Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in Sunday's Daytona 500 "might mark a watershed turnaround" for NASCAR, which "still is battling lagging TV ratings and attendance," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. NASCAR now "gets three consecutive days to showcase its 10-time most popular driver in national media outlets turning attention away from the Winter Olympics for the first time in more than two weeks." Driver Jeff Gordon said of Earnhardt's win, "The world is right right now. That is a sign that the NASCAR season is going to be a good one." Ryan notes Earnhardt will have "many high-profile opportunities to maintain the momentum." He started yesterday on ABC's "GMA" and finished it on CBS' "Late Show," with "many talk show spots in between." Earnhardt will be "omnipresent today on ESPN and make publicity rounds" in L.A. and Austin. His "mainstream appeal might have casual fans talking, too" (USA TODAY, 2/25). In Miami, Greg Cote wrote Earnhardt's win likely had NASCAR officials "high-fiving inside their soundproof suites." It is "good for the business of NASCAR." Earnhardt, Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson are "still the big-four drivers to casual fans, and none bigger" than Earnhardt. He is to his sport what Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson "in the hunt are to the PGA Tour." There is "no substitute" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 2/24). FS1's Trevor Pryce said, “Everything is perfect at this point for NASCAR. ... Even if you’re not a NASCAR fan, we all know Dale Earnhardt Jr.” The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay: “Sometimes it’s great to have the upset, but sometimes it’s great when your superstar delivers” ("Crowd Goes Wild," FS1, 2/24).
IMPECCABLE TIMING: In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes a season of "great change in NASCAR got a jolt" with Earnhardt's victory. NASCAR "got what it wanted -- another win for the sport’s most popular driver on the track where he has shined brightest" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). In N.Y., Viv Bernstein writes the win "gave long-suffering Earnhardt fans more than a reason to celebrate." It was an "invitation to tune back in to NASCAR to follow Earnhardt as he contends, possibly, for a title for the first time in a decade." Earnhardt’s victory "virtually assures he will be in the 10-race playoff at the end of the season." Team owner Rick Hendrick: "It doesn't hurt to have him, the most popular driver, win the biggest race, the Super Bowl of our sport." Bernstein writes NASCAR could "not have made a better choice to draw attention to the sport, which has seen a drop in ticket sales and flat television ratings" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/25). ESPN's Bomani Jones said, "There's nothing better for NASCAR than a Dale Jr. win. ... Whenever he wins, it’s a big deal" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/24). In Jacksonville, Don Coble writes under the header, "Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Daytona 500 Exactly What The Sport Needed Most" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 2/25). In Columbus, Rob Oller offers, "Earnhardt Gives Sagging NASCAR A Needed Lift" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 2/25). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said he was "sure that NASCAR is thrilled" that Earnhardt won. However, he referenced the record weather delay and ratings drop from '13 and asked, "So who saw it?" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/24).
RIPPLE EFFECT AT OTHER TRACKS: Phoenix Int'l Raceway President Bryan Sperber said of this Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit On CNBC 500, "Our ticket office was much busier than we anticipated [yesterday]. Dale winning is an incredible boost for the sport at the start of the 2014 season" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 2/25). In Richmond, Paul Woody writes it is "tempting to say NASCAR needed Earnhardt to take its signature race, but it’s far more accurate to say Earnhardt needed the victory more than NASCAR needed Earnhardt to win." NASCAR "is bigger than any one driver." Perhaps there will be an “'Earnhardt bump' in attendance at the next couple of Sprint Cup races." Woody: "But will Earnhardt’s victory Sunday mean more ticket sales at Richmond in April and September? At Pocono, Dover or Texas this summer? Probably not" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 2/25).