Analysis: Wall Street Journal report raises questions about NASCAR leadership

A well-reported story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal raises interesting questions about NASCAR’s leadership.

Mainly, should Brian France still be in charge?

Using four sources, the WSJ reported France, NASCAR’s chairman and CEO, sold his stake in NASCAR to other family members “more than a decade ago.”

“As a result, these people say, Mr. France essentially works for his sister (Lesa France Kennedy) and uncle (Jim France) even though he is NASCAR’s chief executive,” the WSJ reported. “That means he runs the sport on a day-to-day basis but is supposed to seek approval from Ms. Kennedy and their uncle for major changes.”

The WSJ said Brian France did not inform his sister — who is in charge of International Speedway Corp. — before enacting a policy against Confederate flags in the infield. The story also said Kennedy learned of her brother’s public endorsement of Donald Trump by watching the news.

By his own admission in the story, France said he only attended roughly half of the Cup races last season.

In addition, the WSJ reported France did not attend a crucial December meeting between “racing-team executives, drivers, track operators and TV executives” in Las Vegas.

So based on this reporting, we know NASCAR’s CEO makes rogue decisions, does not show up to the majority of the races and is not very engaged in key planning for the future — all while presiding over the biggest decline in the sport’s history (the WSJ said TV viewership is down 45%).

After the WSJ report, it also appears confirmed France does not own a stake in NASCAR.

Kind of crazy, huh?

The Top Five: Breakdown of The Clash at Daytona

Each week, I’ll provide some quick analysis of the race through a post called the Top Five — five notable storylines from the just-completed race. First up: The Clash at Daytona.

1. The two best plate racers in the event crashed on the last lap

When the white flag flew, it looked like Denny Hamlin — who swept last year’s Clash and Daytona 500 — would edge Brad Keselowski for the win, barring something crazy happening.

Well, something crazy happened.

Keselowski got a huge run (which doesn’t happen that often with this restrictor plate aero package) and Hamlin went down to defend, but it was too late. Keselowski was already there, and the cars made contact.

Hamlin told MRN his attempted block was ill-timed, and Keselowski seemed relatively cool about the incident.

“Well, it is the Clash and not the 500,” he said on pit road.

But then Keselowski’s jaw clenched and the muscles in his face tightened.

“I guarantee he knows — and everyone else who was watching today — that I’m going to make that move again,” Keselowski said. “And you better move out or you’ll end up wrecked.”

A few moments later, he said it again: “I know all the other drivers are back watching it today, and they know not to make that block on me again.”

Your move, everyone else.

2. Something is up with Hendrick cars in Turn 4 at Daytona

OK, what’s going on here? Jimmie Johnson twice spun in Turn 4, which continued a pattern of Hendrick Motorsports cars having trouble in that turn over the past year (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott spun out of Turn 4 last year).

After coming out of the care center, Johnson said he didn’t know — and, perhaps more telling, that the team had been so unconcerned about it that no one had discussed it prior to the race.

They certainly will be talking about it now. Johnson said he noticed Elliott looked loose in that turn as well.

One theory?

“The sun certainly sits on that edge of the track a little harder than anywhere else,” Johnson said. “We’ll take some notes and learn from those mistakes and applied that to the 500.”

3. Alex Bowman is a beast

With each opportunity he gets — and there aren’t that many on his schedule for 2017 — Bowman shows he deserves a chance to run a full Cup season in a good car.

No one wanted to help him during the Clash, and the other drivers treated him like a leper at times. At one point, it looked like Joey Logano might go with him — and then Logano went with the Joe Gibbs Racing cars again and Bowman fell all the way to the back of the field.

Bowman won the pole and almost won the race at Phoenix last year, then basically willed himself to a podium finish in the Clash. This guy will drive a great car some day and, at 23, he has time on his side.

4. Joey Logano is an underrated plate racer

Let’s not get too carried away here, because Logano wasn’t going to win the race until the leaders hit each other on the last lap.

