Notebook: Xfinity to put new face on NASCAR coverage

By Dan Gelston, Associated Press

Philadelphia — High above the city in Philadelphia's tallest skyscraper, NASCAR's potential future zooms into focus on a 140-inch screen.

It's also just as clear on a mobile device.

There could be a channel dedicated to your favorite driver. Want the latest news on Jimmie Johnson? Maybe a replay of old interviews or his winning races? Or how about live scanner traffic between Johnson and his crew chief during a race?

It could all be just a push of a remote control button away.

"I'm going to be bold and say we're going to do all of that," said Matt Strauss, Comcast's senior vice president of video services.

Philadelphia-based Comcast has innovative plans to beef up how NASCAR fans follow the sport, from routine news stories flowing on a ticker during the week to expanded coverage from inside the pits on the weekends. Comcast Corp. signed a 10-year agreement to replace Nationwide Insurance as the title sponsor of NASCAR's second-tier racing series beginning next season.

The series will be known as the NASCAR Xfinity Series through 2024. The deal matches the longest single agreement around title sponsorship of any NASCAR national series in its history, and Sports Business Daily valued the package at worth close to $200 million. Xfinity is Comcast's residential cable and Internet provider.

Unlike most sponsorship branding that has no impact on the average fan, Comcast is trying to make its X1 platform as necessary for fans as four wheels on a stock car.

At Philadelphia's Comcast Center, Strauss showed on the big screen how the X1 service could work as a computer-on-TV. Search engines, apps, real-time scores, even the latest trends on Twitter can be customized to fit almost any driver or hot topic in NASCAR.

And X1 works on mobile devices.

Strauss said it would be possible to create on-demand content of drivers and races could be viewed live on the mobile app.

Xfinity becomes just the third title sponsor in series history. Anheuser-Busch spent 26 years as title sponsor and Nationwide has been sponsor the last 11 but is transitioning into team sponsorship next season.

"It's the importance that live sports brings to our business in general as the reason we're involved here," said Matt Lederer, Comcast senior director of sports brand marketing. "We're going to make a NASCAR experience unlike anything else. We're in a very strong position with our product right now, as strong as it's ever been. How we're going to market the series? We'll have to see what happens."

One speed bump: Xfinity does not carry Fox Sports 2 on its cable systems, which the company hoped to have straightened out in time for 2015.

Xfinity currently operates in 40 states, and provides cable and broadband services in several cities near NASCAR tracks. Should Comcast receive regulatory approval of a $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, Xfinity's reach would be expanded into far more NASCAR markets.

"It's not very hard to kind of think about what we could be doing at the track from a consumer engagement standpoint," Lederer said.

Denny delivers

The Deliverminator has shipped to Talladega. He hoped his final address was Victory Lane.

Denny Hamlin will adopt his "Deliverminator" persona from his FedEx TV ads for Sunday's race, from the paint scheme on the No. 11 to a firesuit straight out of Fonzie's closet.

In the ad, Hamlin wants to send photos with potential nicknames to his manager (via FedEx, naturally). His first choice, Denny "The Deliverminator" Hamlin. Hamlin ditched the firesuit for a black leather jacket and sunglasses.

The first 10,000 fans at the No. 11 car on Sunday will receive a pair of sunglasses, the paint scheme has a zipper graphic down the side to resemble the jacket and his firesuit also will be made up like a leather jacket.

Hamlin, seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings, won the May race at Talladega.

Drive for Diversity

The 11th Annual NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine featured 20 race car drivers from the United States, Canada and Latin America this year.

The combine was held this week at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, where the participants tried to earn a spot in the 2015 NASCAR D4D Class in partnership with Rev Racing.

The combine has been the proving ground for several current NASCAR national series drivers, including Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr. and NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series driver Daniel Suarez, who recently announced a full-year NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015.

The program is designed to identify and train young female and diverse drivers at the grass roots level who demonstrate necessary talent to climb the ranks within the racing industry. Wallace spent Tuesday at Langley speaking with the drivers and sharing his knowledge of the process.

"It seems like a great group of drivers. I'm glad I'm not part of the selection process," he said. "You get tense and things happen. You get sidetracked and not focused."

Gordon's Foundation

Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation planned to mark its 15th anniversary with expansion.

Gordon, a four-time NASCAR champion, wanted to increase staff and create a development team; expansion of the Board to include a Medical Advisory Board; and to establish the Foundation as a nationally recognized voice in the fight against childhood cancer.

"We can ensure investment in the most promising research and care programs," Gordon said. "And broadening our advocacy efforts will make a greater impact in the lives of children battling cancer."

The Foundation narrowed its mission to pediatric cancer research, treatment and patient support programming in 2010, and in 2011 JGCF extended its efforts globally to bring pediatric cancer care to Rwanda, Africa.