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Let's invite the new guy on the block to a Sprint Cup race... to see what he's just invested $20B in

Let's invite the new guy on the block to a Sprint Cup race... to see what he's just invested $20B in

Looks like Matt Kenseth -- wife Katie here, and Kaylin -- has the youth part of the NASCAR marketing plan down pat. Nothing like having the family celebrating in victory lane... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  By Mike Mulhern

   Just going over NASCAR's new marketing notes -- which emphasize "competition, Gen-Y (b. 1983+), youth, Hispanics, and star-power" -- and putting together a quick-and-easy game plan to pitch Softbank boss Masayoshi Son and Dan Hesse for 2013.
    Masayoshi is the cell phone company boss who has a reputation for technological innovation, general exuberance, and sharp marketing...and who just put $20B in the kitty to take over Sprint. And Hesse is the Sprint boss.
     Now just what Masayoshi and Hesse might really have planned for this new merger isn't clear, of course. But it certainly looks like Masayoshi is on path to give Sprint and Hesse the firepower to battle arch-rivals AT&T and Verizon more vigorously.
   Don't know if Masayoshi is a NASCAR fan....
   But he's got a rep as an aggressive, fast-pedaling business gambler, and he has an impressive business resume, and some big goals. He is certainly an intriguing figure ( http://on.ft.com/PgG4Ws ).
   And it's looking like he could be very good for this sport.  
   Bootleg sake? Maybe he can hit it off with Junior Johnson and trade some tales....

  Can't say that Jimmie Johnson is taking the easy road to the championship.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    So first off, Masayoshi needs to take this NASCAR marketing program to the next level, beginning by muscling Sprint to the forefront on TV broadcasts of the Sprint Cup series. It should be unsettling to watch Cup races on TV and see so many ads for Sprints arch-rivals.
    That's one easy fix.
    Next, also easy: Amp up all those hundreds of Sprint stores and kiosks around the U.S. for more aggressive local-area marketing through NASCAR racing. How about a few of those life-size driver cutouts, and some more prominent NASCAR-Sprint Cup logos. Cheap and easy and quick.
   And how about using Sprint's national recognition to pump up NASCAR's weekly racing series? And vice versa?


   How will the new investor in Sprint re-energize things? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   NASCAR needs stronger grassroots marketing, and maybe Sprint too, and Masayoshi and Hesse could synergize here, using the 60-some NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks around the country in a more effective national-linked marketing campaign.
   NASCAR, under George Silbermann, has developed a technically dazzling short-track operation, with a very nice assortment of talented and polished drivers. But what it really needs now is a powerhouse national advertising/marketing campaign, to trumpet that program.
   Sprint is almost uniquely situated to fill this void: it has a national maze of stores and kiosks for point of contact and attack, it has the nationally known Sprint Cup series as the anchor, and now it has a new supply of marketing money.
    Perhaps the next move is to invite Masayoshi to a Sprint Cup race...and let him see and feel the marketing potential here.
    This could be a win-win, if played right.


   Jimmie Johnson: on target for another NASCAR championship...but just can't shake Brad Keselowski (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Meanwhile, with three races to go in the Sprint Cup playoffs, the championship chase has just about boiled down to Jimmie Johnson versus Brad Keselowski.
   And the rest of the teams are already looking to 2013.
   So is Goodyear, which has to start building those thousands of 2013 NASCAR tires.
   However NASCAR officials keep tweaking the 2013 rules, and that is maddening for both Sprint Cup teams and Detroit car makers who are so integrally involved in this new package.
   Back in July Goodyear said it was expecting the 2013s not to be much different, in terms of what the tires actually see out on the track, in terms of downforce and speed, from the 2012s.
   However, that may not be the case now.
   "NASCAR has been well represented at our last two tires tests, at Texas and Phoenix," Goodyear's Greg Stucker says. "They've done some evaluations at our tests and made some changes. We're still trying to work together to figure out how much change in the tire is going to be necessary.
   "When we talked earlier (in July about the 2013s), when they were talking about taking some downforce off the cars, that would make the cars 'lighter,' what does that mean that we can change tire-wise?
   "Now if we're going to go back a little bit and put some of that downforce back on, and (yet) the weight is going to stay out (NASCAR wants to cut the weight of the 2013s by a sizeable 160 pounds), what does that mean we can do tire-wise?
   "We're trying to stay in-step with NASCAR and understand the changes they need to continue to make on the new car, and make sure the tire is going to be in line.
   "We want to be conservative with our changes. We're not going to try to make drastic changes."


