Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Long Time Coming

On the heels of Fox debuting a side-by-side commercial format at the end of Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover -- in which the commercials and the race were shown simultaneously via split-screen -- ESPN announced on Tuesday that it would debut a similar practice for this season's 10 Chase races.

"NASCAR NonStop," as ESPN called it, would be used in the second half of this season's 10 Chase races to be broadcast on both ESPN and ABC (the Saturday night race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, on Oct. 15, will be telecast on ABC). The split-screen commercial format is relatively new to NASCAR; before Sunday's experiment on Fox, the only NASCAR race to feature this was the July race at Daytona, in what TNT dubbed its "Wide Open Coverage."

This is great news; for years, NASCAR fans have clamored for this feature to make seemingly endless commercial breaks during races more bearable.

Commercial breaks under caution were never an issue -- taking a commercial break during a naturally-occurring lull in the action is a staple of sports broadcasting. But seemingly endless commercial breaks under green-flag racing irked fans, as did the networks' failure to consistently interrupt commercial breaks when something major happened.

How many times do we have lead changes during commercial breaks? How many times do we come back from commercial, only to see the caution flying for no obvious reason why? Split-screen commercials will fix such issues.

The IndyCar Series has used this format for years -- though to be honest, advertising rates for IndyCar telecasts pale in comparison to those for NASCAR races. Showing commercials in this format requires the cooperation of NASCAR, the networks and the advertisers -- and for years, advertisers balked at the idea.

But in light of Fox's experiment on Sunday, and ESPN's announcement on Tuesday, that tide might be changing. It wouldn't surprise me if, by the time the 2013 season rolls around, every Sprint Cup race features split-screen commercials. If I were being incredibly optimistic, I'd like to think all Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series races would be treated the same way.

By showing fans more of the race, while still "paying the bills," as they say, NASCAR, the networks and the advertisers can have the best of both worlds. How many people change the channel when a race goes to commercial break? I do; I check on the baseball game or see what football games are on.

If I can still see racing action during commercial breaks, I'm more likely to stick around to see the ads -- which might compel me to buy those products or take advantage of those services.

Ultimately, the sponsors' willingness to do this stems in the fans' response. Sprint, Pizza Hut and FedEx showed ads in Sunday's lone split-screen block of ads; to show our appreciation as NASCAR fans, we should do business with those companies and let them know via contact channels or social media that we like the move.

If we get enough of a groundswell of support, if advertisers see this can be a good thing for their companies, maybe we'll see more of it down the road. We've been clamoring for this for years; now, it's time for us to make good on that desire.

There's momentum for this; let's keep it going.

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