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Volume 24 No. 156

NASCAR Season Preview

Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski gives his thoughts on the current state of NASCAR to USA TODAY in a sports-section cover story, and he notes the "problem I see in the sport is that there are multiple entities that have to work together for us to be successful." Keselowski: "We have sponsors ... tracks, the sanctioning body and the teams. Those are our four groups, and how well they cooperate dictates what we have as a product for our fans." That is combined "with the shift in all spectator sports to a TV-dominated world." TV "has become more popular and attendance at the track ... has dwindled with the exception of major events." Keselowski: "We haven't adapted as a sport to that." When late NASCAR Chair Bill France Jr. was in charge, he "had control of all these pieces and wasn't at the mercy of the TV world." He had control "of the tracks and NASCAR, which is now divided in two" and run by ISC Vice Chair & CEO Lesa France Kennedy and NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France. Keselowski notes, "France Jr. had relationships with the sponsors, drivers and teams. Now we don't have that. Those three other pieces are segregated. Those three pieces need to get together. And until all three of those can unite, we're a house divided, and we're making bad decisions that are affecting our bottom line." Keselowski added, "We have to move away from team sponsors, because the way it's set up now encourages us to harm each other. And by doing that, we're hurting the sport. ... What NASCAR needs to do is somehow wean ourselves off our sponsors and make the sport more affordable to where you can basically race off the purse."
OTHER ISSUES: Keselowski notes all tracks "should have Wi-Fi." Keselowski: "That's so obvious, you don't even think it has to be said. But it does, and it goes back to all the factions. ... The fact I can go to a race with a Verizon phone and not have service when the race starts is a major problem." He adds, "You can't tell a fan that doesn't have service, 'We're working on it.' They bought their ticket already. That money they spent was for 'worked,' not 'working.' We have to open our eyes to the big picture. That's our sport's challenge: Can we do that?" He believes it is every driver's "responsibility to carry the sport whether they're a champion or not." Keselowski: "I feel I've taken that responsibility as much as I was allowed to last year, and some people have told me -- a lot of people -- they wish I'd be quieter and that I hadn't earned the right to speak. But I never listened to that. I've always done as much as I wanted to do and could manage. I'm sure there will be more demands going forward, and I think I'm capable (of) handling it smoothly. That doesn't mean I've got it figured out" (USA TODAY, 2/22).

TWITTER REAX: USA Today's Jeff Gluck wrote on Twitter, "This is like a State of the Union speech without all the BS." SportsBusiness Journal's Tripp Mickle wrote, "Most interesting @keselowski comment on NASCAR's biz? A call for new team revenue." Marquette Univ.'s Chris Jenkins wrote, "Applaud NASCAR's @keselowski for pondering the big picture." Keselowski wrote on his Twitter feed, "Thank you everyone for the responses. I want the best for our sport, an open dialogue is where to start."

STAYING TRUE TO HIMSELF: In Boston, Michael Vega notes Keselowski "may be ushering in the era of NASCAR's next-generation champion -- young, personable, techno-savvy, and quick with an opinion -- which would dovetail nicely with the unveiling of NASCAR's next-generation car." Keselowski said, "I have my own way of doing things, and there is a little pride thinking that some of that is back to the way some of the people earlier in the sport did it. I think you have to fight to be relevant and you can't do things that were done in the past and feel like you are going to be relevant to today's fans." Fellow driver Jimmie Johnson said that Keselowski's voice "will have some resonance in the garage as well as the grandstands." Johnson: "Once you are the champion, your voice carries much further. The more success you have in the sport, the voice will carry further and further." Noting Keselowski's celebration following his win last year, in which he appeared on ESPN drinking a Miller Lite, Johnson said, "He'll have a few moments like that, which will rein him back in some, and make him think about what he says and be more calculated." But Vega notes Keselowski "doesn't intend to mute his voice or homogenize his personality now that he's champion." He will "stay true to himself: outlandish and outspoken" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/22).

NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France hopes Danica Patrick running from the pole and a "new generation of cars on show at this weekend’s Daytona 500 race will end a run of disappointing ratings, falling ticket sales and patchy sponsorship" for the sport, according to Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The economy has been "unkind" to NASCAR, and "worries about a shrinking and aging fan base have also affected sponsors." France said, "It's been choppy." He added that some large sponsors have "cut back ... but Sprint has extended its deal until 2016 and 114 Fortune 500 companies now back Nascar, more than in 2008." Edgecliffe-Johnson reported the new Gen-6 cars are France's "latest effort to encourage tighter races around Daytona’s banked turns." They are "based on standard models such as the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, but with new features such as wider bumpers and lighter, more aerodynamic bodies" that France hopes will encourage “close competition and lots of passing." Meanwhile, France hopes to extend NASCAR's TV deals with ESPN and Turner Sports "by late summer." He said, “We know the sports landscape is very favourable to premium sports producers and we’ll be pricing for that." France added that he is "confident that rights inflation will continue 'for the foreseeable future' as competition intensifies among networks for events that deliver large live audiences to advertisers" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 2/21). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's A.J. Baime writes NASCAR "will be getting the overhaul it needs" with the debut of the Gen-6 car, the series' "most innovative overhaul since 2007." This machine "aims to put the 'stock' back into stock-car racing." Fans will see "cars recognizable as a Ford, a Chevy or a Toyota" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/22).

