Primetime, Twitter, and 3 Steves play key role in Daytona 500 “meta” marathon

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The first 38 laps of the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon were fairly uneventful, save for Martin Truex Jr.’s engine failure and rookie Kyle Larson’s early race struggles.

Then the rain fell, tornado warning sounded, and things got interesting.

Social media can be a boon during a rain delay, and Sunday was no exception.

You can argue whether Stewart-Haas Racing’s “AirTitan” jokes – essentially substituting the AirTitan track drying system in for Chuck Norris – were actually funny or not.

But without question, the team was “winning” – to borrow another years-old joke (thanks, Charlie Sheen) – because during the rain delay, that was what people were talking about, sharing and retweeting on Twitter.

They had a social media strategy and game plan, had all these dozens of jokes in the canister ready to deploy at the moment there was going to be a long delay, and then made “AirTitan” the top non-sponsored trending topic on Twitter later that afternoon.

As the team tweeted at the end of it all, “our work is complete.”

Then there was the other part of the six-hour, 22-minute rain delay – the FOX TV coverage, which opted to run a replay of the 2013 Daytona 500 in the break.

From there, hilarity ensued, thanks to NASCAR fan and Twitter user @SteveLuvender.

Luvender started retweeting fans who thought they were watching a live race, even though the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen clearly indicated it was a replay of the 2013 race. And even though there were several interruptions from the FOX Sports 1 studios saying “the 2014 race is in a rain-delay, and you’re watching an encore of the 2013 race.”

No matter. The tweets keep coming, as did Luvender’s retweets, and the story grew so big it made to both the AP and Deadspin.

There was hilarity during the break, but there was also a constant update of information from another Steve, NASCAR executive vp of racing operations Steve O’Donnell. O’Donnell (@odsteve) spent the delay providing pertinent and key time updates before the race eventually resumed.

By the time the actual 2014 Daytona 500 was set to restart, even the drivers were riffing off it. Jimmie Johnson cracked that he had a chance to “win his second ‘500 of the day.”

And suddenly NASCAR garnered 12 hours worth of entertainment and chatter out of a race that officially ran for only 3 hours, 26 minutes and 29 seconds.

It featured the sport’s biggest name, Dale Earnhardt Jr., taking the win. And it featured another Steve – his crew chief, Steve Letarte – earning a win in his last Daytona 500 on the box before he heads to NBC’s NASCAR coverage in 2015.

Luvender, fittingly, had the perfect tweet to sum it all up later in the day.

That was, of course, before Dale Jr. decided to one-up the three Steves and start tweeting himself.

Still, the primetime race is NASCAR’s second unintentional primetime Daytona 500 in the last three years, and fair to say, a fairly big deal.

With all the build-up and hoopla to the Super Bowl, which starts later into the evening, could the results – and ratings – of the 2012 and 2014 Daytona 500s provide an impetus to eventually turn this race into a night race, permanently?

Or were these two Daytona 500s just fitting one-offs that will grow in stature by the oddities that made them head to primetime?

It’s certainly something the brass at NASCAR could consider in the days and weeks to come.

But if nothing else, it gives us something to discuss in 140-character bites on Twitter.

REMEMBER: You can see the premiere of NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.