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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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”