What will happen next week at the first race in the PIS?
This is the final 4 Burning Questions before the NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, a series coming into this season with some plusses and minuses.
The series, thrown together as a replacement for NASCAR last spring, was a mess. Inconsistent entries, rules and the races routinely turning into a circus were big issues and really hurt iRacing’s television credibility.
The PIS this year will be monthly usually, never weekly. This isn’t great, especially with Wednesday being such a competitive night on cable. PIS won’t be able to build an audience that turns the program into weekly watching, which goes against a lot of basic rules in television.
It seems the PIS is finally going to have a consistent field. The 36 charter teams will participate in every race, with four additional drivers being added at iRacing’s discretion. Of those four, three are likely — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race in every race, it seems obvious that Ryan Preece should be in it and iRacing has said before that it will always request Parker Kligerman in events like these as he helped with giving the service the ability to broadcast live on television.
The fourth driver is unknown, but it’s probably not going to be one of the eNASCAR stars or anything, as it wouldn’t be a great look for real-life drivers to get destroyed by a pro sim racer on national television. It would be right if Timmy Hill, who runs the NASCAR Cup Series most weeks, were to be the fourth driver, as he won last year’s event at virtual Texas Motor Speedway.
One driver who I think is going to make a big leap this year results-wise will be Kyle Busch. Busch really struggled last year in PIS, but he’s spent this past year running just about everything and is now competing for wins fairly regularly every week for Monday Night Racing against people who have been on the service for years.
If you had to bet on a driver now to win the championship in November, who would it be?
It’s clear to me that of all of the drivers in the Cup field, Kyle Larson is probably the championship favorite.
Larson arguably had the best car at Phoenix Raceway but didn’t win due to multiple pit road speeding penalties. He almost finished third in the Daytona 500, he messed up a corner late in the going at the Daytona International Speedway road course after getting in position to win and he had a solid top five at Homestead Miami Speedway.
The No. 5 team shows a lot of signs of being a prototypical championship team early this season. It’s been the only one with a solid shot every single week so far, usually only coming up short due to new team/driver hiccups. The pairing kind of reminds me of the 2014 Kevin Harvick No. 4 team. Once those hiccups are cleared up, this team is going to win a lot of races this year.
Who will come out on top at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend?
Atlanta, the fourth of the original four superspeedway races and the only one without a signature race, will be the site for this weekend’s NASCAR action.
Atlanta seems like such a fun racetrack from a driver’s perspective. Tires melt away like cheese on a hot plate, enough to where teams are going to be pitting well before they run out of fuel on Sunday.
Harvick has had a very slow start to his season. This would be the place for him to turn it around, with this weekend already being sentimental as the 20th anniversary of his emotional first Cup win.
There are just two mile-and-a-half racetracks remaining on the calendar that Martin Truex Jr. has been unable to win at, and one of them is Atlanta. With just one finished outside of the top 10 in his last nine starts at the track, it’s kind of crazy that Truex just hasn’t closed the deal yet in the Peach State.
The NFL signed for how much money?
Before this column was finished for this week, the NFL completed its expected mammoth TV contracts.
I’m not going to go over every detail of the deal, but there are some massive changes. The NFL is now getting $10 billion annually from its new TV deals. NASCAR’s current contract, struck in 2013, was for 10 years and $8.2 billion. So the NFL is making almost 25% more annually than NASCAR’s entire 10-year contract is worth.
ESPN is now spending more money after extending its coverage of the league, with ABC taking a more active role. ESPN still has the timeslots for NASCAR, but it really doesn’t seem like it is going to make a run for NASCAR on top of this new NFL deal, its new deal with the NHL and existing contracts with MLB, NBA, UFC and college sports. Who are all going to demand more and more money once it’s their turn at the negotiating table.
With Fox losing out on the NHL and no longer broadcasting Thursday Night Football, it seems very obvious that it will stay with NASCAR, especially with its coverage including the best races ratings-wise of the year. NBC has quite a bit invested in NASCAR at this point between the Xfinity Series sponsorship and the Trackpass program.
What I’m really curious about right now will be the streaming services. Peacock and ESPN+ will both get one exclusive game the first six years of these contracts, but the interesting part of this deal is Thursday Night Football becoming exclusive to Amazon Prime Video.
A sports property as big as the NFL agreeing to a deal where it streams one primetime game a week is going to turn a lot of heads in the media industry. And with these contracts lasting for 11 years, there are going to be a number of big companies with streaming services (chiefly Apple and Google) who may want to get into the sports game themselves in order to make their services at least somewhat viable.
What I wrote about last week is even more relevant now than it was then. My prediction looking at everything is that NASCAR will get between $1.5-2 billion per year on this next round of TV contracts. If it does so, I don’t even know if sponsorship would be as crucial as it is now for Cup teams.