NASCAR Traditionalists Won’t Like the Latest Nielsen Report

The reaction from some racing fans to an announcement not quite a year ago was so vociferous that casual observers might have thought NASCAR officials had run over a litter of puppies with the Next Gen car.

The source of the ruckus was the news Kurt Busch was moving into the new No. 45 Toyota at 23XI Racing. The announcement video showed the car, and the number placement on the sides was noticeably toward the front.

The Next Gen car’s look had already been a hot topic, but NASCAR’s confirmation about the numbers change that same day really set off the traditionalists. Complaints continue two-thirds of the way through the season.

The anti-change crowd got bad news this week. Research confirms NASCAR is meeting its goal, and that means the numbers alteration is probably permanent.

NASCAR saw dollar signs when it moved the car numbers

Kurt Busch drives the No. 45 Toyota during the NASCAR Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 17, 2021, in Concord, North Carolina. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Kurt Busch drives the No. 45 Toyota during the NASCAR Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 17, 2021, in Concord, North Carolina. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The NASCAR announcement in August 2021 about moving car numbers forward didn’t explicitly discuss money but did refer to “value to sponsors” at a time of “incredible interest.”

“We are committed to working with our race team partners to innovate and deliver opportunities to increase the value to sponsors who support our sport,” the statement said.

Part of the rationale for changing was the scheduled debut of the Next Gen car in 2022. The successor to the Gen 6 model has a smaller quarter panel, a location attractive to sponsors. Moving the number forward opened more space for logos.

Research from Nielsen confirms sponsors are getting better value

A Nielsen analysis and feedback from industry executives show sponsors of NASCAR Cup Series teams are getting better brand exposure because of the repositioned numbers on the sides of the car, Sports Business Journal reported.

Nielsen pegged the increase in sponsor value at 15% as measured by television exposure through the season’s first 16 races and the cost of traditional TV advertising. The study said the increase was even more pronounced for cars not running in the top 10.

“The primary sponsors and teams that have taken full advantage of the new space have made their sponsor logos much more prominent in a spot on the car that naturally stands out,” said MKTG executive Emily Spiegel, whose company works with several brands sponsoring cars.

“The end result from what I’m seeing is our sponsors are saying, ‘Wow, we’re getting a lot more for our investments,’” said Paul Zindrick, VP of corporate partnerships for JTG Daugherty Racing, “so that’s generating a lot more excitement and enthusiasm around our current sponsor set.”

NASCAR took the opposite approach in a 2020 experiment

NASCAR was well into developing the Next Gen car by the time the 2020 All-Star Race came up on the schedule, and the sport’s executives used the race as an opportunity to play around with the car numbers. But rather than move them forward, they moved the numbers on the side toward the rear for the non-points event.

The reaction from traditionalists wasn’t kind, but some of those fans were already frustrated by how the pandemic had blown up the schedule. Tracks lost races and NASCAR had to move the All-Star Race from Charlotte to Bristol.

“You know what, it’s mixed. There are some fans that absolutely hate it, and there are fans that absolutely love it,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said then.

Veteran crew chief and TV analyst Larry McReynolds wasn’t a huge supporter but took an adapt-or-die approach:

“I’m a traditionalist and I like the number in the center of the door, but after seeing the NextGen car, I understand the need to slide it forward,” McReynolds said. “I think it’s a necessity to do it to give sponsors the space and value they need, and without the sponsors, we’d have to close up shop.”

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Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]

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