NASCAR compelling because of “wonderful stories,” says NBC Sports’ chairman

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Mentioning the sport’s historic rivalries, the different generations that have raced in it, and how every track is unique, NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus feels that NASCAR – which he considers a “tent pole property” for both NBC and the NBC Sports Network – will be a great fit with his company’s signature style of sports coverage.

“The mantra that we live by is two things: One, we want to tell great stories, and NASCAR, what makes it so compelling is there are wonderful stories,” Lazarus said in a conference call with reporters following today’s announcement of NASCAR’s return to NBC.

“…We believe that we take the time to develop those stories, develop the personality, make sure fans know the rivalries and why they should care about them, and that’s what we spend our time doing in all sports, and we think that NASCAR suits that production value very well.”

Lazarus indicated that NBC will use many avenues of content and promotion in order to expose NASCAR to a bigger audience. For a sport that, while still relatively popular, has also cooled off noticeably since its explosive run into the mainstream a decade ago, that has to be good to hear.

“What we have found and what we have learned and what I think we’ve demonstrated over the past several years is that when we’re able to have a property…And we’re able to bring an audience and surround it with content, both on broadcast, on cable, in digital by promoting and marketing using our [regional sports networks], that we’re able to bring a level of awareness to a sport, to a property that is equal to or unparalleled in the industry, and that’s what we intend to do with NASCAR.

“By having this mix, what we always do is make big events bigger, and that’s what we’ll do each Saturday and Sunday from July on, starting in 2015.”

For the full transcript from today’s conference call, you can click here or visit the NBC Sports Group Pressbox website.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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