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Dropping the Hammer: Ryan Blaney & the Problem with NASCAR Marketing

NASCAR has a marketing problem.

More specifically, NASCAR and its sponsors have a driver marketing problem.

Back on Feb. 19, the day of the Daytona 500, I only recall seeing one commercial during the entire FOX broadcast that featured a driver speaking words.

It was the hilarious Chili’s ad featuring Corey LaJoie modifying his No. 7 Spire Chevrolet to run on margaritas.

“It’s Chili’s science!” LaJoie declared as he fueled the car up, his face covered in margarita salt, a clear euphemism for … well … nevermind.

It aired at least twice during the race.

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I haven’t seen it on TV since. But Chili’s continues to sponsor LaJoie’s on-board camera each race.

Then there was the Consumer Cellular campaign with Brad Keselowski and the “half-car.”

A great social media asset for sure, but as far as I know, it never aired on TV where I live. If you have seen it on TV, let me know where in the comments.

Both ads featured great performances by LaJoie and Keselowski and reminded me of the halcyon days of the 2000s, when drivers were featured in commercials for the products that sponsored them at every turn and every commercial break.

Then the 2008 recession hit, and companies would now rather use targeted social media ads and blah … blah …blah.

Ally Financial and Bass Pro Shops are more than happy to spend the money on ads during races … as long as they feature Dale Earnhardt Jr. doing a voiceover.

Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon are nowhere in sight.

Bowman was technically in one a year or two ago, but he was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it aspect of it. Which is a shame, because Bowman’s the funniest driver in the Cup Series, and his droll sense of humor needs to be utilized.

Truex was in that Toyota Racing “corner office” ad last year, but said ad never identified Truex or any of the other motorsports drivers included in it.

The last time I recall NASCAR airing a commercial itself that showed off multiple drivers and their personalities was a NASCAR Fantasy ad.

It was cute.

But it’s at least four years old now, right?

*check notes*

It aired in 2018.

Since then, we’ve been inundated with a constant steam of the overly dramatic “I am NASCAR” ads, which are only slightly more useful than the old Nationwide Series ads proclaiming it the series “where names are made”… and didn’t name any drivers.

And in 2024, there’s an even bigger problem with the marketing of the sport.

Where the heck is Ryan Blaney?

The guy with movie-star, Ryan-Gosling looks (when clean-faced and with a beard).

The man who isn’t afraid to lip synch to Celine Dion in the name of entertainment.

The driver who has been ready, willing and able to appear on the reboot of “Magnum P.I.,” the “Taken” TV series, Netflix’s one-and-done season of “The Crew” and, as himself, in the stellar “NASCAR: Full Speed” docuseries.

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NASCAR, you want Ryan Blaney on that wall, you need Ryan Blaney on that wall!

And Blaney wants to take his momentum and roll with it.

As long as it fits into his schedule.

“It’s a balance of, obviously, the job comes first,” Blaney said last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I’ve always told people ‘OK, great, these opportunities are awesome, but if they ever interfere with my work then I’m not doing it, and that’s just the way it is.'”

Blaney added, “Outside of that, if it’s things in the offseason, if there’s things during the week where I have a free couple days, I’ll go do it. Whether it’s shows or red carpets, things like that. There’s a lot of cool things I think coming down the pipeline that are gonna be fun that we’re just trying to schedule out to where it doesn’t interfere with my job.”

At the end of the day, NASCAR’s newest defending champion wants to be a superstar for the sport. And he wants to be in the same discussion as the guy who defined what a post-Richard Petty superstar was.

“I want to be Jeff Gordon in the ’90s,” Blaney said. “He was everywhere, and he was just, Jeff Gordon in the ’90s, right?

“It’s led him to where he is today and just notoriety. So that’s the goal. I think that’s what everyone wants to be.”

It’s been 23 years since Gordon, fresh off winning his fourth NASCAR Cup Series title, became the first and only NASCAR driver to host “Saturday Night Live.”

If there’s anyone who can (and should have hosted it at the end of 2023), it’s Blaney.

Gordon of the ’90s was an incredible anomaly.

Was he talented? Yes.

Did he have Hollywood looks? After 1993, you betcha.

Did he have a personality that could work on SNL?

Uh …

In 2024, Blaney has all the ingredients to be a superstar.

But he can’t get there alone.

This is Daniel McFadin’s 11th season covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his fourth year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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WD

Part of the problem with Nascar Marketing is there are no full time sponsorship for fans to relate a paint (wrap)scheme to along with competition for the entertainment dollars The Netflix show was the first attempt at marketing in yrs

gbvette62

That was my first thought I had when reading the article. Gordon had DuPont promoting him, Earnhardt Sr had GM Goodwrech, Jr had Budweiser, Petty had STP, Waltrip was Tide, Bobby Allison had Coke and later Miller, while Texaco backed Davey and later Rusty. The closest we have today is probably Bowman with Ally, Gibbs with Monster Energy, and Larson with Hendrick Cars (but that’s not really the same is it?). It’s hard for a company to build any kind of ad program around a driver when they’re only sponsoring him for a race or two.

