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The NASCAR industry introduced major enhancements for its race format and points structure Monday, setting in motion a wave of new looks and incentives for 2017. But the collaboration also provided the opportunity for incentives for tuned-in fans -- more logical breaks for commercials during race telecasts.
Monday's announcement made strides toward achieving that, launching the product of months of cooperation among drivers, tracks, the sanctioning body and TV broadcast partners. Based on the spirit of conversation from the group assembled on stage at the Charlotte Convention Center, the contingents from FOX and NBC Sports had much more than a nominal seat at the table.
"Well, you can never guarantee anything, but I can say that sitting in the room all along the way with us were our two TV partners, and that was one of the core things we looked at," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. "We listened to the fans and we see the fans, as well, that we don't like breaking away from live action. Can we eliminate that totally? Probably not. But this format allowed us to do that. That's why we put in two breaks."
The new race format, which involves splitting races into three segments, now provides a natural interlude in the action after each of the opening two stages. Both Jeff Burton (NBC Sports) and Jeff Gordon (FOX Sports) -- two racers-turned-analysts -- said that broadcasters intend to use these intermissions to potentially interview stage winners and to take commercial breaks with minimal interruptions of pit stops or other crucial moments.
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The details of the unveiling didn't come with an ironclad guarantee for a 100-percent smooth transition from both the TV booth and the studio, but Burton said he expected the opportunities to evolve as the enhancements take hold.
"I can promise you, I'm in my second year of doing this, there's a tremendous amount of effort by the networks to bring as much racing as possible to the fans," Burton said. "The fans tune in to watch the races, and finding a way to do that is difficult sometimes. This eases that a little bit. This gives a chance for us to go to a break at the right time so the fans miss as little green-flag racing as possible. There's a tremendous amount of effort put into that."
Said Gordon: "Even if it's pit stops, those are important. People want to see that. They don't want it to happen while you're gone on a break. I think while some of that may still happen because there's still going to be cautions throughout the race that aren't part of the stage ending, I think this assures that just like the teams need to have sponsors to operate, so do the TV networks, and I think as this evolves, I think the fans are really going to see an experience that they're going to … that's going to please them and say, 'Oh, wow, that's awesome, I didn't miss that.'
"You know, it's going to take some coordinating. It's not going to go flawless at times, but I think that it has the potential, and I think it will be really good as we get more and more experience at that."