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Fox to begin contract negotiations with NASCAR

- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - NASCAR's current television contract runs through 2014, but Fox Sports chairman David Hill said the network will begin its negotiations on an extension this season.

"You never stop negotiating," Hill told The Associated Press this week. "But, it will start to get hot in the next three or four months."

Fox shares the Sprint Cup Series schedule with TNT and ESPN. The network partnered with NASCAR in 2001 on a six-year deal, and extended once, by eight years, through 2014.

NASCAR chairman Brian France said last month the series is happy with its current television partners.

"My expectation is they want to renew their involvement with NASCAR, and my hope is at the right time we'll figure that out together," France said. "The sports landscape in general, as you know, has heated up quite a bit, so we will be in a good position at the right time. We're having conversations."

Fox broadcasts 13 points races on NASCAR's 36-race schedule.

Hill said he'll never publicly discuss negotiations but insisted his passion for NASCAR _ and auto racing in general _ has not waned and the sport is good product for the network. He also pointed to last year's improved ratings as proof Fox and NASCAR are a good fit.

"I think the whole season last year was a huge change in two things, and the most important was the young male demographic started to come back," Hill said. "I think last year was a hugely important year for all of NASCAR, because I think we finally got over the debacle of the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow. The Car of Tomorrow was probably one of the greatest marketing mishandlings since they brought out new Coke."

The 2011 NASCAR season on Fox averaged a three-year high of 8.6 million viewers, up 9 percent. It was the largest one-year audience increase in the 11-year history of NASCAR on Fox.

The male 18-to-34 demographic last year was up 20 percent over 2010, from 1.5 to 1.8 in the ratings.

Hill said it's because the focus has returned to the personalities and has shifted from the cars. NASCAR introduced its current car model in 2007, and its struggles dominated many storylines.

"This sport has been built by some of the biggest and boldest and bravest personalities in the history of sport," Hill said. "No one cares about the car. The car is second. It's the driver, and I think that last year marketed that, and that's why the young males came back."

He also said Tony Stewart ending Jimmie Johnson's five-year championship run helped spark interest.

"Last year was a huge break, and we're almost over the hump," Hill said. "May God bless Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus both, they are brilliant, but Tony Stewart has got the sniff of the apple. He's exciting. He's a bad boy, and there's nothing better than having a black hat who is winning."

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UPTON WATCH: Move over, Danica Patrick. There's a new woman turning heads in the NASCAR garage.

Supermodel Kate Upton was at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, serving as grand marshal for the Daytona 500 along with her "The Three Stooges" co-star Jane Lynch.

Upton grew up in nearby Melbourne riding horses but has come a long way since.

She landed the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue released earlier this month and has modeled for Guess, Dooney & Bourke and Victoria's Secret.

Not surprisingly, she was a big hit among drivers, crew members and race fans.

She really could have turned things up a notch had she decided to dance. Last year, a video of Upton dancing the "Dougie" at a Los Angeles Clippers game went viral and increased her popularity.

"I learned a new one, the `Cat Daddy,'" Upton told The Associated Press. "I can't wait to throw that one out. I did it the other day on a shoot in my cover bikini, so who knows."

Upton and Lynch took part in the 500 to help promote their upcoming movie. They play nuns in the movie, which is scheduled to be released April 13. Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos and Will Sasso star as the Stooges and were selected to drop the green flag.

"It will introduce the Stooges to a new generation," Lynch said. "It's very much like the series, except it's not shot in black and white. All the colors are muted. Even though it takes place today, it looks like it was shot back then."

Lynch also raved about Upton and offered a hint about what moviegoers can expect from Upton's role.

"She's very game," Lynch said. "There's a great shot when she comes out of swimming pool. She plays a nun, but she does emerge from a swimming pool in an interesting get-up."

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TOUGH TALK: UFC light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones, the honorary official for the Daytona 500, didn't hold back when asked about his upcoming fight against Rashad Evans.

When a reporter asked Jones about Evans' calling him fake in a recent interview, Jones lashed out at his former friend and now top rival.

"Yeah, he's been calling me that since the beginning of my career," Jones said. "He's the guy who's the fake really, you know. A lot of his actions really don't add up to the person that he portrays. It's interesting. It's pre-fight drama, and I plan on kicking his butt. That's my only option really."

Jones and Evans are scheduled to fight as the main event during UFC 145 on April 21 in Atlanta.

Jones toured Daytona International Speedway, said he loves cars and was planning to pull for former Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick. He added that NASCAR drivers and mixed martial arts fighters have a bond that stems from putting their bodies at risk every time they compete.

"What I think attracts NASCAR drivers to mixed martial arts is just it's as real as it gets," Jones said. "In the cage, it's not really a game, you know. If you mess up, you can get seriously injured. It's live speed, and it's extremely real. I think that's something maybe drivers relate to. When you're on the track, every movement counts, and a mess-up could be really dangerous."

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GIANT VISITORS: New York Giants defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were on hand for The Great American Race. The Super Bowl champions were introduced at the pre-race drivers' meeting, and the most significant part of their appearance was Tuck's left shoulder.

Tuck's arm was in a sling, evidence of his recent shoulder surgery.

Coach Tom Coughlin revealed the surgery Friday at the NFL Combine.

Tuck battled through a number of injuries during the regular season and missed four games. He was held out of a practice prior to New York's NFC wild-card round game against the Atlanta Falcons because of his ailing shoulder.

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WAKE-UP CALL: Lenny Kravitz wasn't quite ready for his midday concert.

Kravitz preformed the pre-race event and strolled into Daytona International Speedway wearing dark shades and moving somewhat slowly.

"Once I wake up, we should be OK," he said.

The seven-time Grammy Award winner eventually got things rolling and played some fan favorites in the rain, including "American Woman" and "Are You Gonna Go My Way."

He joked about how different his lifestyle is from the normal.

"It's oddball every night," he said. "Nothing normal about this life."

Much different from NASCAR?

"You guys go fast; we play loud," he said.

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