It’s interesting reading the author’s description of Blaney, because it’s nothing like I ever thought of him. Blaney must come across differently in a one on one with the media, then he does in most TV appearances. I could see Elliott, Chastain, Logano, Bell, and maybe even eventually Jones or Gibbs, but I never would have considered Blaney to be the face of NASCAR. I always thought of Blaney as a quite, nondescript, milquetoast sort of character? It’s no disrespect to Blaney, it’s just how I perceived him. I guess I was wrong?

wildcatsfan2016

Jeff Gordon was EVERYWHERE in the 90’s indeed. If you ever watched the show they did – Gordon vs Earnhardt where they talked about the rivalry between those two drivers who were the antithesis of one another, it was pretty amazing. The fact that Dale appealed to one group of fans and Gordon to another very different group sent the sport into warp drive. Whether that was NASCAR or Dale, it’s hard to say. Jr talked about how Jeff could go to NYC and appear for instance on GMA, Regis & Kelly (sometimes co-hosting) and of course the appearance on SNL and do it as a matter of course.

There has never been a rivalry that was quite like that. Partly because NASCAR became so dysfunctional and vacillated between either “play nice” or then go back to “have at it, boys”.

Then there was the Brian France era when it seemed like everything NASCAR did was designed to tick off the long time fans, plus the corporations as full time/long term sponsors also became a thing of the past. NASCAR was busy getting their cut of everything, including at times taking direct sponsorship rather than having it go to race teams. I always thought that was stupid on their part and I think the result has borne that opinion out. NASCAR, IMO, has never fully recovered from the bad decisions BZF made.

Kathleen ann Kulesza

Nascar needs to promote all of it’s drivers not just Ryan Blaney. Wheel of Fortune did a week of shows featuring WWE wrestlers and their fans. Nascar could do something like this and give away tickets to the Daytona 500. The last driver I saw in an ad was Kyle Busch for Morgan and Morgan.

Mike

The problem with blaney is he doesn’t drive a chevrolet for rick hendrick, and since im a ford and penske fan im glad he doesn’t. Look at Chase Elliott, the media is all about him in every race and he hasnt one a race over a year. The way nascar promotes him, you would think he is the best thing since sliced bread. Lol

Bill B

Geez. You don’t think the fact that his father won most popular drivers for like 20 years straight doesn’t have something to do with that?

Mike

True. Sorry about the double post my bad. Tried to delete it but cant.

Bill B

I figured that. No worries, I was just going with it and having some fun by responding with the same response.

Mike

The problem with blaney is he doesn’t drive a chevrolet for rick hemdrick. And being a ford and penske fan im happy he doesn’t. I mean look at chase Elliott the media is all about him in every race, and he hasnt won in over a year. Nascar thinks he is the best deal since sliced bread. Lol

Bill B

Geez. You don’t think the fact that his father won most popular drivers for like 20 years straight doesn’t have something to do with that?

Bill B

To compare Blaney to Gordon is ridiculous. Gordon had a 42 wins and 3 championships in his first six full-time seasons. Blaney has 10 wins and 1 championship in his first nine full-time seasons. The point being, Gordon pissed off the fans of every other driver because he was monopolizing the series and taking wins and championships away from the established drivers. And one of them was Earnhardt, who had a fan base second to none.

Blaney has not been anywhere near as dominating as Gordon. Fans of other drivers may not like him for whatever reason, but it’s not because he has dominated the series at the expense of their drivers. There is no driver with a fanbase like Earnhardt’s in this day and age either, therefore no rivalry.

More importantly with his success and the larger overall fanbase of NASCAR at the time, he was well known (as was Earnhardt and a few other drivers of the era) beyond the confines of NASCAR.

Actually, to be honest, comparing anything about NASCAR from that era to today’s NASCAR, is pointless.

Jeremy

Two commercial series from back in the day I really liked were;

1) The “prank” videos with Jeff Gordon (sponsored by Pepsi) where he dressed up and scared the pants off of an unassuming car salesman, and the follow up where he dressed up as a taxi driver and staged a police chase to get even with the dude that called him out on the first commercial.

2) When Toyota was first entering NA$CAR (in the truck series), I thought the commercial series they did with Darrell Waltrip responding to fan questions (crashing through their house and cutting donuts in their yards) was pretty good too.

You don’t get marketing departments making that kind of effort too often, even back then. But when get it right it can be awesome.

Not NA$CAR, but check out the old JC Penney “Dog House” commercial (there are two, part 1 and part 2) on YT for their jewelry dept. I send that one to my friends as a reminder every December!

Shayne

I’ll add this: When RJ Reynolds was the series sponsor, they brought their marketing folks to NASCAR. Winston knew how to market the sport, not NASCAR. The government forced RJ Reynolds out.

The self-appointed marketing genius, BZF probably fired any RJ Reynolds (some did go to work for NASCAR) that were there.

The rest is rather self-evident.

Big Tex

Another huge problem is that drivers are hurried through the minor-league system without establishing a fan base. When Rusty Wallace moved from ASA to Cup, he already had 1 million+ fans. Even Gordon had a solid fan base from Sprint Cars & Thursday Thunder – he was doing $500K in merch by 1990. So these new guys are good, but they don’t have time to bring a fan base.

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