NASCAR hopes for boost after big swings

Texarkana Gazette - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla.—NASCAR has a new spon­sor, a new for­mat and wel­comes back its most pop­u­lar driver, all pro­vid­ing op­ti­mism for a se­ries ea­ger to halt a steady de­cline in at­ten­dance, rat­ings and spon­sor­ship.

Money is down across the board and ev­ery­one is do­ing more with less to try to save a buck.

The on-track prod­uct for the stock car se­ries of­fi­cially re­ports for work Fri­day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way, which hosts the Feb. 26 sea­son-open­ing "Great Amer­i­can Race." It will kick off a sea­son of hold-your-breath, we-re­ally-hope-this­works ef­forts by NASCAR, the net­works, tracks, teams and driv­ers to turn things around.

This sea­son be­gins with Mon­ster En­ergy roar­ing into its de­but year as ti­tle spon­sor amid promised mar­ket­ing to mil­len­ni­als and the op­por­tu­nity to lure new eye­balls to a sport with an ag­ing au­di­ence. Part of the new raz­zle-daz­zle ap­proach is a whole­sale re­design of the def­i­ni­tion of a NASCAR race.

Re­mem­ber how NASCAR just ran in cir­cles for 500 miles nearly every Sun­day for hours on end? Well, this year it's about "en­hanced com­pe­ti­tion" in seg­ments bro­ken up over three pe­ri­ods. Think of it like in­nings in base­ball or quar­ters in foot­ball or bas­ket­ball. More ac­cu­rately, the quick first two seg­ments are now the ap­pe­tizer to the longer main event. In the mean­time, you get to go grab a beer as the tele­vi­sion net­works prom­ise to use the breaks be­tween seg­ments to dump all the com­mer­cials.

Even bet­ter, you won't have to wait for Na­tion­wide's beloved "Wa­ter Cooler Dale" com­mer­cial to see NASCAR's most pop­u­lar driver. Dale Earn­hardt Jr. is cleared for com­pe­ti­tion after miss­ing the sec­ond half of last sea­son with a con­cus­sion. Earn­hardt's sidelin­ing ab­so­lutely cut into the au­di­ence, and had to send shiv­ers down NASCAR's spine over its dwin­dling cast of su­per­stars.

As­so­ci­ated Press

n In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, Kurt Busch, with a Mon­ster En­ergy logo on the front of his fire suit, smiles be­fore qual­i­fi­ca­tions for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries auto race at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way in Brook­lyn, Mich. NASCAR has a new spon­sor and a new for­mat this year in its bid to re­bound from de­clin­ing rat­ings and at­ten­dance. The next 11 months will show if Mon­ster En­ergy and dif­fer­ent rules can pro­vide the needed jolt.

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