earnhardt was killed." And at last year's season-ending awards ceremony, NASCAR's PR staff "rolled out a crash-filled, vulgarity-laced video that trumpeted its 'Boys, have at it' policy." Fox, which will broadcast Sunday's Daytona 500 and the first 13 of the 36 Cup races, "will build on that vibe." Fox "launched an ad campaign likening its viewers to thrill-seekers who enjoy stepping on exploding manhole covers." A prerace intro "incorporating the Dierks Bentley hit song 'Sideways' will feature cars spinning and sliding on their roofs." Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill said that the net's "theme for 2011 will channel Ernest Hemingway's contention there were only three true sports: mountain climbing, bullfighting and auto racing." Hill: "This sport is all about the driver; everything else is an afterthought. The Car of Tomorrow became the greatest red herring in the history of this sport. It took the emphasis away from the heroes" (USA TODAY, 2/18).  

WILL YOU BE MY HERO? In Orlando, Beth Kassab noted in the "decade since the sport lost its biggest star, NASCAR has gone from reaching far beyond its Southern moonshine-running roots to the penthouses of Manhattan and back again." The sport's "sprint to a new level of popularity -- followed by a sharp fall to a new low -- happened for several reasons." To this day, "no other driver has emerged to become the kind of larger-than-life figure Earnhardt was for so many" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/16). In L.A., George Diaz wrote, "The sport continues to hold out for a hero. Jimmie Johnson has won five consecutive Sprint Cup titles, and the worst thing is that not many fans can find the anger to scream or yell. There is much ambivalence" (L.A. TIMES, 2/14).

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).

Fox is charging advertisers "north of $500,000" to air a 30-second spot during Sunday's Daytona 500, according to a source cited by Clayton Park of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. The source noted that ad rates for telecasts of other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races "generally run in the $200,000 range for a 30-second spot." However, Fox Sports Senior VP/Media Relations Lou D'Ermilio said that Daytona 500 viewership "typically is nearly twice that of telecasts of other Sprint Cup Series races." Park notes this year's broadcast "could draw more viewers than in past years because of the added intrigue of the newly repaved track" at Daytona Int'l Speedway." D'Ermilio said that "as a rule, Fox never makes predictions on how many viewers its telecasts of Sprint Cup races will draw." But he added, "We do expect to improve over last year and see the Daytona 500 audience return to more traditional levels and solidify its status as the most-watched auto race in the country." D'Ermilio said that Sprint and Chevrolet "have purchased the most commercial air time for this year's 500 telecast -- six spots each." He noted that for the "first time, all four of NASCAR's car manufacturers have purchased advertising spots for this year's 500 telecast." Also new this year is Pizza Hut, which "signed up to sponsor Fox's prerace show" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/18). 

COMMERCIAL BREAK: ESPN VP/Motorsports Rich Feinberg, when asked what can be done about the commercial load in ESPN's NASCAR telecasts, said, "The commercial ratio that we use is less than we are contractually allowed. We could actually be putting more commercials in our telecasts. With our agreement with NASCAR, we would be allowed to do so and obviously that would generate us more revenue. We choose not to do that in an effort to show as much green flag racing as we can." He added, "The reality is that it’s a business. With the rights payments that we have to make to have our partnership with NASCAR, and with production costs, marketing and personnel, we’re a business as well, and we need to recoup those expenses and hopefully make ourselves profitable. So it’s a balance. I think there are ways to try and strike a better balance than we have now. Currently we are not allowed to do side-by-side per our rights agreement with NASCAR but I know that in our partnership we have discussions with them about that" (THE DAILY). 

The Daytona 500 is often compared to the Super Bowl for NASCAR sponsors, as the racing circuit’s partners use the event to debut new ad campaigns. M&M's Sunday will debut its first dedicated NASCAR spot since the company got involved in the sport in '90. The commercial, filmed at Atlanta Motor Speedway at the close of last season, features red and yellow M&M characters starring alongside Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota. The spot will introduce M&M’s new NASCAR advertising theme for '11: “M&M’S Makes Race Day More Fun.” M&M's is not alone, though, as several other sponsors plan on breaking new creative during the Great American Race.

