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Sunday, February 22, 2015

PENSKE WINS DAYTONA; TOPS 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 22: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Roger Penske -- Second Daytona 500 win gives him shot at "Double" with Indy 500 and adds to his corporate image of success.

  2. Joey Logano -- He'll be the Face of NASCAR this week on the national media tour. NASCAR and its industry partners hope he'll draw-in fresh fans from a younger demo.

  3. Gene Haas -- What will he do with his self-owned and self-sponsored No. 41 Cup car for the rest of the season? Haas said he stood behind Kurt Busch as his driver, but NASCAR ruled otherwise. And Chevrolet said no. The team has other sponsors on its other cars and they all are, at least indirectly, impacted by this. 

  4. Joie Chitwood -- Daytona International Speedway president says track made a mistake not having SAFER barrier where Kyle Busch crashed. International Speedway Corp. cannot justify spending $400 million on elevators and escalators and other fan goodies but not having SAFER barriers all the way around the outside and inside walls. What happened needs to be the example learned from by all other tracks.

  5. Mike Helton -- As Brian France steps back with the Daytona spotlight turned off, NASCAR's now vice chairman stays on the circuit as the senior on-site racing official. First order of business: Getting all the national series on a calmer course after 10 days of crashing at Daytona. 

  6. Richie Zyontz, Artie Kempner, Barry Landis -- The three senior at-track production people face the task of keeping the Fox and Fox Sports1 presentations interesting and fresh for viewers who continue on with NASCAR post-Daytona 500. There are new and continuing stories to be told and these three will make the final decisions on what's important and what is unplayed or even ignored. Now in the Xfinity series, too.

   9. Mark Miles -- IndyCar's CEO tells media day gathering he wants to expand to 20 races, starting one week after the Super Bowl, and ending by Labor Day. 

10. Don Schumacher -- Mega NHRA team owner -- he's to drag racing what Roger Penske is to IndyCar and Rick Hendrick to NASCAR -- doubles in Phoenix with Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan in Funny Car. "The Don" continues to recover from cancer surgery.

(See Twitter @SpinDoctor500 for links to my Arizona Republic stories from last weekend's NHRA Carquest Auto Parts Nationals.)

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, February 15, 2015

JUNIOR & JEFF MOST INFLUENTIAL ON DAYTONA 500 WEEK 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST

In an annoying and business illogical decision, NHRA has again scheduled its Phoenix-area national event for this weekend, directly opposite the Daytona 500. As usual, I'll be covering the straight-liners for the Arizona Republic ( AzCentral.com and I'll post story links on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500 ). So I'll let those on-site in Daytona Beach generate all the sound-and-fury in advance of the Great American Race. However, since NASCAR likes to call this stock car racing's Super Bowl, I just hope one of his executive suits doesn't convince Brian France to display the red flag after 250 miles and bring out Katy Perry and the sharks. Considering France OK'd the TV showbiz-over-common sense Daytona qualifying rules, though, I wouldn't rule out anything.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 15: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- NASCAR's annual most popular driver and defending Daytona 500 winner usually has the bright spotlight alone. Not this week, though, with arguably fan-favorite No. 2 Gordon beginning from the pole what he says will be his last Great American Race and full-time season.

  3. Brian France -- The chairman and CEO is tops on the NASCAR list just about any week, but the focus now is on Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. France must hope for a legitimate Great Race -- after the controversial Daytona 500 qualifying rules -- to propel his much discussed "momentum" from last season, especially with a lame-duck title sponsor.

  4. Darrell Waltrip -- Like "Mr. Boogity" or not, what he says on Fox -- and he says a lot -- helps shape living room and office debate about what's right and wrong in NASCAR racing.

  5. Jenna Fryer -- As chief motorsports writer for the Associated Press, the world's largest newsgathering organizaton, her words inform fans globally. And are very important to everyone within the racing industry. 

  6. Gene Stefanyshyn -- NASCAR's VP of innovation and racing development faces his biggest test with Big Stage debut of his gizmo electronic pit road officiating system. It sure better not create any controversy. 

  7. Rick Hendrick -- Have no doubt, he is far-and-away the most influential Sprint Cup team owner. His unprecedented on-track success -- now including Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson on Daytona's front row -- is just part of that story.  

  8. Joe Gibbs -- Ups his ante with Carl Edwards creating a four-driver Cup stable. Pairing of Edwards with Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin will put more scrutiny on Gibbs' reputation as a people motivator and team builder.

