Primetime, Twitter, and 3 Steves play key role in Daytona 500 “meta” marathon

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The first 38 laps of the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon were fairly uneventful, save for Martin Truex Jr.’s engine failure and rookie Kyle Larson’s early race struggles.

Then the rain fell, tornado warning sounded, and things got interesting.

Social media can be a boon during a rain delay, and Sunday was no exception.

You can argue whether Stewart-Haas Racing’s “AirTitan” jokes – essentially substituting the AirTitan track drying system in for Chuck Norris – were actually funny or not.

But without question, the team was “winning” – to borrow another years-old joke (thanks, Charlie Sheen) – because during the rain delay, that was what people were talking about, sharing and retweeting on Twitter.

They had a social media strategy and game plan, had all these dozens of jokes in the canister ready to deploy at the moment there was going to be a long delay, and then made “AirTitan” the top non-sponsored trending topic on Twitter later that afternoon.

As the team tweeted at the end of it all, “our work is complete.”

Then there was the other part of the six-hour, 22-minute rain delay – the FOX TV coverage, which opted to run a replay of the 2013 Daytona 500 in the break.

From there, hilarity ensued, thanks to NASCAR fan and Twitter user @SteveLuvender.

Luvender started retweeting fans who thought they were watching a live race, even though the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen clearly indicated it was a replay of the 2013 race. And even though there were several interruptions from the FOX Sports 1 studios saying “the 2014 race is in a rain-delay, and you’re watching an encore of the 2013 race.”

No matter. The tweets keep coming, as did Luvender’s retweets, and the story grew so big it made to both the AP and Deadspin.

There was hilarity during the break, but there was also a constant update of information from another Steve, NASCAR executive vp of racing operations Steve O’Donnell. O’Donnell (@odsteve) spent the delay providing pertinent and key time updates before the race eventually resumed.

By the time the actual 2014 Daytona 500 was set to restart, even the drivers were riffing off it. Jimmie Johnson cracked that he had a chance to “win his second ‘500 of the day.”

And suddenly NASCAR garnered 12 hours worth of entertainment and chatter out of a race that officially ran for only 3 hours, 26 minutes and 29 seconds.

It featured the sport’s biggest name, Dale Earnhardt Jr., taking the win. And it featured another Steve – his crew chief, Steve Letarte – earning a win in his last Daytona 500 on the box before he heads to NBC’s NASCAR coverage in 2015.

Luvender, fittingly, had the perfect tweet to sum it all up later in the day.

That was, of course, before Dale Jr. decided to one-up the three Steves and start tweeting himself.

Still, the primetime race is NASCAR’s second unintentional primetime Daytona 500 in the last three years, and fair to say, a fairly big deal.

With all the build-up and hoopla to the Super Bowl, which starts later into the evening, could the results – and ratings – of the 2012 and 2014 Daytona 500s provide an impetus to eventually turn this race into a night race, permanently?

Or were these two Daytona 500s just fitting one-offs that will grow in stature by the oddities that made them head to primetime?

It’s certainly something the brass at NASCAR could consider in the days and weeks to come.

But if nothing else, it gives us something to discuss in 140-character bites on Twitter.

REMEMBER: You can see the premiere of NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).