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NASCAR early-season recap

NASCAR early-season recap

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The NASCAR season is not quite yet at the halfway point, but it already has provided plenty of highlights. Here’s a look at some of them, as well as some other stories to watch in the months ahead.

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Even Bristol Motor Speedway has struggled to fill the grandstands.
PUTTING PEOPLE IN SEATS:
While some tracks such as Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas were encouraged by attendance this season, several others still saw softness. The most alarming was Bristol Motor Speedway, which was impervious to attendance declines during most of the recession. Estimated attendance for the track’s March race was 138,000 — 20,000 short of capacity — but many reports put it at far lower than that. Meanwhile, Auto Club Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway covered portions of their seating for the first time. As the economy improves, will fans return to the track?

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The deal UPS has with Roush Fenway Racing is among those up for renewal.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL:
A host of major team deals remain up for renewal this season. Among the blue-chip companies that are weighing their sponsorships of teams are: Best Buy with Richard Petty Motorsports; General Mills with Richard Childress Racing; and Aflac, Diageo and UPS with Roush Fenway Racing. The sanctioning body also has some key sponsors and rights holders up this year, such as Bank of America, Sirius XM and Visa.

NEW MONEY: The team sponsorship market has shown signs of life as new sponsors appear intent on jumping into the sport. Hendrick Motorsports signed one of the most important deals of the season to date, a five-race agreement with Farmers Insurance. Tommy Baldwin Racing, a smaller team, signed a 19-race agreement with Golden Corral. Both signings indicate that corporate marketers are interested in more than just taking calls from race teams.

REALIGNING THE RANKS: NASCAR restructured its front office in late April, shifting responsibility for all intellectual property areas to Chief Sales Officer Jim O’Connell and digital responsibilities to Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps. CEO Brian France anticipates the moves will improve the organization’s sponsorship and licensing sales, allow digital to be used as a marketing vehicle to drive interest in the sport, and free up NASCAR Media Group President Paul Brooks to focus on upcoming TV rights negotiations.

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The Daytona 500 win by youngster Trevor Bayne got the season off to a quick start.
TV TUNE-IN: After four years of declining ratings, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series appears to have bottomed out. Through nine races, the series was averaging a 5.3 rating and 9.2 million viewers on Fox, up 3.9 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively, from seven races at the same point last season (which excludes two rain-outs). The Sprint Cup Series will look to build on that as the season continues.

DAYTONA CINDERELLA: Trevor Bayne became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 by holding off Carl Edwards and taking the storied Wood Brothers Racing team back to Victory Lane. The story garnered a tremendous amount of media attention and earned the 20-year-old Bayne appearances on “Lopez Tonight,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and others. Most importantly, it shined a spotlight on NASCAR at the start of the season.


THREE PEOPLE TO WATCH

Brown
Lisa Brown

CEO,
Richard Petty Motorsports

The team is under new ownership and less than a year removed from near collapse. It hired Brown to lead its business operations, and the former AOL head of ad sales has a tough job ahead of her. Best Buy is up for renewal on the team’s No. 43 car, and co-owner Andrew Murstein has said he’d like to expand the team from two to three cars next year, which would require new sponsorship money.

Caldwell
Jerry Caldwell

General manager,
Bristol Motor Speedway

The former vice president of corporate sales at Speedway Motorsports Inc. stepped into a difficult situation in Bristol when he replaced the well-regarded and late Jeff Byrd. He will be working hard to sell out the August night race and boost attendance at next year’s spring race.


Jenkins
Marc Jenkins

Vice president, digital,
NASCAR

The former managing director of business operations was recently promoted and placed in charge of NASCAR’s digital efforts. The company sold its digital rights to Turner in 2005, and Jenkins will be challenged to develop a plan around rights the series doesn’t control.

— Compiled by Tripp Mickle