  9. Chad Knaus -- The Cup garage's smartest and most cunning crew chief -- he forces everyone else to wonder if they are working and thinking hard enough -- starts his calculations with new rules to get Jimmie Johnson that record-tying seventh championship. 

 10. Danica Patrick -- She begins third full Cup season at one of the events where she can have the best result. To maintain her celebrity status, and with GoDaddy sponsorship not confirmed beyond this year, she needs just that. 

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, February 08, 2015

USELESS UNLIMITED (and Junior No. 1 on this week's Power Players list)

Longtime readers know I think the NASCAR All-Star race is the most meaningless event of an already overly long season. To summarize what I've written before:

Originally created to generate publicity for stock car racing back when the Indianapolis 500 was all dominant, that reason ceased to make sense with the IRL-CART split. The TV types then changed their tune and said it was "for the fans." Begging the question: Who were all the other races for? All credibility was lost when Kenny Wallace was named an "All-Star." Then it supposedly became a "Saturday night short track shootout" throwback. As recent years have proven, that doesn't translate. There is simply too much money, too much prestige, at stake in winning the actually Cup series championship for the smart guys to take a chance on getting hurt in an EXHIBITION. It's a waste of a weekend better left open to serve as someone's rainout backup.

This Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, though, is rapidly running a close second to All-Star on the meaningless list.

Originally, it made sense. Monty Roberts, Busch beer brand manager, opened the tap for the first Busch Clash in 1979. It was a special event for the previous season's pole winners only, racing 50 miles, with no pit stops. The concept was brilliant in its simplicity -- the media and public instantly understood what it was all about. Now, just to get more cars and names into the field, there are multiple ways to become eligible for the Unlimited field.

The main purpose now is to provide TV programming and give reporters something to write/talk about as a device to generate "buzz" (and that's all the NASCAR PR executives care about anymore) and attract eyeballs for the Daytona 500.

What legitimate racing purpose does the Unlimited serve? Don't tell me prep for the D500 because the drivers and teams have plenty of track time to do that, including the increasingly devalued qualifying races, since only a couple don't make the 500 in a time of fewer entries. And here's a true secret straight out of the garage area: Even if someone thinks they have a useful advantage, car-wise, they aren't going to show too much of it in the prelims for fear NASCAR will make a rule change to avoid stinking-up the all-important Big Show.

The memory of Jeff Gordon getting upside-down a few years ago in this points-less exhibition is not a pleasant one. Just imagine if he had been hurt! Wasting money prepping and then wrecking cars also doesn't add-up in a continued sponsor-challenged period.

And, in case you haven't noticed, the grandstands are not exactly sold out, either.

I know somebody's going to say NASCAR's testing ban -- no running at Daytona, especially -- makes the Unlimited important. I would caution against over-emphasis. The Unlimited is staged at night -- different weather and track conditions -- than the 500. More useful than in recent years,  maybe. And the Grassy Knoll conspiracy bunch might respond by saying that's just the point: Testing wasn't allowed, in part, to ramp-up the hype for this Saturday night.

I'd say we could do without both: The conspiracy AND the Unlimited.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 8: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.  (UPDATED MONDAY TO REFLECT BOB POCKRASS' MOVE TO ESPN.COM .)

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Stock cars are headed to Daytona. No other explanation needed.

  2. Lesa France Kennedy -- With the spotlight bright on pre-Daytona 500 events, the full-range of track business issues -- ticket sales, sponsorships, corporate hospitality activity, concessions, merchandise -- will be largely influenced by International Speedway Corp.'s CEO. And those results will significantly guide how analysts view the overall industry.

  3. Kevin Harvick -- His long-awaited Cup championship in hand, he begins season-long role as an official leader in the garage area, with the media, and the American public. 

  4. Donny Schatz -- With Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell no longer full-timers as the new World of Outlaws season begins, Schatz -- whose 26 wins last year beat the next guy by 12 victories -- is who people talk about when they talk sprint car racing.

  5. Mike Joy -- For the 15th straight year he's the broadcast quarterback in the Fox booth. And if you think it's easy telling the story while giving Darrell Waltrip running room, you're wrong.  

  6. Jay Adamczyk -- With NASCAR's on-track season set to start, his Jayski.com -- which has been called racing's version of The Drudge Report -- remains a daily must-visit and helps focus what those in the industry and grandstands are thinking and talking about. 

  7. Joie Chitwood -- Only the second person to serve as president of both Daytona International Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he has to improvise a satisfactory interim facility experience for fans before Daytona's $400 million "re-imagining" project is finished for 2016.  