But Logano has won three plate races in the last two seasons (2015 Daytona 500 and the Talladega fall race twice in a row), and now adds the Clash to his collection. When is he going to start getting mentioned alongside Keselowski, Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the best of the best on plate tracks? (I’m asking myself that question, by the way.)

Combined with Keselowski the puppet master, you’d better believe the Team Penske cars will bring a large threat to the JGR contingent next week.

5. Danica Patrick gets a good result

I’ll have to go back and watch the replay to see how Patrick ended up with a fourth-place finish, but she’ll certainly take any positive momentum she can get these days.

Her performance on the track has been below average compared to her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing for a couple years now, and she hasn’t seemed like the restrictor-plate threat she was when she first emerged in the series.

Plus, there’s been that whole Nature’s Bakery lawsuit and the scramble to find a replacement sponsor just a month before the season.

So while a fourth doesn’t count for the official records, it’s a boost of momentum.

Fan Profile: Scott and Teri Wilfong

This is the first in a series of 12 Questions-style profiles of NASCAR fans. All of the people featured here are $25 or higher patrons on my Patreon page, which comes with this profile as a reward. To learn more about the benefits of becoming a patron, visit my Patreon page here.

Names: Scott and Teri Wilfong (formerly known as “Carl’s Crew”)
Location: Merritt Island, Fla.
Twitter names: @ScottWilfong and @TeriWilfong
Ages: Old

1. How long have you been NASCAR fans?

Since 2004.

2. How many races have you attended?

At least 50; we’ve never actually counted.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

Carl Edwards.

4. What made you a fan of Carl?

Over the years, he got to know us pretty well. He always took the time to stop and say hello to us, would always wave to us from the car during practice and, above all, he truly valued us as fans. He had been that way from the first day we met him.

5. Who is your most disliked driver? 

Tony Stewart .

6. Why don’t you like Tony? 

This is one example of many. Before qualifying in Vegas several years ago, there were seven people in our group sitting on pit wall watching the drivers walking to their cars. Some drivers would wave, some would smile or say hello, while others actually walked over for photos and or autographs.

Scott’s sister was a Stewart fan at the time, but when he walked by — alone, not more than 10 feet from us — his response to her calls of, “Hi Tony, good luck!” was a cold, expressionless, straight-ahead stare. We had been to several races and seen this lack of acknowledgment from him before, unless there were cameras around. Scott’s sister, at that point, was a fan no more.

7. What is your favorite track?

Las Vegas.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR? 

Our pet peeve is the accessibility of hot/cold passes. There isn’t a single, true NASCAR fan that wouldn’t want to be able to walk the garage. But unless you’re an owner, family, boyfriend, girlfriend, pet, celebrity, media (hi, Jeff) or any number of other things we’re not, we have no chance.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

The playoffs. It’s been pretty entertaining the past couple of years. Let’s see how this year goes with the changes to how a team can receive points.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

During the FOX portion of the season, every time D.W. opens his mouth. No joke.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

At Las Vegas, the Neon Garage is an absolute must. Also, one thing we do that really adds to our race weekend is we like to stand where the cars go onto the track from the garage during practice. Some tracks let you stand fairly close, so you really get the feeling of power these cars have. Again, Vegas is our favorite for this. I hope they never change that.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

We don’t feel we’re very interesting, so we can’t think of anything.

A Carl Edwards selfie with Teri and Scott Wilfong from the NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of the Wilfongs)

Daytona Day is back, and that’s not a good thing

Last year, FOX Sports’ “Daytona Day” promotion was widely ridiculed among NASCAR fans. The minute-long ad with an accompanying jingle showed young people partying and celebrating, but had virtually zero race action.

It didn’t get people to watch; the race was the second-lowest rated 500 ever.

