Jimmie Johnson is most talked about driver by media in offseason

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Even though the NASCAR media corps has been decimated over the last six or seven years due to layoffs and beat eliminations, the sport still enjoys considerable press coverage.

In particular has been during the current offseason. With the season-opening Daytona 500 now less than three weeks away, the media has been covering NASCAR during the winter months almost as much as it did during the season.

Not surprisingly, defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has been the most talked about driver in print, online and on TV and radio during the offseason, according to a new study by Joyce Julius & Associates.

Since 1985, the Ann Arbor, Mich., firm has measured media attention, as well as the worth of that recognition.

And now, with its annual Top-15 NASCAR Driver Off-Season Media Coverage study, it showed Johnson had over 6,000 media mentions since he captured his sixth championship last November.

The resulting media exposure value translated to $10,260,981, according to Joyce Julius, putting Johnson at the top of the list.

Broken down, Johnson was referenced in 1,274 television programs, along with 4,499 Internet and 234 print articles during the two-month rating period. Most of the references to Johnson were about his sixth Cup title in eight years, that he’s now one title away from tying Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most driver championships (7) and how changes to NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup format announced last week may potentially affect Johnson.

Interestingly, Danica Patrick is ranked second, although she had significantly more media references (6,787 to Johnson’s 6,007). But the value of Patrick’s impressions was less than Johnson’s composite, coming in at $9,773,385.

The difference, according to the press release announcing the results, was based upon “the size of the audience generated by the news media coverage to the cost of reaching the same audience through traditional advertising.”

Three-time Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart ranked third with 5,008 references at a value of $7,271,414, primarily because Stewart fans wanted to know how his ongoing recovery from a terrible wreck in a sprint car race last August was going, and whether he’ll be ready for the Daytona 500 (he will).

Four-time Jeff Gordon was fourth, while in somewhat of a surprise, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was voted by fans as the sport’s most popular driver for the 11th consecutive year in 2013, ranked only fifth on the list.

The study began the day after the NASCAR Banquet in December and ended this past Monday following the Super Bowl.

“It was a fun exercise to see what kind of media coverage NASCAR drivers receive during the so-called off-season,” said Eric Wright of Joyce Julius and Associates. “I think what was most interesting was the volume of coverage some of the high profile drivers received. It illustrates what media magnets many of these personalities are, and it also speaks to how the sport of NASCAR is truly a year-round proposition.”

Here’s the overall list with media references and estimated exposure value:

1. Jimmie Johnson — 6,007 — $10,260,981

2. Danica Patrick — 6,787 — $9,773,385

3. Tony Stewart — 5,008 — $7,271,414

4. Jeff Gordon — 3,716 — $5,807,544

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 3,594 — $5,321,904

6. Kyle Busch — 2,709 — $3,926,871

7. Mark Martin — 2,507 — $3,890,383

8. Michael Waltrip — 3,259 — $3,752,516

9. Kevin Harvick — 2,269 — $3,619,404

10. Kurt Busch — 2,657 — $3,609,412

11. Austin Dillon — 1,989 — $3,191,690

12. Brad Keselowski — 2,363 — $2,854,773

13. Ryan Newman — 1,926 — $2,849,637

14. Kyle Larson — 2,155 — $2,748,901

15. Denny Hamlin — 2,081 — $2,508,700

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Craig Breedlove wins 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award

Craig Breedlove (left) and Richard Noble look on during the world land speed record attempt by the Thrust SCC at Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Photo: David Taylor/Allsport
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Land-speed record icon Craig Breedlove has been awarded the 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award, one of the top honors awarded on the West Coast, and in the world of motorsports. Breedlove is the award’s 18th recipient.

The award was presented prior to today’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The full release is below:

Craig Breedlove has been selected as the 2017 recipient of the 18th Annual Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. For the 18th year, the Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award recognizes motorsports personalities who have made distinguished contributions to motorsports in California.

