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Put stock in NASCAR: Top 25 most influential

The Observer unveils its third list of the 25 most influential people, places and things in NASCAR.

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, May. 23, 2013

Influence.

Everyone in NASCAR wants it, from top executives to the drivers and crew chiefs and the fans. Not everyone has it, however.

The Observer unveils its third list of the 25 most influential people, places and things in NASCAR.

Some are new. Some have moved around. All are relevant.

The 2013 list (with last year’s rank):

1 Generation 6 Sprint Cup Series car/competition (10)

The new model cars have put some of the “stock” back in stock-car racing and provided a much-needed jolt to the competition.

2 Economy (4)

Sponsorship remains difficult to come by, especially long-term deals, and NASCAR teams must do more with less. The cost of participation isn’t getting cheaper.

3 Fans (1)

There is no professional sport where fans have as large an input in competition-related decisions as in NASCAR.

4 Twitter/Social media (2)

More and more social media is becoming the primary method drivers use to communicate with fans and how news is distributed and reported.

5 France family (3)

NASCAR chairman Brian France has taken the lead on several important issues of late, including the environment, the new model car and improved track drying equipment.

6 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6)

Earnhardt remains without question NASCAR’s most popular driver. He might not win as often, but he still moves the needle like no other.

7 Danica Patrick/

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (5)

The media’s fascination with Patrick combined with her romance with a fellow driver continues to dominate headlines.

8 Mike Helton (9)

When the president speaks, everybody in NASCAR listens.

9 TV networks (11)

Fox has extended its contract, but there remains uncertainty as to who some of the future NASCAR TV partners will be.

10 Sprint (25)

Within the past year, Sprint has taken over sponsorship of the season-opening non-points race (formerly Budweiser Shootout) and increased interactive opportunities for fans.

11 John Middlebrook (new)

The Chief Appellate Officer has reduced NASCAR penalties in five of the six appeals cases he has heard since being named to the position in 2010.

12 Bruton Smith/

Speedway Motorsports (7)

Smith’s tracks remain some of the most fan-friendly for NASCAR fans.

13 Manufacturers (8)

Dodge pulled out of NASCAR, but the other three manufacturers enjoy the reaction to the new model Cup cars, which feature much greater manufacturer identity.

14 Brad Keselowski (new)

The reigning Cup series champion has never been shy about sharing his opinion and with a title he has a much larger pulpit.

15 Joe Gibbs Racing (new)

The addition of Matt Kenseth added to an already-stout lineup of drivers who so far have dominated the season.

16 Steve O’Donnell (new)

The senior vice president of racing operations seems to be taking a much more public role for NASCAR over the past year.

17 Jimmie Johnson (12)

He remains the most consistently strong driver in NASCAR.

18 Rick Hendrick (13)

Nobody wins more often in NASCAR these days.

19 NASCAR Hall of Fame (17)

The Hall has been an impressive host to the sport’s history and legends.

20 Testing (new)

The good teams are getting even better with the relaxed testing rules.

21 Goodyear (23)

Making tires that are durable and fall off is providing big dividends in better racing.

22 JR Motorsports (new)

Earnhardt’s race team has become a legitimate title contender in the Nationwide Series.

23 Roger Penske (new)

The iconic car owner is the new face of Ford Racing in NASCAR.

24 Drug testing policy (new)

Once thought by some as unnecessary, it still catches violators.

25 Track repaves (18)

Changes in track surfaces have the biggest effect on the quality of racing.

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