  Goodyear's Greg Stucker (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The next 2013 test is a big one, at Charlotte Motor Speedway Nov. 6th and 7th. It is to be a wide-ranging R&D test for Goodyear, but it will probably be much more, as far behind as teams say the 2013 project is.
   This whole 2013 project has become rather curious -- NASCAR executives are so determined to keep a positive spin on it all that anyone with any criticism offers it at their own peril. So drivers are all pom-poms when asked directly about the testing.
    But privately teams are offering some rather scathing criticism. Not of the project itself, which is a very good marketing idea, for both Detroit and NASCAR, but rather of the very slow pace of things.
   For example, teams are complaining that they can't get all the sheet metal parts for the 2013s that they need, that they can't even get those safety roof flaps.
   And it's unclear just what the 2013 tires will look like. NASCAR, apparently after the poorly received Kansas Speedway test a few days ago, is now trying to put more downforce in the 2013s, which seems to mean new rear decks, and logically something new in the front too for aerodynamic balance. That, in turn, would logically affect the tire designs.
    And, uh, it's almost November. Time is running out. Daytona 500 testing is set for early January, and once the 2013 season kicks off, it's almost nonstop.
    This 2013 project should have kicked off with testing in July, if not earlier. Ford, remember, debuted its 2013 back in January.
   NASCAR executives have not only botched the 2013 marketing campaign itself so far, officials -- and perhaps Detroit needs a shout out here too -- have lagged behind too.

  Why is it so hard to get teams on the record about the development and evolution of the 2013 stocker? Has NASCAR put a blanket over the project? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Briefly reviewing the Kansas Speedway tire situation from last week -- Goodyear engineers report that Aric Almirola's two blown tires were "self-induced, because of setup....camber, toe-in, whatever," and added that a third tire from that car showed similar evidence. Almirola led much of the race until crashing hard.
    Casey Mears' blown right-front is still being examined by Goodyear. "It didn't look like brake-heat," Goodyear's Stucker says. "So we're taking a look at that one."
    Kurt Busch's blown tire was apparently because of body damage, and likewise with Sam Hornish.
    AJ Allmendinger's blown tire, Goodyear says, showed a clear gash down the middle. So did Juan Pablo Montoya's blown tire.
    Tony Stewart's tire problem was from a gash in the sidewall, presumably from another car.
    Kansas Speedway's new asphalt produced very high speeds, as much as 210 mph, Carl Edwards said. So Goodyear used the Michigan high-speed tire. Next season? Goodyear says it hasn't had time yet to review the Kansas race with an eye toward what it might bring next season, because it was busy with the Phoenix test. And Goodyear also wants feedback from NASCAR officials about the Kansas 400.
    "Like any repave, teams had to fight 'slick,'" Stucker said. "They tried to bring in the track; ran the driving school (to put rubber on the track).
   "The track will now sit over the winter, and we may go back (and test) and see how much it's changed, and go from there."


  Maybe it's time to invite Masayoshi Son to a NASCAR Sprint Cup race...wonder what he'd think about Talladega? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Phoenix? It's been over a year since the major repave there, and drivers have had mixed emotions about the tires and the new asphalt.
   "We're starting to hear comments that the grip has gone away, and with the 2013 car coming in, we're trying to gauge where we need to be."

   A major problem here, however, is the actual 2013 race car itself.
   Crews here say there is still no 'real' 2013 NASCAR stocker yet, because rules keep changing, even from week to week, even this late in the project.
   "I can't get all the sheet metal to start building cars, can't even get the roof flaps, and when I ask about all those 'test' cars, they say they're still 'prototypes,'" one team general manager was saying Sunday morning just before the Martinsville 500, expressing his frustration.
   "They're taking 160 pounds out of the new cars, but now we're having to add a new bar up high (a new safety rollbar, raising the center of gravity), which will give even more advantage to the big teams that can afford to work on light-weight pieces."
    Testing of the 2013s has been going on throughout October, at Talladega, Texas, Kansas and most recently Phoenix. Another frustrated team manager describes three of those tests as "disasters."


   Phoenix testing: real cars? or just prototypes? Why does this 2013 project appear so far behind? (Photo:  Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Did teams bring enough 'real' 2013s to Phoenix for Goodyear to get a good test? "I think so," Stucker says. "Everybody has their cars to a point that is as close to the spec as they can get them at this time. I think the spec is maybe still evolving a little, as far as how much downforce.
   "But everyone is close enough that we can get a read on where we need to be."
   The Kansas test, however, sticks out as a disaster, and how much
   "NASCAR got some direction from Kansas, which impacted what we took to Phoenix (five days later)," Stucker says diplomatically. "Guys updated their cars from Kansas for the Phoenix test."
    Bottom line, when can Goodyear start building some 2013 tires? What is the tire giant's current 2013 inventory, for Daytona (the Shootout is Feb. 16), for Phoenix (March 3), for Las Vegas (March 10), Bristol (March 17), and California (March 24)?
   "We're starting into production in the next week or so," Stucker says. "And our plan for Daytona is to  stay with what we had for 2012.
   "We don't think the car changes will be significant at Daytona."


     Wonder how Danica Patrick may fare in 2013? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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