GOODYEAR: Goodyear will debut two 30-second spots as part of its “More Driven” campaign. The spots, via GSD&M Idea City, Austin, are titled “Experts” and “Proving Ground.” This year’s campaign will focus on drivers who choose Goodyear for its performance. “The new campaign leverages the fact that experts use our tires when they matter most and they chose them because they perform well in those situations,” said Goodyear North America Brand Marketing Dir Garth Ely. In addition to its TV ads, Goodyear's campaign will include print, digital and radio components. Additional spots titled “Action Hero” and “Weather Reporter” are expected to debut later in the season.

TOYOTA: The automaker will continue its “SponsaFier” campaign, now in its second year, with two 60-second spots. A website launched Monday to tease the ads that will debut Sunday. The campaign features a mix of social media involvement with fans who will vote on cars in this year’s spot. Toyota said its ad spend is up this year, and the company is breaking two ads compared to just one in previous years. Toyota Motorsports Marketing Corporate Manager Ed Laukes: “We think the value of launching this campaign at Daytona, because it is the Super Bowl of motorsports, is a very valuable platform for us.”

: The furniture store will debut its latest installment that plays off its ongoing campaign featuring Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann’s rivalry over which driver is the company’s spokesperson. One spot, entitled “Reutti’s Revenge,” features Reutimann dreaming he is the company spokesperson, only to wake up and find Waltrip is still the face of the company. The other spot, named “Reutti’s Mistaken,” features the daughters of both Waltrip and Reutimann, as well as Aaron’s COO Ken Butler. The scripts were a collaborative effort between Waltrip and Aaron’s Dir of Strategy & Creative Development David Wolff. The new spots, which were both produced in-house, will run nationally throughout ’11-12 as part of Aaron’s overall TV campaign.

NATIONWIDE: Nationwide will debut a new spot during ESPN2's coverage of the Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 on Saturday. The ad features Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick touting Nationwide's Vanishing Deductible product in the drivers' first ad together for the company. Nationwide Strategic Sponsorships Dir Jim McCoy said, “We thought that dynamic of two of the biggest names in motorsports together would be powerful.”

SPRINT: Sprint, the title sponsor of NASCAR's Cup series, will tout its NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile app through its campaign “Fuel Your Fan with Sprint.” In a spot titled “Princess Party,” a dad checks in on a race while grabbing some ice during his daughter's birthday party. Sprint Sports Marketing Dir Tim Considine said that since the app debuted in ’08 as a free feature for all Sprint phone users, usage has doubled every year.

The AARP Foundation's Drive To End Hunger campaign kicks off in earnest this week in Daytona with the first of 22 at-track activation efforts. The Drive To End Hunger campaign will have a pavilion at the track featuring a show car, a simulator and a green screen for photos with driver Jeff Gordon, with whom the AARP Foundation last year signed a three-year sponsorship deal. Fans will be able to swipe credit cards and make donations that contribute to the AARP's effort to help more than 6 million Americans older than age 60 who face hunger issues. The AARP claims that it can buy seven meals for the hungry with every $1 donated. AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins said, "We hope to plead with the hearts and minds of NASCAR fans to make donations." The AARP Foundation will run similar programs in all 22 markets that Jeff Gordon drives the No. 24 AARP Foundation Drive To End Hunger car. It plans to support the on-site activation efforts with advertising about the Drive To End Hunger campaign on Speed and Fox. The AARP Foundation was the biggest new sponsor to come into NASCAR last year. In addition to having a presence at the track this week, the AARP Foundation partnered with local Winn-Dixie's in the Daytona area to hold food drives leading up the race. That food and leftover food from the weekend's races at Daytona Int'l Speedway will be donated to the Second Harvest Foodbank of Central Florida.

CORPORATE DONORS ALREADY FOUND: Two companies -- UnitedHealth Group and JP Morgan Chase -- have made donations to the Drive to End Hunger. Jenkins said that they and other corporate donors may be featured at retail as supporters of future food drives the AARP Foundation plans to hold at grocery stores in other race markets. Jenkins said, "We're putting together collateral for materials in grocery stores around the companies. It may be that an underwriter has their name co-branded with the foundation as someone solve this issue (of hunger)." However, UnitedHealth and Chase will not be featured on the No. 24 car, Jenkins said. The AARP Foundation still plans to sell space on the No. 24 car to partners, but it has not closed any deals. It hopes to have an announcement before the Daytona 500 regarding a partner on the car, Jenkins said. The AARP Foundation is still working on building an online application that tracks Drive To End Hunger donations and contributions. It hopes to launch one by the end of the second quarter.

The plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) to “de-fund the military’s NASCAR sponsorships appears to have gone down in defeat” Thursday evening on the House floor, according to Kevin Diaz of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. A recorded tally is “still pending, but a preliminary voice vote was ruled by the chair to have been carried by the ‘noes’” (, 2/17). But in Norfolk, Dustin Long reports McCollum is “pressing forward with the amendment.” The website for the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives noted McCollum “demanded a recorded vote and the Chair postponed further proceedings on the question of adoption of the amendment until a time to be announced" (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT, 2/18).  USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes when the “national debt gets to more than $14.1 trillion, you need to make some tough government spending cuts,” or at least “start with easy ones like cutting the Defense Department’s spending on NASCAR.” Hiestand writes, “An all-volunteer military needs recruits ... but logos and sponsorships aren’t the way to go.” But USA TODAY’s Michael McCarthy writes NASCAR is the “perfect place to recruit patriotic men and women looking to serve their country.” McCarthy: “There’s an old saying: I know half of my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half. Well, can you think of a better place for the Army to advertise than NASCAR and sports programming in general?” (USA TODAY, 2/18).

Craftsman has renewed its agreement to sponsor ESPN’s Tech Garage, a mobile television studio that the network uses for its NASCAR coverage. The renewal brings Craftsman back for a third consecutive year. With it, Craftsman will be featured in not only NASCAR coverage but also in "SportsCenter" and Indy 500 coverage. The deal gives Craftsman media inventory across ESPN’s TV, digital and print platforms (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

ENERGY BOOST:’s Tom Jensen reported AM FM Energy will be the “primary sponsor of Joe Nemechek’s NEMCO Motorsports team for the No. 87 Toyota, which was the fastest of the 16 Toyotas during qualifying for the Daytona 500.” The company also will be an associate sponsor on Nemechek's NASCAR No. 87 Nationwide Series car. Meanwhile, Super Eco-Fuel, a “fuel-saving additive, has signed-on as the primary partner on the TRG Motorsports No. 71 Chevrolet Impala driven by Andy Lally” this Sunday (, 2/17).

WE SALUTE YOU: Kroger Co. and the USO on Thursday announced an expansion of their partnership through a new campaign to support men and women in the armed forces. Kroger, the USO and JTG Daugherty Racing for Sunday’s Daytona 500 will unveil a special Kroger emblem on the red, white and blue No. 47 Kroger-USO car driven by Bobby Labonte (Kroger/USO).

BROUGHT TO YOU BY… has signed multiple sponsors for the ’11 season. FedEx, Ford, Goodyear, Miller Lite, Quaker State, Sprint and Toyota will be among the featured advertisers surrounding’s coverage of the Daytona 500 (NASCAR).

The following chart lists the primary sponsors for the 43 cars entered in Sunday's 53rd Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the pole in qualifying, will start the race at the back of the pack after crashing during practice on Wednesday.

