ONE: The Shortest, The Oldest And Still The Best
In NASCAR’s inaugural season of 1949, the sixth race of an eight-race season was held at Martinsville Speedway. Some 64 years later, the sixth race of the season will still be held at Martinsville Speedway. It’s a tribute to a glittering gem of a race track, the only one to have been on every single NASCAR schedule. That’s remarkable stuff, however you want to look at it. Sure, other ovals like Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Bristol might get the more lurid headlines, the splashier stories and better nicknames, but the truth is no venue has illuminated the stock car circuit quite like the li’l ol’ paperclip. At just a shade over half a mile (.526, to be precise), Martinsville is the shortest track on the circuit and yet, year after year the racing produced is at worst pretty darn compelling and at best fantastic. It’s rich history, filled with nail-biting finishes is the very reason we watch stock car racing in the first place. And after what has been a good (but not great) start to the year for the Gen-6 car I, for one, am expectant for another instant Martinsville classic this weekend.
TWO: Martin And Vickers For Hamlin, For Now
And while I’m on the subject of Martinsville, there will be no Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 FedEx Camry this weekend. Hamlin is out of the car for what is currently slated to be five races following the L1 compression fracture he sustained in his last-lap wreck at Auto Club Speedway. The Chesterfield, Virginia native who grew up racing at and around the famous circuit has an impressive four wins, nine top 5s, 12 top 10s and 1,139 laps led in fifteen attempts at Martinsville.
Hamlin will be replaced this weekend by the peerless Mark Martin, who has two wins and 25 to -10s in a total of 48 races (yes, that’s forty-eight), although just 349 laps led by comparison. So, I wouldn’t expect Martin to hop into (albeit immaculate) Joe Gibbs Racing equipment and reel off a race win; but if anyone can pull a surprise, it’s the wily old veteran. Brian Vickers will pick up the rest of the races Hamlin sits out.
So where does the No. 11 go from here? It will be a tough road back to make the Chase once Hamlin returns, although these subs should keep the car competitive. But given how the driver responded to his ACL surgery, in 2010, if he can make it back in time for the annual visit to the Lady in Black I’d back him to get it done.
THREE: NASCAR Entertainment
A couple of unusual NASCAR stories caught my eye this week. First up was the news that Kyle Busch is going to appear on the Charlie Sheen show “Anger Management.” Talk about perfect casting, where Busch will play himself and be “counseled” by Charlie Sheen’s character. It’s a story first broke by entertainment industry giant TMZ, which is not exactly a hotbed for NASCAR news. “Ur on it faster than my cars this wknd! #Winning” was Busch’s Tweeted reply confirming the news. And last night (Monday, April 1st), NASCAR teamed up with Univision for “Arranque de Pasión, La Historia de Ela,” a NASCAR-themed novella that will run for fifteen episodes across the next five weeks. The show is the sport’s first Spanish language original production and features Kate del Castillo.
These are two great signs of stock car racing’s crossover appeal. I’ve said it before, and I’ll make no apologies for saying it again: If you get someone to come to a live race just one time, you can make them a fan for life. Whatever it takes to get them there in the first place is what matters, and given NASCAR’s stated intent to broaden the fan base, these are two more unique ways to entice more folks out to the track.
FOUR: Jeff Gordon and Joan Rivers
I would imagine most of you reading this column have never heard of the E! channel hit show “Fashion Police.” Neither had I, until my wife-to-be introduced it to me recently. The weekly show is hosted by Joan Rivers and co-stars Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and George Kotsiopoulos, and the basic premise of the show is the group eviscerating the fashion choices of Hollywood’s elite. Rivers, in particular, is at her caustic best on the show, delivering one biting retort after another. On Jeff Gordon’s famous mullet and mustache look from 1993, she commented: “The hair says business in the front and party in the back and the mustache, unfortunately, says to me ‘not allowed within three hundred feet of a school.‘” Gordon handled his segment well, fitting in seamlessly with the general vibe of the show; that’s no easy feat in that crowd on the topic of fashion. Gordon might not win the fifth championship he so craves, but his future in the media seems secure.
FIVE: NASCAR’s New Ad Campaign
And finally this off week, I wanted to quickly mention NASCAR’s new 2013 advertising campaign developed by industry giants Ogilvy and Mather. If you’ve watched any race this year – and no doubt, a few of you have – you can’t fail to have seen the commercials, which feature over two dozen drivers across nine original spots in both English and Spanish. It’s a prodigious body of work, unparalleled to anything I can remember in my time covering the sport, and showcases the sport in a positive and entertaining light. In the last couple of years, the number of companies developing NASCAR-themed TV advertising has dropped significantly, with firms choosing different media channels to activate their sponsorships so it’s good to see something new from a creative perspective. I’ll certainly be interested to see how this campaign develops over the next few years.
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