Brian France: Daytona 500 win good for Dale Earnhardt Jr., good for NASCAR

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As Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes, so goes NASCAR.

If Junior wins races – and potentially and finally wins a Sprint Cup championship – it would likely be the big shot in the arm NASCAR needs to completely recover from several years of struggling at-track attendance and slumping TV ratings.

NASCAR chairman Brian France alluded to that back in 2009 and it remains as relevant today as it did when France first said that.

“It’s sort of like when the NBA doesn’t have the L.A. Lakers or Boston – a couple of their key historic franchises – in the race, that impacts the league,” France said in an interview back then with the Charlotte Observer. “We’re in the same boat.

“Our No.1 franchise, which happens to be Dale Jr. right now, (when he struggles) that’s going to have some impact on his fan base. It just does. … He has won a lot of races in the past. We could have a resurgence and the world would be a better place.”

In light of Earnhardt’s win in Sunday’s Daytona 500, the second time in 10 years that he’s won the Great American Race, could 2014 be both Earnhardt’s year and NASCAR’s year?

Granted, there’s still 35 races to go – including the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s marquee event of the season.

But Earnhardt’s win at Daytona has certainly got NASCAR fans, particularly Earnhardt’s large Junior Nation, excited and hopeful.

“Any time his fanbase gets revved up, that’s a good thing,” France said in an interview Wednesday with SportingNews.com. “That’s good for him, and that’s good for us.”

Earnhardt has been so excited since Sunday’s win that after several years of prodding from fans, he finally took to Twitter late Sunday evening and has continued to post a number of entries, particularly from his celebratory media tour that has crossed the country since then.

Needless to say, Earnhardt’s tweets have helped rev up what had been a somewhat dormant Junior Nation in recent years.

France covered a number of topics with SN, but the conversation drifted back to Earnhardt and his big win, his first time in victory lane in 55 races, dating back to 2012, and his third overall victory since the start of the 2007 season.

“The really great thing is how authentic he’s been throughout the week here as he’s doing (on Junior’s promotional media tour),” France said. “That’s great. We’ll have to see (how much of an impact Earnhardt’s win will have over the entire season).”

Earnhardt has been voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver the last 11 years, second most to Bill Elliott’s stout mark of 16 years as the sport’s most popular driver.

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McLaren unveils 2018 F1 car, the MCL33

Photo: Getty Images
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McLaren F1 Team became the latest to launch their 2018 challenger on Friday, taking the covers off their new MCL33 chassis early on Friday morning.

McLaren endured a difficult 2017 season of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, with their partnership with Honda eventually dissolving after a troublesome power unit saw them plagued by unreliability and low power.

A switch to Renault power units is expected to see them get an uptick in form, and the MCL33 chassis itself is actually an evolution on last year’s MCL32. Still, the team highlighted areas to improve upon, and aims for a return to prominence in 2018.

“The McLaren team was created by a brave pioneer, and has had bravery at its core ever since. Whether it’s been with brave drivers, brave leaders or brave fortune, this team has always fought back. And we definitely view 2018 as the year when McLaren will move closer to the front, fighting teams and drivers as we improve our fortunes,” said Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group.

Brown also highlighted the car’s new papaya orange livery, a throwback to some of the most popular color schemes that have adorned McLaren entrants in a variety of disciplines. Brown indicated that this came about from requests of fans who wanted to see such a livery return to the McLaren marque.

“Our return to a papaya orange livery for this year wasn’t simply an emotional decision; it demonstrates that we are listening to our fans, building deeper engagement with them and the Formula 1 community as a whole. We want McLaren to earn respect on and off the track, and this felt like a good starting point. We want to show everyone what makes this team special, whether that’s our fans or our partners – there’s room for more on our journey.”

The team’s racing director Eric Boullier expressed optimism about the team’s potential for 2018, but also acknowledged the season will be sure to see its fair share of challenges.

“I think the whole team feels proud of this car,” he asserted. “The design, engineering and aerodynamic departments have done an incredible job delivering a new car with a new power unit in an extremely short timeframe. We never took the easy route or looked to shortcut a process or a solution; and the result is a car that is neat and well-resolved.

“That said, we are under no illusions that it will be difficult to splinter the hegemony at the front; and that the midfield will be full of well-funded, experienced outfits with plenty to prove. We are humble about the challenge ahead, but feel we’ve prepared well, have a solid package that we can build upon and exploit as the season progresses, and have two excellent drivers who will make the difference in races.”

The MCL33 took to the track on Friday for filming at a test track in Spain, and will be run in anger for the first time when testing begins next week at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

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