SLOW OUT OF THE GATE:'s Ed Hinton wrote under the header, "So Far, Not So Good." Following a lack of action during the Budweiser Duels Thursday, Hinton wrote, "We still have yet to see Gen 6 in a full contingent of 43 cars. ... But right now, it doesn't look good. And NASCAR's showcase race is not the best place to flop." The Gen-6 was supposed to "look like your street car," and "it does." Hinton: "And that's about how it runs at Daytona" (, 2/21).'s Cary Estes wrote the drivers have "yet to gain a comfortable feel of the new car design." There were "several multi-car accidents during practice sessions in the week" leading up to the Budweiser Duels, which prompted the drivers to "take a cautious approach during the first actual racing of the season as they continue to learn what the new car can and cannot do in traffic" (, 2/21). But NASCAR President Mike Helton said there was a "collaboration" between NASCAR, the drivers and the manufacturers on the new car and "that has a lot to do with the energy and the excitement around this car that originates in the garage." Helton: "This is very visible and it reaches all the stakeholders in our sport, particularly the OEMs and the teams, who played a big role in developing it and having it presented the way it is" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 2/20).

LIMITLESS POTENTIAL: USA TODAY's Brady & Ryan in a front-page piece write if Patrick wins Sunday's race, she would "suddenly be better known as a Daytona 500 winner than for her appearances in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue ... and her provocative Super Bowl commercials for Go Daddy." Sports Business Group President David Carter said, "There would be, I hesitate to say, unprecedented media coverage. ... But the amount of coverage if she wins would transcend the racing category." Fox analyst and NASCAR HOFer Darrell Waltrip said if Patrick wins, it would "change this sport forever, take it to another level -- I promise you" (USA TODAY, 2/22). CBS News' Mark Strassmann noted despite Patrick averaging a 28th place finish in her 10 Sprint Cup starts last season, NASCAR “is heavily promoting” her. The sport "hopes she can grow and diversify its fan base, two-thirds of whom are men” (“Evening News,” CBS, 2/21).

CROWD SOURCING: USA TODAY's Nate Ryan reports NASCAR last week announced that it was "getting out of the business of including crowd estimates in its official race reports." The estimates often were "inflated by laughable proportions, sometimes off by 10,000 or more." In "shrouding attendance figures in secrecy, tracks hide behind the excuse that they can't provide them because it's tantamount to providing earnings guidance." But it "meshes poorly with NASCAR's recent thrust to embrace transparency that dovetails with a five-year industry action plan to stabilize an eroding fan base by attracting a younger, hipper and more diverse audience" (USA TODAY, 2/22).

A CASE FOR THE CHASE:'s Lars Anderson wrote many long-time NASCAR fans "still pine for the days of the old points system, but it's hard to argue that the Chase format hasn't achieved exactly what it was designed to do, which was to create more compelling finishes to the season." That begs the question as to why NASCAR's TV ratings and attendance have "taken a nosedive in the last six years." The answer is "complex, but it's rooted, I think, in four overriding factors: the economic downturn, which hit NASCAR fans especially hard; the wide-spread distaste for the Car of Tomorrow, which debuted in 2007; the general lack of thrilling, on-track racing for the last few years; and the growing disparity in the sport between the haves and the have-nots" (, 2/20).

Daytona Int’l Speedway on Friday unveiled the first interior images of its planned renovation. The fan-friendly changes include the addition of expansive concourses, concession areas as large as football fields and dozens of escalators that will ferry people around the track. DIS President Joie Chitwood said, “We want you to leave knowing you were at a special place. Are you able to take a piece of Daytona home with you so that when you speak to your friends and family, you talk about a property with true history?” Chitwood showed three interior images of the venue that offered the first glimpse of 44 escalators that would lead into the stadium’s five grand entrances, an open concourse where fans would see the track for the first time, and 11 football-sized “neighborhoods” where fans could get concessions, interact and use wireless or Wi-Fi technology. DIS already has secured approval for a zoning change that allows it to renovate the 53-year-old track. Chitwood and Rossetti, the architecture firm working on the project, are in the process of finalizing the redesign and hope to present it to ISC’s senior management and board later this year for approval. The new DIS would look far more like a contemporary NFL stadium than a racetrack. It would have a grand entrance that leads to an open concourse where fans could read about the history of the track before seeing it for the first time. The renovated track would have three concourse levels, which would divide the grandstands and dramatically reduce the number of stairs fans have to descend in order to reach concession areas. Chitwood said, “Our core fans know what it’s like to walk down those stairs at about lap 100. Fans expectations for these new arenas and new amenities out there, they’re pretty high.” Suites will be on the fifth, sixth and seventh level, but Chitwood said the track will not announce its hospitality and sponsor amenities until a later date.