  8. Chad Seigler -- Former Sprint Nextel executive promoted to Charlotte-based NASCAR business development vice president. A key early task: Securing a new Cup title sponsor. 

  9. Richie Gilmore -- Championship winning engine builder promoted to president of ECR (Earnhardt Childress) Engines to oversee daily operations, including engine lease programs. ECR Engines have more than 200 race wins in various series.

10. Bob Pockrass -- Announced Monday he's joined ESPN.com from Sporting News. The hardest worker in the media center. With Chad Knaus, maybe the hardest worker in NASCAR. Sometimes it seems he knows more about what is happening than some NASCAR executives.

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, February 01, 2015

OF STANDARDS AND STANDINGS (Forrest Lucas tops this week's Power Players list)

The only racing last weekend was that to get in front of the big-screen HD TV to watch the Super Bowl, so -- after some brief thoughts -- let's get right to the new Power Players list as NHRA's Mello Yello season begins at Pomona: 

Following the New England Patriots' portion of the absurdity that Super Bowl Media Day has become, ESPN host Steve Levy complimented his fellows who hold microphones or pads and pens because not every question was about deflated footballs. Really? That's praise-worthy? 

Levy's comment once again reinforced how dumbed-down the media has become, because if there were true journalism standards, any more than one or two questions on that subject would have been criticized as unprofessional and trivial. But, of course, all the national network news shows at one point or another last week LED with this very minor story. The world is going to hell but this was the top story for Brian Williams and the rest of news-as-showbiz crowd. Oh, how our major media organizations have declined. Sports Illustrated last week let go all of its remaining staff photographers. (Most of the top writers are gone, too; so will my 40-plus year paid subscription come the next renewal notice.) The over-the-top over-coverage of last week's snow storm in the Northeast -- yes, there is an East Coast Media Bias -- is another example . . . talk about trivial nonsense, CNN put a reporter on the road in what it called its "BlizzardMobile." Ridiculous.

Point the finger to the incredible rise of social media for a lot of this downfall. Does the new technology have its place? Of course. Should it be allowed to dominate traditional professional editorial decisions? Of course not. I say the NFL could do away with most of the pseudo-reporters credentialed to Media Day and it wouldn't hurt the Super Bowl TV ratings one damn bit. I realize all of this likely can't be reversed, but that doesn't mean standards should be flushed in the name of "What's Trending?".


POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 1: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Forrest Lucas -- The Lucas Oil founder is drag racing's most expansive and loyal sponsor -- series, teams, tracks, events -- and now backs John Force Racing. Where would NHRA be without him?

  2. Rick Hendrick -- Personal leadership, strong executive management -- and some good timing -- work again. Chase Elliott to take over the No. 24 from Jeff Gordon with NAPA $. Success starts at the top. The team's future is as secure as anything can be in auto racing.

  3. John Force -- His family business has survived, financially, to race another season. That's essential to NHRA because he remains drag racing's biggest star.

  4. Courtney Force -- She's the one drag racer with the ability and appeal to greatly grow NHRA's audience and media coverage, but it will take wins and a Funny Car championship to add to her "It" factor. And that needs to happen within the next 2-3 years. 

  5. Mike Dunn -- What racing's best TV analyst has to say on ESPN shapes opinions about NHRA drivers, teams, sponsors and tracks. Nobody does it better.

  6. Peter De Lorenzo -- Former ad man's 15-year-old Autoextremist.com is THE weekly word on the auto industry (especially now during Car Show Season) and how it all translates to the dollars-and-cents of motorsports. Politically-correct industry insiders claim not to read him. They do.

  7. Gordon Kirby -- America's most-read international motorsports journalist as U.S. editor for England's Motor Sport, plus Racemaker Press author, and weekly GordonKirby.com column offers sharp opinion and perspective on issues across the racing spectrum. His words impact what Europeans believe is true about American motorsports.

   8. Tony Stewart -- Buys and merges the midwest All Star Circuit of Champions and Renegade sprint cars series, creating longer-term strength and stability. Don't anyone think circumstances of the last two years have changed his love of short track and dirt track racing, especially sprint cars.

  9. Terry Chandler -- She personally sponsors the Funny Cars of Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman to bring awareness and donations to Make-A-Wish and Infinite Hero Foundation, respectfully. Chandler pays the bill to go racing; no contributions are used to field those teams.

 10. Bobby Bennett -- Publisher/editor of CompetitionPlus.com, the foremost website for INDEPENDENT drag racing journalism. (Full disclosure: I'm a CP.com columnist.)

new list and more next week . . . ]