Bumpy ride for NASCAR

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

As expected, NASCAR's Daytona 500 took a huge hit in television ratings for Sunday's six-hours-and-15-minutes marathon.

Nielsen numbers reported by FOX-Sports showed a U.S. national rating of 7.7, or 13.3 million viewers, a drop of 16% from 2009 figures, making it the lowest rated Daytona 500 since 1991 when CBS recorded a 7.6 rating for the show.

On the positive side -- if there is one here -- Nielsen reported that there was an increase of viewers to at least watch parts of the race. The ratings show that 29.8 million people watched at least some of this year's Daytona 500 which is a 14% increase over the 26.2 million who tuned in last season.

It was NASCAR's inability to hold on to those 29.8 million that caused the big dip in ratings.

Nielsen said that the two delays in the race to fix the pothole between Turns 1 and 2 dropped viewership from its 7.7 average to 6.5, accounting for just about all of the 16% year-to-year loss.

Gordon leaves IMG

Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is leaving sports management giant IMG to sign with Just Marketing International, an upstart agency that is based in Indianapolis and has not been in the driver representation business before.

The Sporting News reported Tuesday that Gordon wants to expand his racing-related portfolio with an eye on his future as his NASCAR career winds down.

Gordon was the first NASCAR star to sign with IMG 10 years ago.

"I think Jeff is past the point of looking for the traditional deal that gets you a patch on his sleeve," John Bickford, Gordon's stepfather, chief business adviser and general manager of Jeff Gordon Inc., told the publication. "What we're looking for is more integrated business opportunities that will position Jeff post racing."

The decision to quit IMG was not acrimonious Bickford said. In fact, it was Gordon who recommended rising star Danica Patrick sign with the Cleveland-based group.

"Not at all," Bickford said. "In fact, Danica called me, and I recommended IMG to her. It's an agency that does a lot of things very well. We just felt, given where Jeff is in his career, that he needed to be with an agency that does one thing well and that's motorsports."

Gordon, 38, is involved in the designing of a proposed NASCAR-ready race track near Fort Erie, Ont.

Schumacher confident

One thing that seven-time world champion driver Michael Schumacher hasn't lost in the three seasons of his self-imposed retirement is his confidence.

It a statement to Formula One's official website this week Schumacher predicted he and his new Mercedes team will contend for the title this season.

"I am fully convinced that we have a car that is able to fight for the championship," Schumacher said. "Where we are exactly is hard to say. This is especially true for me as I don't have the data from last year's car."

The 41-year-old German said that he is in great shape and is mentally prepared for the vigorous regimen of an F-1 season even after more than three years on the sidelines.

"To drive a car like this again, it was just that great old feeling I know so well," he said. "Nothing comes close. I love that sensation, I always did. It was just that my batteries were empty at the end of 2006 so I retired.

"Now my batteries are fully loaded again."

Lola logs in

Legendary Lola, the European car-maker that once ruled open-wheel racing in North America has launched its bid to design and build a new chassis for the IndyCar series.

Lola joins Dallara, Swift and DeltaWing, in a bid to replace the ageing Dallara-Honda spec package after next season.

According to Lola, its concept is less radical than the three rival contenders, but the company still is confident that its car can provide extremely close racing without the type of dramatic change in appearance seen on the DeltaWing design in particular.

"Focusing on the rear under-body of the Lola Indycar, designers have found a cost effective and simple breakthrough to ensure that there is a minimum wake for following car," said a Lola statement.

"This means that drafting and slipstreaming will be in the drivers' own hands rather than that of the aerodynamics itself."

The design features two options for body style to create variety in the field, but the packages will be performance matched to prevent either having a speed advantage.

Finish lines

Elliott Sadler announced via his Twitter account that his wife gave birth to a son on Monday. His name is Wyatt. ... Carl Edwards' wife is due to give birth to their first child sometime this week.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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