LEGISLATION BEING FILED NEXT WEEK: The track next week will file legislation with Florida’s state government saying that if it spends $250M, it will gain some tax rebates that other sports teams get in the state. He declined to say how much money the track would recoup if the state legislature approved the public-private partnership. The Florida senate recently reviewed a bill that would give the Dolphins an annual sales tax rebate of $3M a year to help the club cover a proposed $400M Sun Life Stadium renovation. Chitwood described a similar public-private partnership, adding that state support would bolster his business case to ISC senior management. Chitwood: “Without that, senior management might say, ‘We’re not ready for this.’ I think that public-private partnership makes a lot of sense.” Chitwood said if DIS can get senior management approval later this year, the construction will be a multiyear process, and the track will work around its race schedule throughout the renovation. He added if they go ahead with the renovation, the track would explore bringing other events to the facility such as EPL matches.

Fox Sports on Thursday sold out of its Daytona 500 ad inventory. A network spokesperson in an e-mail wrote, “We definitely experienced an uptick in interest once Danica Patrick won her pole position last week, and that generated enough business to put us over the top this year.” The network had sold 90% of its inventory as of last week. Fox signed several new advertisers, including Sonic, Peak Antifreeze, TurboTax and Disney, which will promote its movie “Oz the Great and Powerful.” It also experienced strong sales in traditional categories such as automotive, QSRs and soft drinks. All three of NASCAR’s manufacturers -- GM, Ford and Toyota -- plan to advertise. Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Sprint, AT&T, McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell are returning as well. To get to a sold-out position this week, a Fox spokesperson wrote that the net sold some of its last units to new advertisers and additional spots were bought by companies already committed to the race “who wanted to double down on their investment.” A number of official NASCAR sponsors are breaking new creative during the race. Sunoco will debut a new “If I Had a Nickel” ad, Coca-Cola will release a spot featuring its Coca-Cola Racing Family of drivers, and Goodyear will show new creative that features NASCAR footage. The Goodyear spot tells how the company makes tires that are “meticulously crafted to help handle speeds up to 200 miles per hour turns” and culminates with the line that “everything (Goodyear) learns making tires for its most demanding customers inspires what we roll into yours.”

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: The network will use its “double box” advertising system during the beginning and end of the Daytona 500, ensuring that fans can see live race footage in a small box alongside the first commercials. The move expands on the final hour of uninterrupted coverage that Fox offered during last year’s Daytona 500. Fox Sports Senior VP/Advertising Sales Rick Kloiber said, “When you think about the flow of the races, there’s a huge crescendo of excitement that leads to that green flag. By using the double box early we can hold onto some of that momentum rather than going to a traditional break." Fox execs first tested the effect early double box commercials had on its audience during the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, and used it again on the "UFC on Fox" broadcast Jan. 26. The net plans to use the double box in early coverage of additional NASCAR races this season.

Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks is being "careful not to over-promise" on coverage around Danica Patrick sitting on the pole position for Sunday's Daytona 500, according to Tom Hoffarth of the L.A. DAILY NEWS. The net will have a "pre-race feature allowing her to talk about her week in a first-person format." But outside of giving some historical context, Fox "will not divert from any other hysteria the race itself draws naturally." Fox knows Patrick's No. 10 Go Daddy Chevy will be "one of its eight in-camera cars," and she "may be one of three drivers also supplied with a Gyro-Cam, but that will be determined Saturday." The Gyro-Cam is a device "mounted in the center of the cockpit that tilts with every high-banked turn." Shanks said, "You can't let one thing take over. You won't be seeing an hour-long preview featuring what Danica had for breakfast and what we think she's going to have for lunch. I'm not sure on Monday morning whether we'll be able to pinpoint any one particular thing that ... will attract viewers to this" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/22). But USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes Fox could not have "ordered up a better scenario" than having Patrick on the pole. She gives Fox a "green light to go gaga over her as long as she's in the race." Meanwhile, Shanks said Fox will have "the most gadgets and gizmos we've ever had on any event." Shanks said that "wrinkles in the coverage will include new 'eye candy,' such as a camera suspended on cables that will zip above the backstretch at about 85 miles per hour." Also added is a camera graphic that can "superimpose 3-D images on the race track, like the virtual first-down lines seen in TV football, to indicate such things as restart lines." Hiestand notes Fox also will "deploy Erin Andrews for the first time on Daytona coverage" to conduct a "pit walk" before the start of the race (USA TODAY, 2/22).

