Steve Phelps

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NASCAR executive says it promotes drivers in ‘balanced way’

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — NASCAR’s “wake-up call” about marketing its drivers didn’t come from Kyle Busch on Tuesday.

It came on Feb. 20, 2011 via Trevor Bayne.

That was the day Bayne, a relatively unknown 20-year-old driver from Knoxville,Tennessee, won the Daytona 500 in his second Cup start.

NASCAR was not prepared.

According to Steve Phelps, the sanctioning body’s chief global sales and marketing officer, NASCAR’s marketing at the time was focused on “racing itself and pretty pictures around the racing.” Not the stars.

“With the media’s help frankly, that week leading up to (Bayne’s win), and Jeff Gordon (who pushed Bayne into position to win) and the fact that they were a good tandem, that helped us, but we never wanted to put ourselves in that position again,” Phelps said in a teleconference Wednesday to address the issue of marketing drivers triggered by Busch’s comments this week.

MORE: Darrell Wallace Jr. calls Kyle Busch’s comments “dumb” and “stupid”

Seven years later, NASCAR has multiple programs in place to promote its young drivers. From Drive 4 Diversity and NASCAR Next to coverage of their accomplishments in the K&N Pro, Truck and Xfinity Series.

“When they finally get up to the Monster Energy Series, they are known quantities,” Phelps said. “They’re winners.”

According to Busch, the marketing strategy doesn’t benefit him and fellow veterans.

“It is bothersome,” Busch said during the NASCAR Media Tour. “We’ve paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you’re doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver. I think it’s stupid. But I don’t know, I’m not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is.

“I guess one thing that can be said is probably the younger guys are bullied into doing more things than the older guys are because we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that and have families, things like that, and want to spend as much time as we can at home. You know, maybe that’s some of it. … Some of these marketing campaigns and things like that, pushing these younger drivers, is I wouldn’t say all that fair.”

Phelps said the comments by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could be applied to how Busch was lightly promoted during his early years in Cup in the mid-2000s, but they’re not reflective of how NASCAR markets its talent in 2018.

“Do I think that’s fair that when he came into the sport and started winning right off the bat?” Phelps said.  “Yeah, I think it’s a fair statement that we did not give that kind of support.”

Phelps said he had a conversation with Busch about marketing late last year.

“We know what we’re trying to do from a marketing perspective, and we believe that we are promoting those drivers in a balanced way, and there are things that some veteran drivers are not interested in doing, and we understand that,” Phelps said.

He was referring to comments made by Ryan Blaney on Wednesday in response to Busch. The Team Penske driver was critical of Busch’s willingness to do some marketing projects.

“We’ve got these fantastic drivers in all these national series who have the opportunity to connect with a fan, and that’s what we want them to do,” Phelps said. “Kyle does a lot for our sport. I think we expose Kyle in a good, meaningful way … Toyota does, as well, M&M’s does, working with the Gibbs guys, and that’s important for us.

“So it’s not about veterans complaining about they’re not getting their fair share … it’s an education process and collaborating together, and Kyle is on the driver council, and if this is a topic that they’re interested in bringing up there or just in person, we’re happy to listen to what he has to say.”

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Martin Truex Jr., Sherry Pollex win prestigious Myers Brothers Award

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Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and girlfriend Sherry Pollex were selected as the recipient of the Myers Brothers Award Wednesday in Las Vegas.

The Myers Brothers Award, named for Billy and Bob Myers, honors those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport. The award, presented annually since 1958, is voted on by members of the National Motorsports Press Association.

WATCH: NBCSN to air special NASCAR America at 7 p.m. ET Thursday, followed by Cup Series Awards Show at 9 p.m. ET.

Truex and Pollex were honored for their charitable work around childhood and ovarian cancer that includes the Catwalk for a Cause, which was held an eight consecutive year and raised more than $550,000 this year, and their second annual “Drive for Teal & Gold.”

“I didn’t see that coming,” Truex said to Pollex on stage after accepting the award.

“I didn’t either,” Pollex said. “I’m going to try really hard not to cry. It’s been a crazy, crazy year for both of us. Personally and professionally with my cancer and …” she could not continue.

Truex then added: “This is definitely an unbelievable honor to receive this award. We definitely didn’t see it coming. Did not expect it. I think Sherry and I have been very fortunate in our lives to have all the things we needed, great families, great parents that raised us right and taught us right from wrong. I think they probably deserve a lot of the credit for us being who we are and being able to give back and help people. Being a part of this sport, it’s who we are.

“We are so proud of everybody. We’ve learned so much from past champions. Just everybody in this sport is willing to give back and willing to give their time to great causes. We don’t deserve all the credit for this. I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons from a lot of people in this room and a lot of people in this sport in general. We’re very fortunate and definitely lucky to be able to give our time to great causes, and I’m so proud of (Pollex) for her fight and her battle and what she’s been able to pull through and get through, and at the same time willing to help others to give her time. Just really, really proud of this. Thank you all very, very much.

“We’re humbled. We’re very lucky to be here, and we’re very proud of this.”

They both then said: “Thank you.”

Previous winners of the award include Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, the Wood Brothers, Junie Donlavey, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Mike Helton, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Benny Parsons, Barney Hall, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Truex was named on 82 percent of the ballots cast for this year’s award. Others receiving votes were NASCAR team owner Jack Roush and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Other awards presented Wednesday at the Myers Brothers Awards included:

SMI Chairman Bruton Smith won the Buddy Shuman Award for contributions to the sport.