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Chevrolet) No. 24 Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet)
Hendrick Motorsports Hendrick Motorsports
Amp Energy/National Guard Drive To End Hunger
No. 22 Kurt Busch (Dodge) No. 31 Jeff Burton (Chevrolet)
Penske Racing Richard Childress Racing
Shell/Pennzoil Caterpillar
No. 78 Regan Smith (Chevrolet) No. 33 Clint Bowyer (Chevrolet)
Furniture Row Racing Richard Childress Racing
Furniture Row Companies Cheerios/Hamburger Helper
No. 29 Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet) No. 15 Michael Waltrip (Toyota)
Richard Childress Racing Michael Waltrip Racing
Budweiser NAPA Auto Parts
No. 17 Matt Kenseth (Ford) No. 18 Kyle Busch (Toyota)
Roush Fenway Racing Joe Gibbs Racing
Crown Royal M&M's
No. 4 Kasey Kahne (Toyota) No. 92 Brian Keselowski (Dodge)
Red Bull Racing K-Automotive Motorsports
Red Bull Racing K-Automotive Motorsports
No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya (Chevrolet) No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Chevrolet)
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Target Bass Pro Shops/Tracker
No. 43 A.J. Allmendinger (Ford) No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Dodge)
Richard Petty Motorsports Penske Racing
Best Buy Miller Lite
No. 5 Mark Martin (Chevrolet) No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Toyota)
Hendrick Motorsports Joe Gibbs Racing FedEx Express
ROW 10
No. 27 Paul Menard (Chevrolet) No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota)
Richard Childress Racing Michael Waltrip Racing
Peak/Menard NAPA Auto Parts
ROW 11
No. 39 Ryan Newman (Chevrolet) No. 99 Carl Edwards (Ford)
Stewart-Haas Racing Roush Fenway Racing
U.S. Army Aflac
ROW 12
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (Chevrolet) No. 00 David Reutimann (Toyota)
Hendrick Motorsports Michael Waltrip Racing
Lowe's Aaron's Dream Machine
ROW 13
No. 14 Tony Stewart (Chevrolet) No. 16 Greg Biffle (Ford)
Stewart-Haas Racing Roush Fenway Racing
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Ford
ROW 14
No. 83 Brian Vickers (Toyota) No. 37 Robert Richardson Jr. (Ford)
Red Bull Racing Front Row Motorsports
Red Bull North Texas Pipe
ROW 15
No. 09 Bill Elliott (Chevrolet) No. 7 Robby Gordon (Dodge)
Phoenix Racing Robby Gordon Motorsports
Phoenix Construction Speed Energy
ROW 16
No. 47 Bobby Labonte (Toyota) No. 21 Trevor Bayne (Ford)
JTG Daugherty Racing Wood Brothers Racing
Kroger/USO Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center
ROW 17
No. 46 J.J. Yeley (Chevrolet) No. 6 David Ragan (Ford)
Whitney Motorsports Roush Fenway Racing
Red Line Oil UPS
ROW 18
No. 9 Marcos Ambrose (Ford) No. 77 Steve Wallace (Toyota)
Richard Petty Motorsports Rusty Wallace Racing
Stanley 5-Hour Energy
ROW 19
No. 71 Andy Lally (Chevrolet) No. 20 Joey Logano (Toyota)
TRG Motorsports Joe Gibbs Racing
Super Eco-Fuel Saver The Home Depot
ROW 20
No. 34 David Gilliland (Ford) No. 38 Travis Kvapil (Ford)
Front Row Motorsports Front Row Motorsports
Taco Bell Long John Silver's
ROW 21
No. 87 Joe Nemechek (Toyota) No. 36 Dave Blaney (Chevrolet)
NEMCO Motorsports Tommy Baldwin Racing
AM FM Energy Tommy Baldwin Racing
ROW 22
No. 32 Terry Labonte (Ford)  
FAS Lane Racing  
U.S. Chrome  


Having grown up around motorsports as part of a family of stunt drivers, Joie Chitwood is no stranger to the Daytona 500, but this Sunday he will see the race in a whole new light as President of Daytona Int'l Speedway. Chitwood has had just over six months to prepare for the Great American Race, having taken the reins of the track in August after a brief stint at ISC. He moved to Daytona at a stressful time, inheriting an expansive, multimillion-dollar repaving project that by all accounts has been a success. Chitwood has already proven he can handle the demands of running a high-profile track, having spent five years as President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he's well on his way to making a positive first impression in Daytona. He recently took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with staff writer Erik Swanson about his first six months on the job, the repaving project and Sunday's Daytona 500.


Quick Hits

Daytona 500: Intense

Repaving: Stressful

Drafting: Exciting

Tom Carnegie: Legendary


Q: What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your first six months on the job?

Chitwood: Well, here I am rolling into this new opportunity and I want to really see where we are from a staff perspective, resources. I've had a chance to run some big events and so I want to kind of put my stamp on things. But I also show up and I'm in the middle of a $20M repaving project that we have to get done on time so that we can get cars on the track. So you put those two together and it makes for a lot of sleepless nights, in terms of our preparation. It's kind of being new, trying to understand the team we've got and wanting to try to put some plans in place, but I don't have as much time on my hands because I'm worried about construction as well. I think you tie those two together, and it has made for a very challenging six months. But it's also exciting in and of itself, the chance to put new asphalt down and also to tweak how we're gonna operate the 500.


Q: Have you had a chance to look long-term much or have you mostly been leading up to this weekend?

