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Can Turner's TV guys turn things around for NASCAR racing and pump up the ratings?

Jimmie Johnson made a brilliant charge at Dover to beat Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart...but Fox' TV ratings were still down. What's the problem here? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Now it's Turner's turn, and can the new TV lineup make a difference in what has so far been a surprisingly disappointing spring for the sport.
   Fox pulled only a 4.0 for its last Cup race, last weekend at Dover. That follows the pattern Fox' David Hill has seen throughout the tour's first four months – down more than 10 percent from last year.
   Fox averaged 5.7 NASCAR ratings last season; this season Fox has averaged just 5.1.
   What is more worrisome is that in the Fox part of the NASCAR season, this sport has little real cohesive TV competition….but in the fall, when the National Football League roars back into action, NASCAR is typically behind the eight-ball anyway. That's one reason for NASCAR's chase playoff format, which kicks off in mid-September.
   The chase, however, hasn't appeared to make much difference in the NASCAR-vs-NFL matchup.
   So what happens here Sunday, with Turner TV people taking over the sport for the next six weeks?
   Jimmie Johnson last  year said Pocono simply wasn't a very good TV race, for a variety of reasons, principally probably it's length: "From a TV viewing audience standpoint, I think the distance of the race is one avenue to look at. 
   "Plus, this track has really long straights and only one, maybe two passing areas.
   "Eliminating shifting took away some of the opportunities.
    "And we're trying to make this (COT) car better on the big tracks. The faster we go, the more the aerodynamics comes into play…and the difference between mechanical grip and aero grip.
   "That's a big-picture thing we discussed in our meetings with NASCAR last week.
   "Hopefully there are some changes around the corner that can help.
    "Anytime we can create another lane of racing, it's going to help."

   So two things here – NASCAR execs, and team owners, are hoping Turner can do something to turn TV things around. And everyone in the sport is hoping that Indianapolis' Brickyard 400 is a barnburner kickoff to the ABC-ESPN half of the tour July 26th.
   Last year's Brickyard 400 was a fiasco.
   So Goodyear and NASCAR and the teams have all been working overtime to get a good tire combination for the cheese-grater surface.
   And Goodyear engineers have apparently made some breakthrough in their long-running development of a new tire combination for the July Brickyard 400.
     Jeff  Burton says Goodyear's latest Indy tire test was "phenomenal.
   "I was really, really happy with what went on there.
   "I went there very skeptical, nervous about it.
    "I don't like doing tire tests in places you know you have tire problems. Kind of feel like Chuck Yeager.
    "But from the first lap on the track I really liked the way the tire felt.
    "We literally never saw one issue with the tires.
    "They ended up putting those tires on everybody's car for a day and a half. And to my knowledge, there was not a blister, not a cord showing.
     "So that was a great test.
    "Goodyear created a tire specifically for that track, and the grinding of that track. It seems they did an incredible job.
   "There still could be an issue -- they just had the 500 there (with all the rubber that event laid in the grooves).
    "But this tire appears to rubber the track up itself. It appears to lay rubber down on the track rather than that powder (like last year).
    "So I was really impressed with the tire. I was very impressed."
    Kasey Kahne agreed: "I've been at a bunch of tire tests the last year, and to me the tire drove as good as any tire we've had there with this car. 
    "It actually probably drove the best that we've had with this car. 
    "The tires didn't blister, they didn't 'cord.'  They looked really good. 
     "I was real pleased.  I think it's going to be a great tire to race on, if it's the tire that we'll race on.  I'm pretty sure that it is.
      "It has been tough, difficult for Goodyear to figure it all out. But I think they finally found something that's going to work really well there.
    "And it's something they can use to make our tires better at other tracks as well.
      "Last year was terrible to have the Brickyard 400 the way it was.  But I think we're going to gain something out of it."

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