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Sunday, February 21, 2016

TOYOTA DELIVERS IN THE STADIUM

The "optics," as the political spindoctors like to call visual elements, all looked good for NASCAR on Opening Day of the 2016 Sprint Cup season at the remodeled $400 million Daytona International Speedway stadium. And, even if you were only a casual watcher on Fox or FS1, you do, indeed, know that Daytona is now a "stadium"

Brian France could smile about a beautiful sunny Florida Sunday, sold-out grandstands, the garage area peace fostered by the new Charter system (memorialized with a group photo with team owners Sunday morning), Jeff Gordon in the Fox booth, 20-year-old Chase Elliott -- NASCAR's great hope to attract younger fans -- on the pole and Dale Earnhardt Jr. widely touted as the pre-race favorite. Probably the only negative optic was Junior spinning out and into retirement from The Great American Race. The optic to forever be remembered will be Denny  Hamlin thismuch ahead of Martin Truex Jr. at the finish line. It surely will be cited as yet another Great Moment in NASCAR history. Just too bad it was followed by another nothing Jamie Little victory lane interview.

I will be interested to hear in the next day or two if there were any major glitches with getting people in-and-out of the Speedway -- errr, stadium -- with the so-called "injector" system. Or in the social "neighborhoods" or elsewhere. As I write this, I am not aware of any.

The most important thing about Hamlin's victory might well be he did it in a Toyota. Thus, Toyota's NASCAR plan has finally reached its two big objectives. Kyle Busch won the first Cup driving title for Toyota last season, and now, Hamlin has provided the D500 trophy. It's obvious Toyota spends more to activate its on-the-track participation than Chevy or Ford. An observant look at Sunday's Fox telecast revealed numerous Toyota "added value" elements, such as showing its injector and display in the -- wait, I have to make sure I get this right -- stadium. And in-race graphic displays. My point is let's see what Toyota rolls out in terms of an all-out media program to take advantage of Hamlin's victory. TV spots, print ads, social media initiatives, let's see if T throws the sink at it. I'm not sure there is any other corporate participant in position to do as much with a Daytona 500 victory than Toyota.

If so, NASCAR won't complain. Be they inside or outside the stadium.


Suddenly, it's Race Time in Arizona. NHRA is in the Valley this weekend and IndyCar's major pre-season test, unfortunately, overlaps with the first two days of drag racing qualifying. My Arizona Republic / AzCentral.com coverage begins Thursday with a feature on Erica Enders. I'll have a notebook Friday, then IndyCar stories from PIR Saturday and Sunday. Then back to Wild Horse Pass for final eliminations and a Monday story. The next week the World of Outlaws will be in these parts and it will be NASCAR week here. I'll put story links on Twitter @SpinDoctor500 and I expect many updates from NHRA, IndyCar, Outlaws and NASCAR will be found there as well.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  February 21: 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.  Joe Gibbs -- Matt Kenseth was leading coming off turn four and Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards went 1-3-5 for Coach's team.

  2. David Wilson -- Toyota Racing Development president not only sees the Gibbs' near sweep, his new recruit, Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr., comes home second.

   3. Denny Hamlin -- Wins Daytona in his 11th try in No. 11. More often than not Hamlin has been cooperative with the media; now he's in the spotlight during NASCAR's national media tour.

  4Chase Elliott --  A spin led to a disappointing Daytona 500 result after starting on the pole, but let's remember his sensational victory in Saturday's Xfinity Series race.

  5. Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip -- Now Fox's new booth duo must put the Daytona hype behind them and settle in for the long portion of Fox's NASCAR season. Overall, their respective performances at Daytona signal promise.

  7. Ed Clark -- Atlanta Motor Speedway boss has ticket plans with a good-weather guarantee.  Good luck. 

  8. Ron Capps -- He won the NHRA Funny Car season opener in pursuit of that elusive first championship. It would help to maintain momentum to at least make the semis this weekend at Wild Horse Pass, outside Phoenix.

  9. Art St. Cyr -- Honda Performance Development president gets to see how his revised aero kits and engine upgrades match with Chevrolet in IndyCar's big pre-season test at Phoenix International Raceway.


 10. Bryan Sperber -- The PIR president will let fans in free Saturday to watch the IndyCar test and drivers will be available for autographs. How many tickets that will sell for the oval's first IndyCar race since 2005 will be key.

more next week . . . ]