Chitwood: We try and add a little bit of a long-term approach to it. I think for us it's trying to figure out what we need to continue to do to improve the property for our customer. Yeah, it's tough to do that when you've got the 500 coming up, but I think for me I try to take some notes every day about what I've seen or what I've experienced that I can put on the list to improve in the future; whether that's just from a training perspective with our staff, whether that's how we spend capital to improve the property, or just a process that maybe makes it a little bit smoother. 

Q: Has the repaving project been your biggest focus in planning for the Daytona 500?

Chitwood: You know, it really has, because it's really dominated how we think about the event. You know, trying to get it done so we could get a December tire test. And our big January test was a great promotional opportunity for us to let the world know that we fixed the asphalt. So I don't think we really could have planned for this year's Daytona 500 without factoring in the repave and really getting the drivers to validate that the pave job was successful. Because as a promoter, I can tell our fans all day long, "It's great, it's great, it's great." But until a driver actually goes out there, gets out of his car and says, "Man, that was smooth," that's what our fans will believe. And that might cause them to react and maybe buy a ticket or watch us on TV again. So really the repave has almost been the main part of our marketing platform as we rolled into 2011.


Q: What would our readers be most surprised to learn about your typical day?

Chitwood: Managing events when you have this many folks show up on the property -- we have over 140,000 permanent seats and we camp people 24/7 inside our property. Heck, we've got the athletes themselves sleeping inside our gates. Imagine if the football players were spending the night at the stadium before the Super Bowl. So for us, we are in the mode of putting out fires. I can walk around with a fire hose all day long, just putting out fires. You just deal with things that pop up. Your team has to be ready; they can't get rattled by having to deal with things that just pop up here and there. For us, it's all about responding to the situation appropriately and doing our best to manage it moving forward. The team is well prepared for that. Very rarely do you have an event in which every single thing goes smoothly.


Q: How will you spend most of your day Sunday?

Chitwood: I have a lot of folks to meet and greet, say hello to. I have some media obligations and some pre-race obligations, in terms of addressing the crowd. We're changing the way we do driver introductions. We have a new format for that, so I'm really interested to see how that goes. I'll bounce around a bunch on race day. I try to spend at least the first couple laps in race control with NASCAR, just in case anything's going on that I need to know about. After that, I'll try and run around to some suites and say hey to our customers. I'll check in with Lesa Kennedy and make sure there's nothing on her list that she wants me to know about. I'll probably start making my way back down to the infield at some point to get ready for Gatorade Victory Lane. I don't really get to watch the race at all. Maybe the first couple laps of the green flag, but after that it's running around and making sure people are getting what they need.


Q: What are you looking forward to doing after Sunday is over?

Chitwood: Taillights in the driveway. The best part about any event for us is when the customers are getting in their cars and you see their taillights as they drive out of the parking lot. That means we've accomplished what we were supposed to. There is that sense of relief that they're finally off the property and heading home. For us, that's truly when the checkered flag waves, not at the end of the race, but when the customers leave the property.

Juan Pablo Montoya leads all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers with 265,781 Twitter followers as of Thursday afternoon. By comparison, the official NASCAR feed had 61,157 fans. The Montoya figure also dwarfs the next closest driver, Kevin Harvick, who has 59,620 followers for his feed. Dale Earnhardt Jr., long considered to be the most-popular driver in NASCAR, does not have an official Twitter feed, but the front page of his official website offers a link to the JR Motorsports feed, which has 12,147 followers. Five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson also does not have an official feed. Tony Stewart lists an official driver feed that has only one tweet taking visitors to the Stewart-Haas Racing website. That site in turn has a front-page link to the Stewart-Haas Racing Twitter page, which has 11,775 followers. Listed below are NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers with official driver Twitter feeds, with the number of followers as of Thursday afternoon (THE DAILY).

Juan Pablo Montoya
Clint Bowyer
Kevin Harvick
David Ragan
Kasey Kahne
Joey Logano
Michael Waltrip
Tony Stewart
Denny Hamlin
Trevor Bayne
Kyle Busch
Joe Nemechek
Jamie McMurray
Regan Smith
Ryan Newman
Marcos Ambrose
Bobby Labonte
Travis Kvapil
Martin Truex Jr.
David Reutimann
Brian Vickers
Carl Edwards
Robby Gordon
J.J. Yeley
Greg Biffle
David Gilliland
Brad Keselowski
Paul Menard
Jeff Gordon
Matt Kenseth
A.J. Allmendinger
Andy Lally
Jeff Burton
Kevin Conway