By Matt Weaver (RICHMOND, Vir.) — The possibilities are endless following the official announcement on Wednesday that Comcast Xfinity had picked up the entitlement sponsorship of what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
The deal is set to run for a decade until 2025 and truly has the potential to revolutionize the entire sport, not just in terms of the second-tier NASCAR division, but for things that fans may potentially gain during the zenith of this agreement.
A typically tradition-minded bunch, NASCAR fans resent the very concept of change with the most outspoken subset still defiantly referring to Nationwide as Grand National or Busch and not in reference to the most dominant driver currently on the tour either. Just when many of them had grown accustomed to the Nationwide moniker, another change will force them to learn the admittedly awkward but progressive sounding NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Starting in January, Comcast has a real opportunity to take this division and mold it into their own, uncovering a massing variable (or X) in motorsports in the process. During the Wednesday press conference, NASCAR chairman Brian France said that his Sanctioning Body is taking an open-minded approach to format change, championship battles and more.
“They’re going to have some fresh thinking on what this series can become,” France said. “We’re going to listen to that. At the same time we’re going to balance, as we always do, our institutional knowledge about what works and doesn’t work…
“I’m sure there will be format ideas that come over time that we’ll be interested in looking at because the net of it is, Xfinity and NASCAR want to make this series … bigger and better.”
It’s no secret that NASCAR fans and pundits have grown somewhat disenchanted with the Nationwide Series in recent seasons in regards to the excess Sprint Cup influence and redundancy of the Diet Cup Series schedule. Outgoing sponsor Nationwide encouraged NASCAR to adapt the Pick a Series rule and the Dash4Cash that has certainly added brand uniqueness to the tour and the Comcast Xfinity folks will be afforded the same opportunities moving forward.
The most notable aspect of the announcement is the synergy that now exists between Comcast, the NBC Sports Group (owned by Comcast) that will televise races starting next season and the second-tier NASCAR division. These are three entities that all have the same agenda now and that is to add something to the sport of Stock Car racing.
Event accessibility is an area where Comcast especially looks poised to shine moving forward as multimedia digital streaming is a focus of the Xfinity brand. During an era where NASCAR fans demand to watch the product from whatever device they choose, a la carte and on-demand, this partnership has the potential to really expedite the concepts started by Watch ESPN and Race Buddy.
The future of NASCAR television will be accessing races from every device and the increased interactivity between the fans and event provider, one of the most effective ways to build loyalty in the 21st Century.
The aforementioned synergy between Comcast, NBC and Xfinity will also pay dividends towards NASCAR marketing and activation as well since Comcast, who is required to spend a set amount on ads and marketing per the agreement, can shift its ad buys to the broadcast, giving them more financial flexibility to promote the sport in more unique and creative ways, should they choose (and hopefully will…)
Beyond all of the logistical reasons to welcome Comcast Xfinity with open arms, Penske top prospect Ryan Blaney may have said it best on Wednesday by stating, “the NASCAR Xfinity Series — that just sounds fast.”
It sounds fast, progressive and next-gen and truly has the potential to change the sport for the better. History may paint Wednesday as a historic day for NASCAR fans years down the road so to Xfinity and beyond we go.
On Richmond and the Chase
With just one race remaining in the regular season, this Saturday night at Richmond, now is a good time to reflect on how the new Chase Grid format has redefined what a successful season is at this point.
It’s remarkable that in years past, winless Matt Kenseth (third in points), Ryan Newman (ninth) and Kyle Larson (13th) would all have been considered in the midst of successful seasons despite failing to visit Victory Lane. But instead, Kenseth is currently viewed by some as a driver who just snuck his way into the new-look playoff while Newman, Larson, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are poised for a battle to save their seasons.
But the real change of perception has actually come to those who have actually won this season. Despite having middling to sub-par campaigns, drivers like Kyle Busch (17th), Denny Hamlin (19th), Kurt Busch (21st), Aric Almirola (22nd) and AJ Allmendinger (23rd) have all made the Chase and thus can view their body of work with a wholly positive approach.
It’s a further confirmation that NASCAR has successfully eliminated the notion of “having a good points day” completely from its drivers’ vocabularies. Both Busch brothers are a perfect example in that while they have struggled for most of the season, those perceptions will vanish in just a few days following the Chase reset.
The Chase Grid has totally redefined the parameters of both success and mediocrity at the highest level of NASCAR and has made for strange times for any long-time observers if nothing else.
The impossibility of forecasting the Chase
Veteran NASCAR scribe Monte Dutton said it best about the new Chase format in his Monday column:
“This Chase is going to be wild. Coyotes are wild but there isn’t as much howling. NASCAR officials are always behind. What they wanted is a video game. What they’re going to get is a pinball machine.”
Predicting how the next 11 weeks will play out will be next to impossible (although we will try next Wednesday). Championship leaders like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jimmie Johnson are all faltering down the regular season stretch while underdogs like Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola all appear to be establish a sense of relative momentum.
The best bet for the Final Four (this really needs a legit name, NASCAR) still appears to call for some combination of two Hendrick Motorsport teams, one Penske and Kevin Harvick but what do you think? Give us your Homestead predictions in the comments section below.
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