No way Kyle Busch (18) can get out of this mess, is there? Well....maybe he is the best driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour after all (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
New York City, brace yourself.
Now that the Super Bowl is over, NASCAR's marketing team is ramping up its Daytona 500 campaign, and, not surprising, it's coming fast and furiously.
NASCAR marketing is nothing if not in-your-face.
But first, a heart-warming story: Shane Hmiel.
Remember Steve Hmiel's son, nearly killed in a crash? On the comeback trail.
Here's the video of his latest accomplishments: SHANE
The new NASCAR stocker, radically redesigned, is on a media blitz this week, to Detroit and New York City and some other cities, in a run leading up to the SpeedWeeks kickoff. On the blitz, drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip. What drivers will really have to talk about is hard to see, though, since the new car has yet to run its first race, and testing has been inconclusive, albeit hotly touted by PR people.
SpeedWeeks' leadoff event is the Sprint Unlimited (formerly the Shootout) Feb. 16 (Fox, 8 p.m. ET).
Three-wide at Daytona? Really now.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Getting the attention of New York City hasn't been all that easy over the years for this sport. That long awards banquet run, with the champion wheeling around Times Square in early December is over. And the Staten Island land once proposed for a New York City Speedway is still idle and up for sale.
So it will be interesting to see how NASCAR hits the Big Apple in the next few days.
Point of perspective here, perhaps: What is the top U.S. TV market for NASCAR racing?
With by far more percentage penetration than anywhere else (even Charlotte).
The NASCAR story line for the new season is simple:
Sports officials are banking on the new 2013 race car to spark a revival.
One of the benchmarks to watch, of course -- TV ratings.
Last February's Daytona 500, rain delayed from Sunday to Monday night prime-time, drew an average of 13.7 million viewers. That's one of the lowest TV audiences since the 2000 running, the year before Fox took over the sport's premier event.
The 2012 audience for the 500 peaked at 15.1 million, just after Juan Pablo Montoya's fiery crash. Fox said 35 million people watched at least some part of the race. (Fox points out the Monday night 500 was that network's best Monday night broadcast since the 2010 World Series.)
Well, it doesn't alway work out, as Jeff Gordon (on his top) showed in last season's Shootout (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The Monday night prime-time aspect for the Daytona was unique, presenting the sport to perhaps a different audience.
Still, in absolute numbers it wasn't really that impressive.
The TV audience for the Daytona 500 over the years:
2000 12.9 M (before Fox/NBC)
2001 17.0 M
2002 18.7 M
2003 16.8 M
2004 17.7 M
2005 18.6 M
2006 19.3 M
2007 17.5 M
2008 17.7 M
2009 15.9 M
2010 13.3 M (the Pothole 500)
2011 15.6 M (the Trevor Bayne 500)
For perspective on how important the Daytona 500 is to this sport, particularly as the season kickoff, the average TV audience for a Sprint Cup event is about 6.5 million.
When things go right, that big draft at Daytona is awe-inspiring. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
This year's 500 has an interesting TV twist. Fox' Latino sports network Deportes will carry the 500 live. Deportes will also carry live five more Sprint Cup races, the California 500, Bristol 500, Charlotte 600 and Talladega 500, and it will feature a number of special programs for that demographic. Deportes will also carry nine more Cup races tape-delay.
(For point of comparison, Sunday's Super Bowl was the third-most-viewed program in television history, with some 108 million viewers. The 2011 and 2010 Super Bowls drew 111 million viewers.)
In other NASCAR news:
-- Tommy Baldwin, the former crew chief (Daytona 500 winner in 2002 with Ward Burton) trying to make it as a team owner on the Cup tour, says he's not too impressed with Bruton Smith's complaints about 'start-and-parks,' the sport's smaller operations which don't have financing to run full-bore.
"Bruton has enough money that if he wanted to be part of the solution, he'd help figure out how," Baldwin says. "Bruton can do a better job."
Baldwin will be at Daytona with Dave Blaney and JJ Yeley in his cars. But he will no longer be part of the Tony Stewart operation.
NASCAR execs, though, were apparently listening to Smith: the last five finishing spots each weekend will offer less in purse money.
-- Goodyear's Tuesday tire testing at Darlington Raceway with the new 2013 showed some striking speeds: Carl Edwards said he hit 193 mph going into the corners. That means Kasey Kahne's track record of 181.254 mph will likely be broken during the Mother's Day weekend. The Southern 500 is set to start that Saturday evening at 6:45 p.m. ET. (That's earlier than most of the tour's night races, which generally start around 7:30 p.m.)
-- David Reutimann will be back in Ron Devine's Toyotas, but Pat Tryson will be the team's new crew chief, and Mike Ford, the veteran crew chief who led Denny Hamlin's team for so many years, is the competition director.
-- David Hyder, the veteran crew chief, has signed on to work with Tony Stewart on a new test team. Hyder is to be at Daytona, but he says the shape of the new team is still up in the air.
-- The James Finch Update:
The popular team owner will be back full time on the Cup tour this season, with Chevrolets...and an assortment of drivers. Regan Smith will run the Daytona 500, AJ Allmendinger will run Phoenix, Bristol, California and Martinsville, Austin Dillon will run Las Vegas. After that, Finch will reassess things.
-- ESPN/ABC may be making tons of money, and with the collapse of the American newspaper industry ESPN has become virtually the only source left for consistent sports news.
However just where NASCAR racing stacks up on the ESPN totem pole is still questionable at times. Consider: April races versus the NFL draft and NBA playoffs
-- Ryan Newman, one of this sport's most popular, and most intelligent, drivers, is already weighing his options for the 2014 season. Newman just signed a one-year extension with Tony Stewart, after Roger Penske pondered hiring Newman.
Newman, thus a free-agent at the end of this season, was mentioned by Penske last week as possible driver for a third team, depending on sponsorship and the development of Sam Hornish.
Newman, 35, is starting his 12th year on the tour; he won 13 Cup races during his seven seasons with Penske, one of them the Daytona 500
Penske says new crew chief Matt Borland should be very good for Newman this season. Borland and Newman were teammates when together at Penske's, including that impressive 2003 run of eight victories.
Gentlemen, start your ambulances. Wonder if NASCAR has a better game plan for dealing with driver concussions this year.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)