SHE CAN DRAW A CROWD: In Indianapolis, Anthony Schoettle wrote if Patrick can "parlay that top qualification into a good race-day performance, it could be just the boost NASCAR needs," as TV ratings will be "up considerably for the first part of the race." If Patrick can "stay out of trouble and stay up front for much of the race, TV ratings for the race -- especially late in the race -- could go up 10 percent" (, 2/18). In Philadelphia, Bill Fleischman writes having Patrick in the poll position "surely will attract casual fans who are curious to see how she does in the race." Fleischman: "Hel-lo, higher TV ratings" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/22).

DUELING UNDER THE LIGHTS: Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood Thursday announced that the Budweiser Duel at Daytona, the pair of 150-mile qualifying races that determine the Daytona 500 starting lineup, will be run in primetime in '14. Fox Sports Media Group will broadcast the Feb. 20 event (DIS). In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis reports the "only shocker was that it took this long to make the move -- they've had lights here for 15 years, after all" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/22).

Richard Childress Racing CMO Ben Schlosser said that NASCAR sponsors are “looking for more of an interactive experience these days” after brand exposure was “coveted in years past,” according to Chris Graham of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. There are “scads of potential customers of a sponsor” brought to the track, given a “rundown on the company's product and taken around the garage area before the race.” Drivers are “more involved -- whether its Kevin Harvick with the famed Budweiser Clydesdales delivering race tickets and beer to two lucky fans, or Richard Childress and his grandson and driver Austin Dillon going on a pheasant hunting trip and decked out in Bass Pro Shops gear in South Dakota.” Chip Ganassi Racing President Steve Lauletta said that before the recession, “a logo on the side of a car was the main reason a company would sign on as a sponsor.” He said, "Now they're looking for 100 other reasons. We need to find those potential reasons that align with their assets." Lauletta said that one of those reasons pitched to companies “is the corporate marketplace allows businesses to mingle with others they normally wouldn't come in contact with on a daily basis.” Graham notes even in a “slumping economy, some can see a big return on their investment.” DRIVE4COPD, a health initiative that pushes for screening for a serious lung disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, reportedly “used its partnership with NASCAR to engage with 2.5 million prospective patients in two years.” Meanwhile, NASCAR noted that 5-Hour Energy “reported $30 million in sales from $10 million invested in its race car” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/22).

SIGN HERE, PLEASE: Joe Gibbs Racing on Wednesday announced a "sponsorship from BrightSky, a supplier of diabetes testing equipment," for driver Darrell Wallace Jr. when he races in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 Friday at Daytona (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/21)....G&K Services has renewed its sponsorship of JD Motorsports' No. 01 NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet that will be driven by Mike Wallace this season (G&K Services).

CANADIAN DEALS: TSN announced that Canadian Tire will be the official automotive retailer and title sponsor of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and Canada Tire Motorsports Park in Ontario. Dodge will be the official vehicle of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. TSN also announced Pinty’s Delicious Foods as the official wingman and sponsor of the Wingman of the Race Award. Toyota during the Sprint Cup Series broadcasts on TSN and TSN2 will sponsor the “Toyota Keys to the Race with Michael Waltrip” (TSN).

USA TODAY's Nate Ryan reports NASCAR driver and team owner Tony Stewart "will be in the driver's seat of a commercial Coca-Cola will launch during Sunday's Daytona 500 that will feature a heavy social media component." The ad shoot, "which occurred last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway," includes drivers Danica Patrick, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin. It is titled "Family Road Trip," and features "moments that were ad-libbed between takes of an ad in which Stewart drives his peers in an SUV" (USA TODAY, 2/22).

FIT FOR THE KING: Martinsville Speedway and STP on Thursday announced a multiyear deal for title sponsorship of the track's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spring race, making it the STP Gas Booster 500. At the race, which this year will be held on April 7, STP also will serve as a co-primary sponsor (along with Jani-King) of Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 Ford driven by Aric Almirola. The paint scheme will commemorate the first time the STP logo was on Richard Petty's car in '72 (THE DAILY).

EXPLODING ONTO THE SCENE: Daytona Int'l Speedway announced that its July 5 NASCAR Nationwide Series race will be rebranded as the Subway Firecracker 250. The track's annual summer Sprint Cup race held some version of the "Firecracker" moniker in its title from the inaugural race in '59 until '88. The summer Nationwide race at DIS had been called the Subway Jalapeno 250 since '09 (THE DAILY).