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NASCAR TV? TNT ready to turn the cameras over to ESPN. USArmy dropping NASCAR, but NationalGuard wants to stay involved

NASCAR TV? TNT ready to turn the cameras over to ESPN. USArmy dropping NASCAR, but NationalGuard wants to stay involved

Ol' Smoke is smokin', and New Hampshire is a great track for him




   By Mike Mulhern

   It's nearing time for another TV-changing-of-the-guard, and up next, after the final week off for NASCAR's Sprint Cup teams, is ESPN.
   This weekend's Lenox 301 will mark the sixth and final performance for Turner Network's TNT cable channel, and pitchmen
Adam Alexander, Kyle Petty, Wally Dallenbach, Ralph Sheheen, Marty Snider, Matt Yocum, Chris Neville and Larry McReynolds.
    TNT comes here fresh off a 3.8 rating for the Daytona 400, the best TV showing for that event since 2008's 3.8.
    The NASCAR tour has been generally off in TV ratings overall since 2009, though holding somewhat steady.
    To put TNT's 3.8 rating in some perspective, NBC's Daytona 400 in 2005, when it carried the event, pulled a 5.5, and Fox' 2006 400 pulled a 5.1.
    For it's five events so far, TNT has averaged a 3.2 rating. In comparison, Fox over its 13 races this spring averaged 4.9.
    Fox is reported to be interested in making a pre-emptive bid on the next NASCAR TV contract, though the current one doesn't end until November 2014. And there have been hints that Fox might be interested in adding to its present 13-race package. There are also reports about a new Fox sports channel, which could replace SPEED on cable tiers.

   Will TNT be included in the next NASCAR TV package?

   Almost certainly, in some shape or form, because NASCAR execs like the Turner family, especially access to CNN, HBO,  Time, and HLN (and Robin Meade, who just sang the National Anthem at Daytona).


  TV's Kyle Petty: always up for a challenge (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Certainly TNT's Alexander, Petty and Dallenbach won't be short of news to talk about this weekend.
    Not only is there the AJ Allmendinger debate to weigh in on, but there is also Ryan Newman's loss of the U.S. Army as sponsor -- apparently a political victory for Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who has been vigorously pushing to get the Army out of NASCAR.
   So it's been a good news/bad news week for Tony Stewart.
   Yes, his Daytona victory Saturday night, his third tour win of the year, virtually assures him and crew chief Steve Addington of making the September NASCAR championship playoffs.
   And he's coming this week to one of his best tracks on the stock car tour, Bruton Smith's flat one-miler in the heart of New Hampshire.
   So Smoke should be in a very good mood...despite the penalty NASCAR officials just assessed him -- six points off his total, and a $25,000 fine -- for that loose air duct discovered in pre-qualifying inspection Friday.
    Addington and car chief Jeff Meendering are on probation until August 22nd.
    That's all in addition to Stewart being ordered to start the Daytona 400 dead last....which obviously didn't hurt him all that much.
   But more bad news for Stewart and teammate Newman -- the U.S. Army, under pressure, has decided to drop NASCAR from its budget for 2013, leaving Newman without that sponsorship. McCollum has called NASCAR sponsorships "wasteful" and "not effective."
   The Navy and Marine Corps, once NASCAR sponsors, quit previously. And the fate of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s National Guard sponsorship is up in the air.

   However Thursday afternoon the head of the National Guard Association of the U.S. says recruiting through racing pays off:

   "Traditional recruiting approaches no longer worked and our troop strength was shrinking," retired Maj. Gen Gus Hargett Jr. said in a statement on the issue. "So we abandoned convention and focused our limited resources on an innovative marketing mix that linked recruiting messages to popular musicians and motorsports.

   "It was a bold move, but it paid off."

   Hargett decried the politics of the issue: "Such a ban would provide no real savings and only serve to hinder Defense Dept. efforts to reach the most qualified potential recruits...."

   The entire sponsorship debate is considered part of the partisan political battling in Congress.


   Minnesota politicians beat NASCAR on this one: Army's gone. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   How good is Stewart here? Well, he logged a win and a second-place finish last season. And the guy he lost to? Newman.  
   That was the summer race here. Last fall Newman won the pole and Stewart won the race...an odd race to be sure, with Clint Bowyer running out of gas while leading with barely a mile to go.
   Gas mileage? In 2010 Stewart was leading late but ran out of gas  the last corner of the last lap....and Bowyer won.

   Depending on how the points themselves work out by the Richmond September cut, Stewart and Brad Keselowski, also with three wins, are both shoe-ins for the chase. (Stewart at the moment has an edge, with a pair of runner-up finishes.)
   The key to this track? Think of it as a big Martinsville -- tight, flat corners, and long, fast straights. Motor not only gets you up off the corners but helps you brake into the turns.
   Like Martinsville, this can be a 'bad attitude' track for some drivers, who can't quite get the corners worked out.
   And it's a tough track for passing.  "You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him," Stewart says.
   It's also a finicky track, easy to miss the setup, even for guys who typically shine here.
   However more than anything, the keys to winning here are good gas mileage and good track position.


