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NASCAR: Weeknight racing might be in future
Daytona success a measuring stick

Mar. 4, 2012

The Daytona 500's accidental experiment with Monday night Sprint Cup racing, caused by rain, produced an impressive total audience of 36.5million on Fox. With NASCAR already having preliminary conversations with partners Fox, ESPN and TNT for a new TV package in 2015, the possibility of moving a small number of existing races to weekday prime-time slots was being discussed in the Phoenix International Raceway garage area before Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500.

NASCAR's current TV deal is worth a reported $4.5billion. Cherry-picking a few spring or summer races for week-night prime-time viewing could maintain or slightly increase the payout.

The balancing act for NASCAR, President Mike Helton said, is between the need to expand the TV audience and the wants of ticket holders.

"(Daytona) turned out to be a good opportunity," Helton told The Republic. "Now we've got a real live model to look at. We're always looking at how to improve the ability to be exposed, balancing the expectations of the live audience that buys a ticket and makes the journey to the racetrack.

"It's a decision that has to be made collaboratively, with the racetracks and teams and the fans in mind. As we utilize technology to gather information, we'd like to think we understand our customer base a lot better and can get a feel from them as to what's acceptable, where in the past we had to define it ourselves. Sometimes that's different from what our opinion is and we have to re-look at our opinion."

Said team owner Roger Penske: "It's something NASCAR has to take a big look at. It's a fabulous entree for our sponsors. A prime-time package would be a tremendous asset."

PIR's position as the first race after the Daytona 500, and the Chase semifinal, makes a weeknight date unlikely, track President Bryan Sperber said.
Favorites fade

Defending Cup champion Tony Stewart started second, led Laps 2-10, but struggled with handling issues. Stewart eventually lost 2 laps when his engine wouldn't restart after he briefly switched it off to save fuel, a common practice. He finished 22nd.

Jeff Gordon, last year's Subway 500 winner, radioed to his crew that the No.24 Chevrolet was "ungodly loose." He ended up eighth.

Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth ran in the top five early but finished 13th. Dale Earnhardt Jr., second at Daytona, was never a factor and placed 14th. Pole winner Mark Martin led only the first lap and finished ninth.
Pit stops

• NASCAR had a flashing-light safety car trail jet dryers and instructed drivers to slow down even more after Juan Pablo Montoya spun into a dryer in the Daytona 500.

• PIR's first event vs. spring-training competition drew 76,000 spectators, up 1,000 from last year's announced attendance when the race was held one week earlier.

• Jeff Burton finished 33rd after falling out late with an engine problem. His son Harrison, 11, had two wins and a second place in Saturday night's USAC's "Generation Next" series at Valley of the Sun oval. Harrison is in Armed Forces Foundation colors because Jeff is an AFF board member.

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