Breedlove was selected by a judging panel, which includes national and California motorsports media, to receive the prestigious 2017 Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award. Ed Justice, Jr. President & CEO of Justice Brothers, Inc. presented the award during the pre-race ceremonies at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 race at Auto Club Speedway.

Craig Breedlove is the first person in history to reach 500 mph and 600 mph, Craig Breedlove, is a land speed legend. Using several turbojet-powered vehicles, all named Spirit of America; he drove to five world land speed records. The Beach Boys’ song Spirit of America was inspired by Breedlove’s land speed record set in 1963. Breedlove was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of America in 1993 and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Giovinazzi impresses as Sauber sub, finishes 12th on F1 debut

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Antonio Giovinazzi continued his impressive last-minute showing in the Australian Grand Prix weekend by finishing 12th for Sauber on his Formula 1 debut.

Ferrari junior and 2015 GP2 runner-up Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber on Saturday to replace Pascal Wehrlein, who withdrew from the race weekend due to an ongoing back injury.

Giovinazzi qualified 16th on Saturday, narrowly missing out on a place in Q2, and then enjoyed a trouble-free race en route to 12th at the checkered flag, two laps down on race winner Sebastian Vettel.

“It was a good race, and I am happy with my performance today,” Giovinazzi said.

“My objective was to gain more experience and collect mileage in the car. I will sit together with my engineers to analyze areas where I can improve.

“I want to thank the Sauber F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari again for this opportunity. It was an amazing race weekend for me.”

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was full of praise for Giovinazzi: “A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula 1 race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of.”

Giovinazzi is now set to return to his reserve driver duties at Ferrari, with Wehrlein expected to be back at full-fitness for the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Maverick Vinales wins MotoGP opener in Qatar after rain delays start

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Maverick Viñales made a flying start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP by winning on his debut with the factory team in Qatar on Sunday night.

Rain throughout the weekend had already forced qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday, with Viñales claiming pole by virtue of setting the fastest time in practice.

Officials decided early on Sunday that they would not be amending its schedule for races, with the Moto2 and Moto3 events going ahead as planned.

Just minutes before the MotoGP race was set to get underway at 11pm local time, rain started to fall once again over the Losail International Circuit, prompting the stewards to delay the race start after a number of riders went off during an installation lap.

A 45-minute delay followed as a number of officials from both MotoGP and the teams remonstrated on the grid before being asked to take their discussions inside, away from the cameras and the watching world.

With the rain easing to a light drizzle, the stewards confirmed the race would start as planned, albeit reduced to 20 laps.

On a moist track, Viñales made a tentative start from pole, dropping to fifth as Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the best getaway to lead into the first corner.

Iannone was quickly passed by Tech3’s Johann Zarco, who completed his first lap in MotoGP as the race leader, and soon began to forge a lead over the chasing pack.

Zarco’s hopes of a debut win were dashed when he slid off the track in the tricky conditions, allowing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to assume the lead ahead of Iannone.

When Iannone fell and third-placed Marc Marquez began to drop off the pace as his tires faded, Viñales and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi began to close on Dovizioso, setting up a grandstand finish.

Viñales found a way past Dovizioso, only to lose the lead a couple of laps later, before then taking it back with two laps to go, curbing the Ducati’s straight-line speed advantage as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time.

From there, Viñales was able to keep his cool and cross the line half a second clear of Dovizioso to record his second MotoGP victory, his first coming with Suzuki last year at Silverstone.

Rossi crossed the line a close third, much to his surprise after a torrid pre-season, while Marquez was left to settle for fourth place to begin his riders’ title defence.

Dani Pedrosa finished one place behind his Honda teammate in fifth, while Aleix Espargaro was one of the unsung heroes of the race, crossing the line sixth for Aprilia.

Scott Redding wound up seventh ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, while Tech3 debutant Jonas Folger rounded out the top 10.

Three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo had a forgettable debut with Ducati, finishing a lowly 11th after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.

The MotoGP season continues with round two of the season in Argentina on April 9.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.