The news is light this week as NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway. This event, once a jewel of the schedule, has now fallen alongside many of the other races on the schedule. Though it may not hold the prestige it once did, it is still short-track racing, which means that it is sure to encourage some silliness and anger by the time the haulers move out on Sunday night (weather permitting, as rain is forecast). With little in the way of headlines, let’s see what we can dredge this week.
Let’s get happy.
Happiness Is…Sponsorship. One of the headlines this week came in the announcement that Matt Kenseth can now get a discount at Circle K. Or maybe he’s hanging out with Bill and Ted there. Oh right, Kenseth will have new livery for six races this season with K as the sponsor. That’s good news for Kenseth but does leave some questions.
That Kenseth and other top drivers do not have their seasons fully funded is a weird aspect of modern NASCAR. Some would argue that these situations are a result of the current status of the sport, asserting that because popularity has waned that companies do not see the value in tying themselves to NASCAR. That makes some sense. Personalities and brand fit are also part of the equation. Then there’s the fact that the governing body has taken so many companies to be the “Official ________ of NASCAR” that it has adversely affected teams’ ability to lure new sponsors.
But something still seems off, and one of the big bridges that has never quite been built in the sport is that between NASCAR and the tech industry, where the big money seems to be hanging. And perhaps that’s where everyone really needs to be focusing their attention, especially as Twitter and Instagram are such a integrated part of follow the sport any more. Such partnerships will be the ones to watch as the sponsorship game continues to be played.
Happiness Is…Technology. Following up on the notion of technology, NASCAR allowed for the use of heart monitors by the drivers this season. That seems like a somewhat interesting change and one that could be promising. In Formula 1 and IndyCar, the drivers are tracked in a myriad of ways, allowing teams to gain insight regarding training as well as performance. But NASCAR is somewhat behind in this regard.
The use of heart monitors is optional and many drivers eschew using them. Those drivers that do wear them point to the fact that the data is limited and that there is really nothing to be gleaned. In many ways, those drivers are right because the information is not comprehensive enough. To be forward thinking, NASCAR should be pushing for the drivers and teams to use devices that monitor more than just heart rate.
Bringing support to driver monitoring may be something NASCAR is loathe to do as teams may seek ways to use what is approved by hacking it in and tying it into the car’s performance. But they are missing out on another marketing angle, which would be to reach out to the performance wearables that have become so popular. Perhaps companies like Garmin, Fitbit, and others would see the possible benefits of getting involved in the sport. Drivers could even provide live tracking for kicks.
Happiness Is…Barber. While NASCAR drivers will be beating their way around the Bristol Coliseum, IndyCar returns to action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. A mere 365 miles separate the two events (according to Google maps), which means that the South has a monopoly on the national racing action this weekend – even the NHRA is in Texas.
While a lot of focus will be on NASCAR returning after taking last weekend off, the race at Barber is sure to gain a little more than its usual share of attention. Fernando Alonso will be holding a press conference at Barber while also hanging around to get ingratiated with those in IndyCar. One might imagine that he’s also love to take a few laps but that probably isn’t in the offing – though it would be fascinating to see what kind of time he could manage and how it would compare to those drivers currently on the circuit.
Alonso might be able to bring some attention to the series and race, which would be a real boon. The course is a beautiful facility and the artwork that dots the track makes it kind of interesting. The winners thus far this season haven’t come from the monied Penske, Andretti, or Ganassi organizations, so this race becomes important for the anointed title favorites to start showing their muscle and moving to the top of the standings.
Of course, one of the truly interesting things, and one which we will likely not discover, is just what Alonso thinks of the IndyCar race, especially in comparison to F1. His focus is on the Indianapolis 500, which brings a large amount of attention but does a race in Birmingham, Alabama, register similarly with the F1 driver? The great news of his 500 attempt is that it shows how more cross-pollination between drivers and different series needs to become a more consistent thing – and probably never will.