Jimmie Johnson is most talked about driver by media in offseason

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Even though the NASCAR media corps has been decimated over the last six or seven years due to layoffs and beat eliminations, the sport still enjoys considerable press coverage.

In particular has been during the current offseason. With the season-opening Daytona 500 now less than three weeks away, the media has been covering NASCAR during the winter months almost as much as it did during the season.

Not surprisingly, defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has been the most talked about driver in print, online and on TV and radio during the offseason, according to a new study by Joyce Julius & Associates.

Since 1985, the Ann Arbor, Mich., firm has measured media attention, as well as the worth of that recognition.

And now, with its annual Top-15 NASCAR Driver Off-Season Media Coverage study, it showed Johnson had over 6,000 media mentions since he captured his sixth championship last November.

The resulting media exposure value translated to $10,260,981, according to Joyce Julius, putting Johnson at the top of the list.

Broken down, Johnson was referenced in 1,274 television programs, along with 4,499 Internet and 234 print articles during the two-month rating period. Most of the references to Johnson were about his sixth Cup title in eight years, that he’s now one title away from tying Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most driver championships (7) and how changes to NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup format announced last week may potentially affect Johnson.

Interestingly, Danica Patrick is ranked second, although she had significantly more media references (6,787 to Johnson’s 6,007). But the value of Patrick’s impressions was less than Johnson’s composite, coming in at $9,773,385.

The difference, according to the press release announcing the results, was based upon “the size of the audience generated by the news media coverage to the cost of reaching the same audience through traditional advertising.”

Three-time Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart ranked third with 5,008 references at a value of $7,271,414, primarily because Stewart fans wanted to know how his ongoing recovery from a terrible wreck in a sprint car race last August was going, and whether he’ll be ready for the Daytona 500 (he will).

Four-time Jeff Gordon was fourth, while in somewhat of a surprise, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was voted by fans as the sport’s most popular driver for the 11th consecutive year in 2013, ranked only fifth on the list.

The study began the day after the NASCAR Banquet in December and ended this past Monday following the Super Bowl.

“It was a fun exercise to see what kind of media coverage NASCAR drivers receive during the so-called off-season,” said Eric Wright of Joyce Julius and Associates. “I think what was most interesting was the volume of coverage some of the high profile drivers received. It illustrates what media magnets many of these personalities are, and it also speaks to how the sport of NASCAR is truly a year-round proposition.”

Here’s the overall list with media references and estimated exposure value:

1. Jimmie Johnson — 6,007 — $10,260,981

2. Danica Patrick — 6,787 — $9,773,385

3. Tony Stewart — 5,008 — $7,271,414

4. Jeff Gordon — 3,716 — $5,807,544

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 3,594 — $5,321,904

6. Kyle Busch — 2,709 — $3,926,871

7. Mark Martin — 2,507 — $3,890,383

8. Michael Waltrip — 3,259 — $3,752,516

9. Kevin Harvick — 2,269 — $3,619,404

10. Kurt Busch — 2,657 — $3,609,412

11. Austin Dillon — 1,989 — $3,191,690

12. Brad Keselowski — 2,363 — $2,854,773

13. Ryan Newman — 1,926 — $2,849,637

14. Kyle Larson — 2,155 — $2,748,901

15. Denny Hamlin — 2,081 — $2,508,700

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F1: Max Verstappen provides late-lap thrills at U.S. Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Leave it to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to provide some late-race thrills at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s key block on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton late in Sunday’s race denied Hamilton a chance to maybe chase down Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to win. And it helped deny Hamilton’s bid for the season championship.

Verstappen’s defensive skills allowed the Red Bull driver to finish second, his best result yet at the U.S Grand Prix, his fourth podium in six races. By keeping Hamilton third, it kept the season championship alive, even if just another week to the Mexican Grand Prix.

Last season, Verstappen had surged past Raikkonen on a final-lap pass to finish third. It was the kind of aggressive move that earned him the “Mad Max” nickname. Before he could even reach the podium, race officials declared Verstappen’s move illegal and bumped an angry Verstappen down to fifth.

The Circuit of the Americas this week installed a new curb on the same corner, dubbed “Verstoppen,” to punish drivers who tried anything similar this year. It worked when Verstappen hit it hard enough in qualifying to knock his car out of the session with a damaged suspension and gear box. He started Sunday’s race 18th.

The Dutch driver launched a furious attack through the field and found himself in the thick of things late Sunday. His move to block Hamilton wasn’t on the same corner with the curbs, and it came with him playing defense instead of being the aggressor.

Verstappen had to make multiple moves to keep Hamilton behind him and finally drove the Mercedes wide, forcing Hamilton to finally concede the position and the race.

“I was trying to get close to Kimi but at the same time keeping an eye on Lewis in my mirror. It was close, but we managed to hang on,” Verstappen said. “It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected.”

Knowing Verstappen’s aggressive nature, Hamilton said there was too much at stake to risk a collision.

“The key to me was to make sure I finished ahead of Seb. I don’t care when you win a championship, just that you win,” Hamilton said. “”For Max, to come back from so far, he did a great job.”

Verstappen has been just as aggressive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In 2016, race officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and he was bumped from the podium. Last season, Verstappen’s strong start sent him into the lead out of the first turn, while Hamilton and Vettel bumped each other. The collision ruptured one of Hamilton’s tires.

Verstappen won the race while Hamilton limped home in ninth place, but still won the season championship.