NASCAR’s 25 most influential

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NASCAR’s 25 most influential: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranks 6th

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/22/21/17/bhPQW.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    The NASCAR season got off to a rough start when its signature race, the Daytona 500, was delayed for six hours because of rain. On the bright side, its most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., took the checkered flag for his first victory since June 2012.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/22/21/17/Mlaht.Em.138.jpeg|225
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    How’s this for a star-studded lineup? Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas, left, gets to cheer for Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch each week.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/22/21/17/yEgiW.Em.138.jpeg|358
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. stops to sign autographs for fans following a practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/22/21/17/1jt9nP.Em.138.jpeg|219
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick ranks 15th on the Observer’s list but has few on-track accomplishments to go with her popularity.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/22/21/17/11fNwX.Em.138.jpeg|253
    Davie Hinshaw - dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
    Carl Edwards’ contract decision could have an immense impact on two organizations – one positive, one negative.

NASCAR has always been about control.

The individual contractor model used for drivers combined with a family-owned sport allows the sanctioning body the ability to affect nearly everything.

Nearly.

There are some things even NASCAR can’t control and some things that wield their own influence.

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

Many are new. Some have moved around. All are important.

The 2014 list (with last year’s rank):

1 . Weather (new)

One of the biggest influences on everything from attendance to TV ratings, and NASCAR has been reminded many times this season it can’t do anything about it. The season-opening Daytona 500 suffered through a six-hour rain delay, and it seems to have been all downhill from there.

2. Chase format (new)

The emphasis placed on winning races to make the Chase already has produced wild pit strategies, and the concept has been embraced by the sport’s drivers.

3. Fans (3)

Perhaps more than any other professional sport, they have a say in how the sport they love unfolds before their eyes.

4. Knockout qualifying (new)

The new format has made Fridays relevant again at the track.

5. Economy (2)

The days of single, high-dollar sponsors to cover teams is likely over, but companies still see value in the sport.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6)

He won the Daytona 500 and finally joined Twitter. Enough said.

7. Twitter/social media (4)

Please see No. 6.

8. Brian France (5)

He may not be as “hands on” as his father, but he is certainly willing to make bold decisions.

9. NBC Sports (new)

The newest player in the NASCAR TV world already has captured the attention of fans and its competitors.

10. Carl Edwards (new)

His contract decision could have an immense impact on two organizations – one positive, one negative.

11. Rick Hendrick (18)

In some way, in some fashion, Hendrick is connected to all but a few successful organizations in NASCAR’s top series.

12. Stewart-Haas Racing (new)

Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick. A formidable foursome on the track and off.

13. Sprint (10)

The Cup series sponsor has made several successful moves in recent seasons to increase its imprint on the sport.

14. Manufacturers (13)

They may not be “stock cars” on track, but they still have some value to the companies that make the production cars.

15. Danica Patrick (7)

Few on-track results to go with her popularity.

Best of the Rest

16. Mike Helton (8)

17. Jimmie Johnson (17)

18. Goodyear (21)

19. JR Motorsports (22)

20. Roger Penske (23)

21. Bruton Smith (12)

22. Steve O’Donnell (16)

23. Brad Keselowski (14)

24. Joe Gibbs Racing (15)

25. Camping World (new)

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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