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The snap...and the hand-off: From Fox to Turner

  Are you sure Hank done it this way? Tony Stewart eases into Lewis Hamilton's F1 car, as Hamilton watches (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Fox got NASCAR-on-TV off to a good start this season, or maybe it was vice versa, with that new asphalt at Daytona, and no Olympics to program against.
   As David Hill's bunch passes the baton, the network says its 13 NASCAR broadcasts this spring averaged 8.6 million viewers, a three-year high, and up by nine percent over 2010.

   Now it's Turner's six-race TNT stretch, and Pocono's leadoff event was not quite as strong. The cable network says Jeff Gordon's victory was watched by 5.2 million viewers (a 3.2 rating). That compares to last season's 5.3 million, 2009's 5.5 million, and 2008's 6.1 million.
   Still Turner says the 500 was the most-watched cable show Sunday.
   Round Two for TNT is here Sunday.
   Reviewing Fox' coverage:
   -- the network says its NASCAR broadcasts showed increases "across every major male and adult demographic."
   -- the biggest increase Fox says came in the 18-34 male demographic, up 20 percent.
   -- the increase in 18-49 males was six percent.
   -- the increase in 25-54 males was five percent.
   -- the increase in 18-49 adults was four percent.
   Fox did not provide breakdown geographically or by market.
   Fox' June 5th Kansas 400 finale drew 6.3 million viewers, with a 3.9 rating. The Kansas race was a first for Fox. (Comparing the impact, Fox versus ESPN's last October's Kansas coverage – ESPN drew 3.8 million viewers.)
    Of course there is more to promoting this sport than just TV….
   …and it goes back to at least 1965's Red Line 7000, where James Caan plays Fred Lorenzen. (Wonder how long it will take NASCAR executives to put Fearless Freddie in their new Charlotte Hall of Fame, if any of them even remember the golden boy from back when…)
    -- Brian Vickers just did that skydiving thing at Daytona to promote the July Fourth weekend 400. (Is that one-upsmanship on Carl Edwards and his leap off the Las Vegas Stratosphere?)

   Hooah! Brian Vickers warming up for Daytona's Fourth of July 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    -- And Gordon was out in California the other day, warming up the fans for next weekend's Sonoma race, where he could be among the favorites now, after winning at Pocono…and promoting a new NASCAR movie, Cars 2, in which he has a bit role.
    -- Earlier this week Tony Stewart was running Lewis Hamilton's F1 car around Watkins Glen, promoting that track's August tour stop. A couple weeks ago he was promoting the A&E TV show, The Glades, in which he has a cameo. (And remember NASCAR's Steve Phelps in CBS's Undercover Boss last fall?)
   In fact Stewart said he liked running the lower 'boot' portion of the legendary Glen road course so much that he'd like NASCAR to add that very technical part of the course to the NASCAR layout. And track boss Michael Printup says he's going to make the pitch to Daytona. Not only would adding the boot change things up dramatically for crews and drivers, it would also give Printup more camping room for fans close to the course, certainly a big plus, considering that event is a camping venue. (Printup, kudos here, offered any Montreal F1 fan a free ticket to the Glen NASCAR stop if they showed up for the Stewart-Hamilton car swap.)
   Formula 1 just ran at Montreal, raising the issue there if NASCAR should make that August Nationwide stop a full Cup event. (And how much money is there to be made in F1? The daughter of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone just  bought a $150 million home in California….)
   -- Jimmie Johnson meanwhile is looking ahead to Tuesday's charity golf tournament in San Diego.
   NASCAR drivers don't need that fast-flying jets to get to these race tracks but rather to get all the publicity appearances, like Jeff Gordon's appearance Tuesday night on Jimmy Fallon (http://www.zimbio.com/watch/2s4EGHmRxTo/Jeff+Gordon/Jeff+Gordon ). (And remember Gordon in Taxi and SNL…)
   But wonder if Gordon is worried that Carl Edwards might be trying to steal his thunder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzNmcLzrtCQ  .
   Who needs those unimaginatively pedantic daily newspapers when you've got punch and pizzazz on a scale like this…
   Meanwhile back in the NASCAR garage….
   This week here there is some question of whether or not some dynamic has change in this sport lately. Jack Roush's Fords dominated the first few months, but suddenly Dodge's Kurt Busch and Gordon are looking hot again. And Carl Edwards' blown engine at Pocono, plus more problems for teammate Greg Biffle….
   Aw, but who cares about that stuff.
   Pixar's John Lasseter, the writer/director of 2006's Cars and now Cars 2 "is a huge race fan and comes out to the Sonoma races every year," Gordon says. 
   "I was able to get in touch with him last year around this same time, and we started talking about being a part of Cars 2."
   Hey, Cars grossed some $460 million….
   So now Gordon is an animated 'Jeff Gorvette' in the film, which opens June 24th….not so ironically Sonoma weekend.
   The bite, Gordon says, "is not a big one. But it sure is something I'm very proud of.
    "The movie is completely different from the first movie. Lightning McQueen and Mater and some of his buddies are in there, and I'm one of his new buddies. But it's an international spy thriller this time, so they go all over the world."

    That sounds a lot more thrilling than some of the stuff on the NASCAR tracks lately.
    Gas mileage races have been the game the past several weeks, and Sunday's Michigan 400 will likely be a gas mileage race too, at some point. And so likely will be Sonoma.

    Jeff Gordon, Sunday, going through What Turn 4 at Pocono (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Is Gordon, with new crew chief Alan Gustafson, really back on a roll again? These next two races should tell the tale; these are two good tracks for Gordon. In fact Gordon has won more Sonoma races, five, and more poles than anyone else.
   But, uh, his last win?
   Well, until this season Gordon was licking his wounds. Last season was filled with eight or so could-have- been-wins.
   And Gordon simply hasn't been up to par on the sport's two road courses.
    "We have struggled on the road courses in recent years…and it's not something we've been accustomed to," Gordon says, with a nod toward some extra testing last week.
    The hilly Sonoma course "is a very challenging track….one that you really struggle between being aggressive and being patient," Gordon says.
    "On a road course you typically really want to attack the breaking zones. But Sonoma -- with the elevation changes and the off-camber turns -- is one of those tracks where you have to be very careful at over-attacking. You can drive it too hard."
    And so can the men you're racing against, and there's little room for run-off.
    Key at Sonoma is qualifying. "And we really have to qualify much better this time," Gordon says. "That's something we have not done a good enough job of in recent years. Half the success you're going to have at Sonoma is having a great qualifying effort."
    And qualifying here, Saturday?
    As wide as this track is, and as good as this pit road is, qualifying doesn't mean much.
    But then, heck, as good as some of these guys are in Hollywood and New York City, maybe it doesn't really matter that much what they do on Sunday either.

    Lewis Hamilton may know Formula 1, but this NASCAR stuff, well.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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