Country music superstar Luke Bryan closely identifies with NASCAR drivers


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Comparisons are inevitable in sports, particularly in NASCAR. Fans love to say that “their driver” is better than every one else’s favorite.

But prior to Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, a new comparison of sorts was forged between a NASCAR star and country star – in this case country music superstar Luke Bryan.

Bryan, who performed a pre-race concert in the DIS infield Sunday morning, was spot-on when he talked about similarities between the teamwork of a successful driver and pit crew and a major country artist such as himself and his road crew.

“The comparisons and analogies between what singers and drivers do, I am only as good as all the people around me, and so are the drivers,” Bryan said. “I have 60 guys that work for me out on the road that move me town to town and make me who I am.

“Without those guys, it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t run smoothly and it doesn’t work. We huddle up every day and talk about how we can make things better. As a NASCAR driver, in probably the most competitive environment on the planet Earth, you have to have a big, strong team around you as a driver, you have to have a great crew, great people, working on your stuff, looking after you and keeping you safe.

“There’s so many similarities, it’s really neat to be here and watch the camaraderie with teams and how focused they are. This is their day to shine, just like when I’m about to go on stage and we’re all ready to go do our thing, too.”

A native of western Georgia, Bryan is a lifelong NASCAR fan. While he’s worked with a variety of NASCAR drivers on promotional projects over the years including Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski, Bryan doesn’t have one particular driver he pulls for.

“Growing up as a huge NASCAR fan, that was what we did, watch races on Sunday’s,” Bryan said. “My dad was a crazy Cale Yarborough fan. We grew up loving racing and I’ve been a part of so many races through the years, but this is my first Daytona 500. I’m super excited about being here and being out on the stage in front of the crowd.

“Through the years, I have worked with 10 or 15 drivers on charity stuff. I don’t necessarily pull for one driver, I have a couple I’d love to see them win it. … I have a lot of history with Jimmie Johnson, I’ve done several Jimmie Jams for him. Me and Brad Keselowski, my face was on the hood of the Miller Lite car, so I’ve worked with Brad on several things. … Me and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have worked together on several things. My main thing is I hope the guys stay safe and the fans have a great time.”

One driver Bryan is not necessarily a fan of is Joey Logano. Heck, he didn’t even get Logano’s first name right when he started talking about him in a pre-race press conference, calling him “Jeremy” Logano.

Bryan was the pace car driver for last August’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway and Logano was the pole-sitter. As they worked themselves around the two-mile MIS at about 115 mph, Logano decided to get cute and tapped the rear end of Bryan’s car with his own Ford Fusion a few times.

“He gave me a couple love taps and that was kind of nerve-wracking,” Bryan laughed. “When I was driving that pace car, I don’t think I breathed for one whole lap, and when you look in your rearview mirror and Logano is staring you down, tearing your bumper off, it’s pretty scary. It was fun.”

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”