NASCAR Hopes Drivers' Family Ties To Racing Greats Will Help Build Audience
Legacies and lineage will be an "overarching theme" this year for NASCAR, as it enters the season with "a bevy of cross-generational story lines dotting its three national series," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. Austin Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, will drive the late Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 car in the Sprint Cup Series. Chase Elliott, the son of former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott, will drive his father's No. 9 car in the Nationwide Series. In the Camping World Truck Series, Jeb Burton and Ryan Blaney "will be carrying on surnames that are familiar to those who watched their fathers, Ward Burton and Dave Blaney, team at Bill Davis Racing more than a decade ago." ESPN NASCAR analyst Dale Jarrett said, "To have those names showcasing this is still a family sport is important as we try to continue to bring fans back." Ryan wrote as NASCAR "attempts to lure a younger audience that seems less enamored with cars while placating an old-guard fan base that has weathered the retirement of many of its heroes, the links between old and new might strike the right balance." There had been "much debate over whether the No. 3 should return to the track without an Earnhardt behind the wheel." But JR Motorsports co-Owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller "enthusiastically supported the move because they thought Dillon was a worthy successor to burnish their family's reputation" (USATODAY.com, 2/4).
WHAT'S THE POINTS? SPORTING NEWS' Bob Pockrass wrote of NASCAR's overhauled Chase for the Sprint Cup, "NASCAR at least got part of it right, even if the most difficult thing for many to stomach -- four drivers tied in points going into the final race -- remains part of the plan." The other thing that NASCAR "got right is the way it will allow drivers knocked out during the Chase to battle for fifth in the final standings." But the "biggest issue that remains is that it will be quite difficult to look at the champion the same way as past champions, to look at the champion as truly the best driver rather than someone who survived three Chase rounds and then won the title in the final race" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 2/4). In Orlando, George Diaz wrote, "A cynic would suggest desperation. Perhaps it's simply a more pragmatic approach to running the family business." It has "been stagnant for a while." NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France "certainly has folks buzzing" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 2/4).
FOUR-LETTER NETWORK: USA TODAY's Ryan notes there "seemed no discernible change in ESPN's commitment in closing the 2013 season with its 17-race block, which began just days after NASCAR announced NBC as its impending replacement." ESPN President John Skipper has said that NASCAR "still will be covered" on "SportsCenter" and other news programming. Ryan writes that "has to be reassuring for those who recall the contentious era in which ESPN reporters weren't credentialed for races and were left to interview drivers on helipads outside racetracks." But without race programming in '15, there will "be a natural decline in NASCAR's presence on a multimedia behemoth that sets the tone for national conversations and debates among fans" (USA TODAY, 2/5).