Chevrolet honored Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the Chevrolet Lifetime Achievement Award and donated a car for his foundation to auction.

NBC Sports and Fox Sports were jointly honored with the 2017 NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award.

“We are fortunate to have two world-class television partners dedicated to presenting our sport in new and innovative ways each weekend,” said Steve Phelps, EVP, Chief Global Sales and Marketing Officer. “Both FOX Sports and NBC Sports are deserving honorees, each delivering dynamic marketing campaigns that introduced our sport to new audiences and brought fans closer to our athletes than ever before.”

“NBC Sports is incredibly proud of our long-standing partnership with NASCAR, and we are thrilled to accept this award,” said Jenny Storms, Chief Marketing Officer, NBC Sports Group. “This prestigious honor is the direct result of an insights led strategy, combined with the passion and creativity of our team, to continue to connect and engage with fans in new and exciting ways.”

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Steve Phelps: Monster brings fun, engaging lifestyle to NASCAR (video)

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After Monster Energy was announced as the entitlement sponsor for NASCAR’s premier series, NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps discusses what Monster can bring to the sport to help the brand grow.

NASCAR fan truckers’ voices heard in Mack deal

Mack Trucks
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If you’ve spent more than a few minutes listening to SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel, it becomes abundantly obvious that many of the station’s callers are multitasking.

Many of them listen for hours on end and patiently wait on hold while a deftly piloting a 25-ton load down a crowded interstate somewhere in North America.

This hasn’t been lost on the latest company to partner with NASCAR in an official sponsorship.

In the deal that made Mack Trucks the new “Official Hauler of NASCAR,” John Walsh, the company’s vice president of marketing, said the ubiquitous (and frequently passionate) voices of truck drivers on SiriusXM NASCAR emerged as a factor in the discussions.

“They are the unsung heroes of the economy who are keeping America moving,” Walsh told NBC Sports. “Our industry is facing a very significant driver shortage. As a result, the opinions of drivers and which trucks they prefer has become a key purchase criteria for our customers. Partnering with NASCAR gives us a powerful means to further illustrate to key audiences that Mack is the best choice.”

In a multiyear agreement announced Tuesday morning, Mack will replace Freightliner as the sport’s official big rig. The Greensboro, North Carolina-based company will supply NASCAR with 11 Pinnacle high-rise sleeper models that are customized to help bring the sanctioning body’s mobile offices to tracks at 36 races around the country.

NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps said the sponsorship makes sense given NASCAR’s reputation as a traveling circus of professional sports.

“There are certain categories that lend themselves that are endemic to the sport,” he said. “Trucks certainly are one of them. The big rigs are in a sweet spot. You look at the number of truck drivers on the road who are NASCAR fans calling into SiriusXM, and it’s a very good marriage between both a brand standpoint and category standpoint with NASCAR.”

Walsh said Mack delivered 27,000 trucks globally last year (roughly 90% sold in North America) and had a market share of 8.1 percent. The company, which is known for its success in construction as a vocational truckmaker famous for large construction projects such as the Hoover Dam and Lincoln Tunnel, is trying to grow its long-haul business, particularly in Class A trucks.

Mack is hoping to use its NASCAR sponsorship to hook both drivers and decision-makers in small to midsize fleets that comprise much of its business. The company focuses heavily on driver comfort and specialization. For trucking companies struggling to attract drivers, being an attractive and popular brand can help with recruitment.

“We want to make sure the drivers understand the value we bring,” he said. “That becomes a key driver for the folks they work for in purchasing decisions. Attracting and retaining drivers is a very significant concern for our customers today.”

Walsh said trackside hospitality is being planned for every Sprint Cup race and expects to entertain a group of about two dozen at the Daytona 500. Mack likes that size because it is “a brand predicated on personal relationships.

“We’re working through the engagement plan; it varies by track,” Walsh said. “We get the opportunity to engage a significant number of customers with pace car rides, a driver meeting, pit areas and hospitality. Package that together, and it’s an exceptional and unforgettable experience. Our dealers are very excited about this.”

Mack already was involved in NASCAR through doing business with teams, which also frequently use Freightliner and Featherlite rigs and trailers.

Though there has been controversy in the past about NASCAR’s official sponsorships siphoning off potential funding for its teams, Walsh said Mack hadn’t been considering any team deals. NASCAR approached Mack several months ago about replacing Freightliner (whom Phelps said left because of “changing business needs”).

“We’re open to relationships with teams,” Walsh said. “One of the things attractive about this is it gives us access to teams for those discussions. But at a higher level, to be involved with the sport this way is in line with our business objectives.”

Mack Trucks

Phelps said much of the rancor from teams about official sponsorships had abated, and NASCAR “doesn’t hear that we’re competitive in the marketplace with them.

“When I came into this sport about 10 years ago, the first thing I heard from team personnel was, ‘Hey, I don’t feel this way, but I know other teams feel NASCAR is trying to steal our sponsors,” Phelps said. “I think that’s really because of the dialogue that has opened up that we rarely hear that anymore.”

Phelps said a new industry services department headed by senior vice president of marketing Jill Gregory has helped breed a better environment in which teams are benefiting from cooperating with NASCAR on landing sponsors.

“That whole group’s entire being is there to help teams with sales and marketing and bring in new sponsorship,” Phelps said. “It’s not done for official sponsorships. It’s done entirely for teams. You look at the research provided by our group for the teams and tracks as well. It’s more of an open book and transparent about what we’re trying to achieve.”