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Sunday, December 06, 2015

JEFF GORDON 2015's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' PERSON

Jeff Gordon ends 2015 not only as a retired four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, but also as the year's Most Influential Person in the Business and Politics of Motorsports. This year's top 10 Power Players list reflects the number of times a person made the weekly most influential rankings.

POWER PLAYERS for the 2015: This year's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, based on their total placings in the weekly lists, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Jeff Gordon -- No surprise. Gordon's season-long last-time-around-the-NASCAR-tracks lap drew massive media coverage, including 24 hours of network TV time, according to sports marketing and research firm Repucom. Gordon -- who made NASCAR's Final 4 -- departs for the Fox TV booth as one of the most consequential people in motorsports history, a true transformational figure. Gordon made the weekly top 10 list 18 times, including four weeks at No. 1. 


  2. Mark Miles -- The policies put into place by the Hulman and Co. CEO, especially in the Verizon IndyCar series and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, often were controversial. Most noteably the condensed IndyCar season schedule and long off-season, which many owners complained did not fit their business model. Other issues he faced included the breath-taking 500 miler at California's Auto Club Speedway, which likely helped boost TV ratings for the balance of the season, only to have the track fall off the schedule. As did the one-off New Orleans event and the traditional Milwaukee Mile. Cars flipping caused a Pole Day morning rules change and Honda requested rules relief after an uncompetitive season. Did the aero kits do anything to make the series more popular? Justin Wilson was killed. Miles, who added a Boston street event for 2016, was on the weekly list 15 times, once at the top. 

  3. Donny Schatz -- He's the biggest name in American short-track racing, with over 30 World of Outlaws A-Main wins in another championship season. To the extent the national media and general public pays attention to traditional American dirt track racing, Schatz is The Man. He was ranked on the weekly list 14 times, three as No. 1.

 4. Joe Gibbs -- The coach shuffled crew chiefs, added Carl Edwards as a fourth entry, had to keep the No. 18 going with sub drivers after Kyle Busch's Xfinity series injury at Daytona, then saw his Toyota Camry's gain surprising speed around mid-season. Busch returned to win his first Cup championship and Gibbs' efforts got Toyota its first Cup drivers title. Gibbs made the weekly list 13 times, twice at the top. 

  5. Kyle Busch -- He was not only the comeback athlete of the year, Busch's amazing return from leg and foot injuries to win the Sprint Cup made him the athlete of the year, at least to many. And he dominated most Xfinity series races he entered and was the Truck series championship team owner. Busch's Daytona injuries sparked a sweeping safety review at all tracks with additional SAFER barriers added. Twelve times he was on the weekly list, four at No. 1.

 6. Kevin Harvick -- The defending Cup titlist wore that crown well, cooperating with more media appearances, and overall accepted the added responsibility of champion. He was arguably the fastest most of the season and came up one spot short of a second title. Harvick made the weekly list 11 times, three atop that list. 

  7. Brian France -- In perhaps the most under-reported story of the year, the NASCAR CEO made the traditionally heavy-handed sanction more accepting of suggestions and concerns of others. NASCAR embraced a drivers council and the Race Team Alliance owners group. In the past, both would have been ignored. The drivers were allowed significant input into the 2016 car rules package. Promoters who had always worked on one-year contracts with NASCAR got the opportunity to sign for five years. No, this isn't your father's NASCAR. France was a top-10ers nine times, three at No. 1.

  8. Roger Penske -- He won the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 and the Xfinity series owners' championship, but the Cup and IndyCar titles got away. Again. Penske was ranked eight times during the season, three at No. 1. 


  9. Antron Brown -- He won another NHRA Mello Yello series Top Fuel championship. His is a great personal and professional story, which the drag racing Powers-That-Be still haven't been able to sell to the mainstream media. But Brown is a hero to many children who attend national events with their parents and that's a good thing. He was on the weekly list eight times.

10. Joey Logano, Lewis Hamilton, Bernie Ecclestone and Dave Moody -- Each appeared on the weekly list seven times, with Logano and Hamilton with one No. 1 each. Logano was NASCAR's biggest race winner, got the Daytona 500, and became the target of boos for crashing Matt Kenseth out of a win at Kansas. Hamilton easily won another world championship. Ecclestone retained his tight grip on the commercial rights in Formula One and was outspoken as ever in his never-ending search for more money. Moody became solo anchor of SiriusXM's NASCAR channel 90 prestigious drive-time show and wasn't afraid to disagree with callers.

[ annual Year in Review blog next week . . . ]