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Study: Carl Edwards may be only NASCAR driver to attract new, marginal and former fans to sport

May 2, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT

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Carl Edwards, NASCAR driver … NASCAR savior?

According to a story in BusinessWeek.com, a recent study by analyst Andrew Maness, who runs the Racingnomics.com web site, suggests that Edwards is the only driver in the Sprint Cup Series who may be able to increase TV ratings by attracting new fans and former fans, as well as make today’s marginal fans more actively involved as regular race viewers.

The study made it clear that:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has been voted Most Popular Driver by fans the last 10 years, won’t do it.

Nor will six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson.

And not four-time champ Jeff Gordon, three-time champ Tony Stewart … or even Danica Patrick.

Here’s how Maness did his study, according to BusinessWeek.com.

Maness tracked a series of performance variables across all the top active drivers going back to 1995. After accounting for other factors that might influence television ratings (a race’s start time, TV competition on race day), he correlated the success of individual drivers to audience size to determine which drivers have had an impact on bringing in the marginal fans. One driver clearly emerges from the data: Carl Edwards.

Edwards is the only driver in the study who improved audience size in a significant manner. His week-to-week success increases television ratings by 3.6 percent. No other driver’s success carries a positive relationship across all five models (measuring different components around winning races, leading many laps, overall points standings, etc.). … Edwards is the only driver with a statistical confidence interval above zero.”

Translated, Edwards is the only driver in the study that moved the needle – known as “success impacts ratings positively.”

Drivers whose “success has negligible impact on TV ratings” include Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer.

According to the study, there are only two drivers whose “success negatively impacts ratings,” Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who had the worst showing of all drivers in the study.

Interestingly, Danica Patrick is not in the study.

Maness cited Edwards’ popularity, particularly his crossover appeal. Not only does he do well in TV commercials in NASCAR races, those same commercials also receive positive feedback from viewers when they’re played during other sporting event telecasts such as the NFL.

Plus, his trademark back-flip after winning a race strikes a positive chord in NASCAR fans, even if they aren’t Edwards fans. Also, Edwards’ Midwest roots (he’s from Columbia, Mo.), are in his favor, the study said.

“He brings a sensibility about NASCAR that’s a lot less Ricky Bobby (the main character in the NASCAR spoof, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and a lot more universal, charming, and polished,” the study said.

And NASCAR’s three strongest seasons in terms of positive ratings movement – 2005, 2008 and 2011 – are also the same years Edwards enjoyed his best seasons, including just barely losing the championship to Stewart by a tiebreaker in 2011.

To quote once again from the study:

Edwards is now in a contract year. He’ll be a free agent when the season is over and will have the option to go to any team he chooses. NASCAR should want him to get into the fastest car possible. … All else being equal, the numbers suggest Edwards is the single most important driver in keeping NASCAR’s ratings afloat.”

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  1. manik56 - May 2, 2014 at 7:12 PM

    Is a significant poor showing from Hamlin success? That sentence needs to be reworked.

  2. rdc4206 - May 5, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    He is also the only Ford driver to be competitive as of late!! He carries the hopes of all the Ford fans and that is a very large segment of NASCAR viewership!

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