   TV's Wally Dallenbach: he tells it like it is....even if it hurts (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One man who really needs to shine here is Jeff Gordon. He has led more laps here than any other driver; but he comes into Sunday's 300 needing to win at least two of the tour's next eight races to make the playoffs.
    Another man to watch here is tour leader Matt Kenseth, two weeks into his 'lame duck' status with team owner Jack Roush. But Kenseth was certainly tough enough at Daytona.
   Here, however, "Loudon has been a track that we’ve struggled at for the past four or five years... but our last outing we ran pretty competitively."
   Last fall's sixth place run was the first time Kenseth has finished better than 15th here since 2007.


 You think Smoke is asking for advice here, or offering it? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
   On the Nationwide side, Austin Dillon has been hot the last few weeks, but he's just been hit with his second big NASCAR penalty, for a loose air duct at Daytona (presumably an aerodynamic edge). Dillon got hit with another six-point deduction, and crew chief Danny Stockman and car chief Robert Strmiska were suspended two races; they were already on probation for an incident at Richmond; Stockman was fined $10,000.

   Stewart's Daytona infraction, Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's competition director, says was inadvertent: "We want to be clear there was no malicious intent.
    "In a rush to replace a cracked rear windshield, that happened during tech inspection prior to qualifying, we jostled a cooling hose that was behind the seat."

   Meanwhile the AJ Allmendinger saga continues, with no answers yet in sight.
   While Allmendinger is on the sidelines, Sam Hornish, the three-time Indy-car champ who has struggled during his four years in NASCAR, will get another chance to show what he can do, this week again subbing for Allmendinger in the Roger Penske ride -- that is considered one of the biggest prizes in this sport, with its Shell sponsorship. But he's never really had a breakthrough run in NASCAR.  
   And when Penske's second Cup team had an unexpected opening, after the split with Kurt Busch at the end of last season, Penske opted for Allmendinger rather than Hornish.
   So after several years in Cup, this year Hornish has moved down to Nationwide, where he's showing improvement, with nine top-10s, and he's fourth in the standings.
   Hornish, a very late call for the ride at Daytona, arriving at the track just moments before the start of the 400, cut a tire in that race and finished 33rd. Depending on how quickly Allmendinger's situation can be cleared up, Sunday's 300 here may be Hornish's big chance; he finished 10th here his last start, in the fall of 2010.
   Allmendinger tested last week at the Milwaukee Mile for this event, which should help crew chief Todd Gordon and Hornish.
   Of course NASCAR teams testing at the Wisconsin track doesn't do much to help ticket sales here in New Hampshire. But NASCAR executives, for some reason, haven't seemed interested in changing that 'no-testing' policy, despite empty seats at virtually every NASCAR track this season.

   Sam Hornish Jr. and daughter Allison. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Greetings Mike,

After being inundated by the Waltrips on Fox, I was very much looking forward to TNT\\\'s short stint of race coverage. What a let down it was.

But I have to say, if I may digress, Fox did listen to us fans on a few complaints. I have been very vocal on The Fronstretch, and somewhat on The Daly Planet on several key issues. One was the stupid gopher, and they got rid of it. I can only assume it was dumped because of the overwhelming fan backlash.

The other deal is, I have commented numerous times about Larry Mac\\\'s constant sponsor shilling, in that he couldn\\\'t say tires without saying Goodyear, and he couldn\\\'t say fuel without saying Sunoco. But late in Fox\\\'s run, several races in a row, he was just occasionally saying tires, and just saying fuel. Not every time, but I noticed it immediately and it was refreshing. So the times he did say the sponsor\\\'s names, it wasn\\\'t aggravating anymore. I understand that these are NASCARS\\\' meat and potatoes sponsors, but hearing their names every time tires or fuel was mentioned year in and year out has gotten very old. And yes, I do realize, these companies are more than sponsors, NASCAR literally runs on these companies products.

As far as the Waltrips are concerned, I was not happy when I learned that they added Mikey to the booth. But I think he has tried hard not to let his emotions get the best of him and he did a much better job than I anticipated. DW, now he\\\'s a different animal all together. IMO, he tries to anticipate what\\\'s going to happen on the track too often and ends up with his foot in his mouth.

Anyway, back to TNT, I don\\\'t know what happened to them, what has changed in their production personnel, but they sure screwed the pooch behind the scenes. The commercial overloads and bad timing of the breaks, the lack of booth control, poor direction, and too much emphasis on just a handful of specific teams just made their coverage seem like they had never done this before.

I\\\'ll be eating my words soon, but I\\\'m glad it\\\'s almost time for ESPN. I\\\'ve had enough of TNT and KFC. I might even skip this weekends Cup race. New Hampshire has never thrilled me anyway. Maybe you can jog my memory of a good New Hamshire race that might make me change my mind. Or, if Jeff Burton has a good piece under him in happy hour that might do it.

Oh, and BTW, I really hope this Allmendinger thing turns out well for him somehow. It\\\'s already tarnished him to a degree, but if for some miraculous reason he finds clearance, he\\\'s got plenty of time on his side for people to forget. A few good wins can go a long way.

Nascar on TNT

One thing TNT needs to realize when covering races. NO ONE WANTS TO SEE EVERY PIT STOP OF EVERY CAR ALL RACE LONG! It's called racing, people, not Nascar pit stops. Show the racing on the track, not pit stop after pit stop.

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