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Study: Carl Edwards may be only NASCAR driver to attract new, marginal and former fans to sport


Carl Edwards, NASCAR driver … NASCAR savior?

According to a story in, a recent study by analyst Andrew Maness, who runs the web site, suggests that Edwards is the only driver in the Sprint Cup Series who may be able to increase TV ratings by attracting new fans and former fans, as well as make today’s marginal fans more actively involved as regular race viewers.

The study made it clear that:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has been voted Most Popular Driver by fans the last 10 years, won’t do it.

Nor will six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson.

And not four-time champ Jeff Gordon, three-time champ Tony Stewart … or even Danica Patrick.

Here’s how Maness did his study, according to

Maness tracked a series of performance variables across all the top active drivers going back to 1995. After accounting for other factors that might influence television ratings (a race’s start time, TV competition on race day), he correlated the success of individual drivers to audience size to determine which drivers have had an impact on bringing in the marginal fans. One driver clearly emerges from the data: Carl Edwards.

Edwards is the only driver in the study who improved audience size in a significant manner. His week-to-week success increases television ratings by 3.6 percent. No other driver’s success carries a positive relationship across all five models (measuring different components around winning races, leading many laps, overall points standings, etc.). … Edwards is the only driver with a statistical confidence interval above zero.”

Translated, Edwards is the only driver in the study that moved the needle – known as “success impacts ratings positively.”

Drivers whose “success has negligible impact on TV ratings” include Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer.

According to the study, there are only two drivers whose “success negatively impacts ratings,” Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who had the worst showing of all drivers in the study.

Interestingly, Danica Patrick is not in the study.

Maness cited Edwards’ popularity, particularly his crossover appeal. Not only does he do well in TV commercials in NASCAR races, those same commercials also receive positive feedback from viewers when they’re played during other sporting event telecasts such as the NFL.

Plus, his trademark back-flip after winning a race strikes a positive chord in NASCAR fans, even if they aren’t Edwards fans. Also, Edwards’ Midwest roots (he’s from Columbia, Mo.), are in his favor, the study said.

“He brings a sensibility about NASCAR that’s a lot less Ricky Bobby (the main character in the NASCAR spoof, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and a lot more universal, charming, and polished,” the study said.

And NASCAR’s three strongest seasons in terms of positive ratings movement – 2005, 2008 and 2011 – are also the same years Edwards enjoyed his best seasons, including just barely losing the championship to Stewart by a tiebreaker in 2011.

To quote once again from the study:

Edwards is now in a contract year. He’ll be a free agent when the season is over and will have the option to go to any team he chooses. NASCAR should want him to get into the fastest car possible. … All else being equal, the numbers suggest Edwards is the single most important driver in keeping NASCAR’s ratings afloat.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.