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

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Carl Edwards, NASCAR driver … NASCAR savior?

According to a story in BusinessWeek.com, a recent study by analyst Andrew Maness, who runs the Racingnomics.com 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 BusinessWeek.com.

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.”

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IndyCar: Turn 5 gives drivers fits in Friday’s second practice at Barber Motorsports Park

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You’ve heard of the Fast Six in IndyCar, right?

Well, Friday’s second practice session for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama was the Frustrating Five – Turn 5, that is.

It almost might be easier to list those drivers that were not bitten by the cantankerous turn on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park layout in Birmingham, Alabama.

Close to 10 drivers in the 23-driver field suffered issues in the turn, ranging from running off the grass and back on, to getting stuck and having to be towed out, to suffering damage.

But by the time the one-hour session was over, Josef Newgarden took a big step towards defending his win from last year’s race there, being fastest in Friday’s second of two practice sessions.

Newgarden covered the 2.3-mile permanent road course in a speed of 122.786 mph at a best lap time of 1:07.4345 minutes.

Spencer Pigot was second (125.599 mph/1:07.5372), followed by Sebastien Bourdais (122.129 mph/1:07.7971), Will Power (122.107 mph/1:07.8092) and last week’s winner at Long Beach, Alexander Rossi (122.065 mph/1:07.8326).

Sixth through 10th-fastest were Scott Dixon (122.044 mph/1:07.8445), Ryan Hunter-Reay (121.975 mph/1:07.8829), Takuma Sato (121.652 mph/1:08.0628), Marco Andretti (121.579 mph/1:08.1040) and Graham Rahal (121.572 mph/1:08.1076).

Now, speaking of all the incidents, here’s a list.

INCIDENTS:

* Right after rookie Matheus Leist spun early in the session in Turn 5, fellow rookie Zach Veach spun with about 45 minutes left in the session in Turn 5. Graham Rahal had to take evasive action to miss Veach.

But that wasn’t all, as Sebastien Bourdais followed in almost the same spot with a spin of his own roughly a minute later, and then Gabby Chaves also had his problems in the same turn, going into the grass but avoiding the gravel.

* Simon Pagenaud joined his Penske Racing teammate Josef Newgarden in the Turn 5 gravel. Newgarden spun into the gravel in the first practice session.

* Rookie Rene Binder, who has struggled in his inaugural season, continued to have issues, running into the wall and causing damage to the front end, needing a tow truck to get him righted.

It appeared Binder snapped part of the front suspension in the incident.

* Turn 5 saw James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan run off-track late in the session, but they were able to continue.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The third and final practice of the weekend will take place Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET, to be televised live on CNBC (with an encore performance at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN). The race, to be televised live Sunday on NBCSN, is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

* However, the weather forecast does not look promising for Sunday’s race. As of 1 p.m. ET today, the forecast calls for 100 percent rain throughout the day.

* Dixon has had an incredible record at Barber Motorsports Park, with seven podium finishes in eight starts there. Except for one thing: he has yet to win a race there. But he does have five runner-up and two other third-place showings on the permanent road course.

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