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Thoughts on NASCAR's new TV deal, plus reader questions

Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

NBC could give NASCAR a needed ratings boost, but how much will ESPN continue to cover the sport?

The news was head-turning: On Tuesday, NASCAR announced that it had signed a 10-year contract with NBC Sports beginning in 2015 to televise the final 20 Sprint Cup races of each season. So after next year, ESPN and TNT will be out of the NASCAR business while FOX and the NBC Sports Group will be in.

I'll have a story on this development in SI magazine next week, but here are three quick thoughts:

1. NBC plans to air seven of the races on its main network and 13 on the fledgling NBC Sports Network. (The first 18 will be on Fox and the new Fox Sports 1 in 2015.) If NBC chooses to put those seven races on in the fall before Football Night in America, it would be a ratings boon for NASCAR, which has struggled to compete head-to-head with the NFL.

2. Once ESPN loses its rights to NASCAR, the question will become whether the World Wide Leader will continue to cover the sport on shows such as SportsCenter and Around the Horn as vigorously as it currently does. After all, once ESPN was no longer broadcasting NHL games, its overall coverage of the league dropped precipitously. And the last time ESPN lost the rights to NASCAR, from 2001 to 2006, the two had such a poor relationship that the network's reporters weren't even granted credentials to races.

3. The Sports Business Journal estimated that NASCAR's deal with NBC is worth $4.4 billion, a significant increase over the $2.74 billion, eight-year contract that NASCAR had with ESPN and Turner. Will this influx of money into NASCAR signal to potential sponsors that the sport is finally on the rebound? Surely, by making such a significant investment, NBC will aggressively promote NASCAR -- maybe even more than ESPN did -- which ultimately could be the biggest upside of the deal to NASCAR.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this move by NASCAR and NBC. Send them my way and we'll continue the discussion same time, same place next week. Now let's dive into the mailbag:

The biggest problem with shorter races is that a driver has almost no chance to come back from a mistake or fix a bad car. When I watch the shorter Nationwide races, the cars that start up front win nearly all of them. As a fan of Kevin Harvick, who quite often starts back in the field, I like to watch him come to the front in the longer races.
-- Ian, Parkhill, Ontario

I understand your point, Ian, but I've seen plenty of drivers cruise up through the field in 300-mile events. Also, the fewer pit stops you have, the more important they become. Track position is critical in shorter races, so I think you'd have more crew chiefs taking more chances on pit road, which in turn would create a more exciting event.

If fans want shorter races, then they are not truly fans. It might sound arrogant for me to say that, but it's true. Shorter races mean less racing. Who would want less of something they enjoy and love? NASCAR should try to appeal to the fans who enjoy watching long races. We may only make up a small percentage of the fan base, but as Pareto's Principle states: 80% of your product is purchased by 20% of your consumers.

[Also], using drivers as a way to support this case is a little absurd. Of course they want shorter races. Who wouldn't love to have shorter working days? If they really care about bringing fans to the racetrack, perhaps they should lobby for lower ticket prices to somewhat offset the costs of going to races.
-- Steven, Orlando, Fla.

Reading your comments, I'm reminded of one of my father's favorite sayings (though he knew it was flawed logic): If some is good, then more must certainly be better.

I do think NASCAR should keep the Coke 600 at its current length and it shouldn't touch the Daytona 500 or the Aaron's 499 at Talladega. But I know for a fact that there are far more NASCAR fans who grow bored during races than those who are riveted to the edges of their seats during every lap. I believe more shorter races are coming, Steven. It's just a matter of time.

One thing you have not done in your comparisons of Danica versus other first-year drivers is compare the quality of the teams' equipment. This has always been my issue with Danica; unlike most of those other drivers you list, she has never had to EARN the best equipment. She has been with one of the best teams at each level of racing she has competed in and has still never really been a "proven winner"... I can not help at this point but feel like she is costing a more deserving driver a top ride because she is an attractive female with just enough talent to be just credible to not embarrass herself ... It is time she had to EARN something with talent and not sex appeal.

-- Mike, Vancouver, B.C.

Trust me, Mike, Danica has paid her dues. She raced in England as a teenager, competed in several mid-level open-wheel series, and then seized her opportunity with Bobby Rahal in 2004, finishing fourth in the Indy 500. That single race set her on her current career path. Does it help her that she's a telegenic female? Of course. But she commands sponsor dollars at a time when funding is difficult to find. And that, put simply, is part of what being a race car driver is in 2013.

So NASCAR wants to make things more 'accessible and transparent' for the fans? How about, instead of telling us when our 'favorite driver' is going through inspection, they actually paint those infamous timing lines on the track and pit road so everyone knows where they are?
-- Sbaker, Davison, Mich.

I'm all for this. I'll never forget Juan Pablo Montoya, who was about to win the Brickyard 400 in 2009, getting busted for speeding on pit road late in the race and then loudly swearing that he didn't do it. But Montoya had no recourse because NASCAR is the judge and jury when it comes assessing speeding penalties. I know teams would support more transparency, and so would I.

I like the idea of scoring Chase drivers separately for points in the Chase. How about starting the 12 Chase drivers at the front of the field to allow them to run, at least for awhile, without interference from the other 21 cars that really have little to do?
-- Bob, Dayton, Ohio

I think this unfairly penalizes the drivers and teams that are not in the Chase. On any given weekend, there are plenty of fast cars that are capable of winning a playoff race even though they're not in the Chase. At Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season-finale last year, after all, five of the top-seven finishers weren't even in the Chase.

That's all for now. Remember to keep the questions coming and we'll do our best to get them answered.

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