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TV announcers clamming up on sponsorship 'mentions?' How much does it cost to get a TV 'mention' this season?

  Super G? TV's Mr. Popularity this spring. Jeff Gordon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

  BRISTOL, Tenn.
  Now this is curious. Maybe Fox boss David Hill can explain:
  NASCAR's TV ratings are up the first month of the season…but TV's talking heads and producers are apparently doing a lot less talking about, and a lot less camera work on, the team sponsors who are helping pay the freight for this sport.
   Joyce Julius, the Michigan-based sponsor-analyst that has been watching NASCAR telecasts for nearly 30 years now, to help judge the impact of sponsorship, says sponsors in these opening weeks have been getting a whopping 25 percent less 'talk' and 'view' than over the same span last spring.
   The company does note that the tour's second event this season was at Phoenix rather than Los Angeles. But it also warns that two major indicators for sponsors – announcers mentioning team sponsors, and cameras showing hood sponsorship – are down significantly.
   In fact the company says TV 'mentions' of team sponsors is down nearly 50 percent.
   There been no immediate comment from Fox executives.


  Danica Patrick: helping pump up NASCAR ratings...and her own too, with good runs (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Among the early-season surprises: Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. And Danica Patrick.
   Newman seems more comfortable with that than Earnhardt, who is still trying "to manage our expectations."
   Newman and teammate Tony Stewart were strong at Las Vegas, which should translate to next weekend's stop at California's Auto Club Speedway.
   "Vegas is a big part of that," Newman says. "That was one of our weaknesses last year --  our balance and grip at those intermediate tracks.
   "We've made big improvements. Vegas was validation for us as to how well we ran in California last year (Stewart won California in October, Newman finished fifth). We're not just in the top-five but we're capable of staying in the top-five.
   "Texas (April 9) to me is going to be similar to Vegas."
    Of course how any of that translates here is anybody's guess. At least Newman has a good head about what lies ahead in Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500:
   "Every lap is different…I don't know I can tell you strategy on each lap, each restart.
   "And it's different every race here. Last fall --  of the 500 laps, I'll bet I was in sixth-place for 490 of them. And I've been here before where I've gone from first to 35th to 12th to 36th to third…
    "It changes every time the way the race plays out here…because of where the yellows fall.
    "The way our fuel windows work here, it changes a lot of things -- fuel verses tire."
    And Patrick? This will be her first race at this Blue Ridge mountains track, and she seems more confident than perhaps she ought be, partly because of the glow from a good run in Las Vegas.
    "I definitely feel more comfortable than I did at this time last year," Patrick says. This will be her last NASCAR run until Chicago.
   Newman says Patrick should have some fun with Saturday's 300.
    "It's Bristol…and it's different every time," Newman says. "It can go a lot of green-flag runs and a lot of single-file racing…or it can be crazy. And it can get randomly crazier.
    "She proved a lot of things in Vegas."
   The old bump-and-grind Bristol style of racing seems history. The new smooth asphalt has changed things. Drivers say they like the wider track better.
   However there is the sense that this race could be different than the past few races here, because teams seem now more willing to gamble on chassis setups.    
   "The track to me is more demanding, now it's smoother and there's more maneuverability," Newman says.
    "If you miss your line just a little bit, you wash up the track and come down the hill and come back off the corner….where before, if you missed your line, you were going to get freight-trained maybe 10 or 15 spots."

    For Earnhardt a good start to the season has raised expectations of a breakthrough win. He had a shot down the stretch at Vegas.
    "We've got to temper our excitement," Earnhardt says.  
      Still Earnhardt seems to like the new 'buzz.'
    "We should have run good, and did, at Daytona," Earnhardt said.  
     "At Phoenix (10th), I don't know how well we would have finished had a lot of guys hadn't had trouble. We weren't strong; it's hard to pass.  
      "You got to temper your mood…keep focused…realizing how much further in the season we got to go.
      "That's going to be the part that is the hardest -- whether we can keep that going over the entire season.  
     "The season is long.  You get pissed off.  Things don't go right.
    "You got to manage it and not let it ruin things.  
     "I have a hard time not letting things ruin my day. I've always had that problem."  
     And teammate Patrick? Earnhardt says he's confident Patrick will do well here Saturday. "She'll do fine.  
    "She was up to speed rather well in the first (Friday) run.  
    "It's not a real challenging place to look at and say 'Well, there's a line -- I need to go out there and run there.'
    "With the new banking, you can be off a couple feet and relatively still be in the line.
   "Once she hones it in, she should have it nailed."



 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (L) and new crew chief Steve Letarte (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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