But instead of scrapping the concept altogether, FOX decided to revive Daytona Day for this season. The 2017 version has the same silly song, although the commercial — which premiered during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Super Bowl — shows more race car drivers and racing this time.

Not to be a Daytona Day party pooper — since the gatherings in the ads look like a fun time — but this is a flawed concept.

Someone got a lot of money to sit in a marketing agency and think of what cool, hip thing they could do to advertise the Daytona 500 and get the “casuals” to tune in.

I just don’t see how this does it.

Non-race fans, by nature, don’t understand racing. I have friends who honestly think the Indy 500 is the same as NASCAR, and they’re not going to know the Daytona 500 is coming up.

This whole campaign does very little to inform people there’s an actual race coming up and the NASCAR season is starting. The hashtag is #DaytonaDay (not #Daytona500) and aside from the very last second of the ad, there’s nothing that screams “HI, THIS DAYTONA THING WE ARE REFERRING TO IS ACTUALLY TO THE DAYTONA 500, WHICH YOU CAN WATCH FEB. 26 ON THIS VERY CHANNEL.”

In fact, the ad might even confuse people. Halfway through the commercial, there’s a scene with actor James Van Der Beek which references “DAYTONA DAY: The movie.” I would bet you real money there were people watching the ad who went, “What is this Daytona Day thing? Ohhhh, it’s a movie! I get it!”

You might think, “Oh come on, people aren’t that stupid. Everyone knows this is a Daytona 500 ad.”


Anyway, it’s amazing how often advertisers seem to outthink themselves in situations like this. I want to shake them and say: “If you want people to watch the Daytona 500, advertise the Daytona 500! Say ‘Daytona 500’ as many times as you can in your commercial, and make the hashtag #Feb26Daytona500 or something — not #DaytonaDay.”

If there’s evidence out there this kind of promotion draws in casual fans better than a more traditional campaign, I’d be happy to admit I’m wrong. But in the meantime, I’m taking a pass on Daytona Day.

By the way, if you got here via Google search because you don’t know what Daytona Day is, they’re talking about the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, which is on Feb. 26.

A NASCAR social media experiment with Instagram

Social media often asks people to CLICK HERE! or VOTE! or REPLY! It’s a call to action, whether asking a question (“What do you think about this?”) or just showing off good seats at a concert (“Check out my picture!”).

People retweet and favorite and like and share — but they’re often prompted to do so.

So what happens when content is presented without any call to action? I tried a small social media experiment last week on my Instagram account just for fun (certainly not scientific in any way).

During the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, I took virtually the same pictures over and over again — a different driver each time, but in the same location — and posted them with a generic caption. In order to avoid a fan base trying to influence the results, I didn’t mention I planned to track the amount of “likes” for each Instagram photo.

The photos were spread out over several days, so I let them sit on the account for a week before writing down the final totals. Here they are:

  1. Kasey Kahne — 173 likes
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 168
  3. Kyle Larson — 136
  4. Clint Bowyer — 135
  5. Tony Stewart — 132
  6. Denny Hamlin — 127
  7. Brian Vickers — 125
  8. Jeff Gordon — 114
  9. Jamie McMurray — 111
  10. Brad Keselowski — 110
  11. Carl Edwards — 107
  12. Jimmie Johnson — 106
  13. Kevin Harvick — 98
  14. Ryan Newman — 94
  15. Kurt Busch — 93
  16. Joey Logano — 92
  17. Austin Dillon — 89
  18. Danica Patrick — 88
  19. Matt Kenseth — 81
  20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — 79
  21. Kyle Busch — 78
  22. Greg Biffle — 69
  23. Paul Menard — 64
  24. Michael Waltrip — 63

I’m certainly not suggesting this list reflects the current popularity of Sprint Cup Series drivers, but I was surprised to see some drivers so high on the list (check out Kyle Larson in third!) and others lower than expected (Matt Kenseth 19th?).

Any theories as to why the list shook out this way?