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.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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