Steve O’Donnell says NASCAR should get an ‘A’ for 2017. Here’s why

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Steve O'Donnell sits down with Adam Alexander to talk about the future of NASCAR after it's loss of major superstars, the addition of stage racing, and the growing list of young drivers.

- Under the checkered flag, George Jr. is a champion. [CHEERS]

- Steve, before we look ahead, let's look back. How would you grade 2017?

- Well it's tough to grade ourselves, but you look at, for us, probably the industry and the drivers, team sponsors. And everyone really felt like it was an A overall, candidly. When you look at different winners, different organizations winning, the new stages. All that really came together probably the best we could have thought when we're thinking about it in the off season. So a really good season for us in 2017.

- The last few years in the sport had been interesting because we have said goodbye to some really good drivers. When you see folks like that walking away, calling it quits, what is your reaction on the NASCAR side?

- Well the first point, what I'm really proud of our drivers about is, I wouldn't say calling it quits. I talked to Dale Jr. yesterday. I talked to Jeff Gordon two days ago. And they are all in on the sport. How can we make it better? When you look at the veterans that we have right now-- you know, Jimmy, Kevin, Kyle, championship drivers who have gone out there and proven themselves. We talk a lot about these young upcoming drivers. They've got some established veterans with pretty good careers that they're going to have to knock off to really make a name for themselves as well. So it's an exciting time for us.

What's interesting about these young drivers is the different corners from which they come from, and two in particular, Daniel Suarez and Darrel Wallace Jr. What opportunities for growth do we have with young drivers like that that are coming from places we haven't seen maybe ever or maybe in such a long time?

- Think about this [INAUDIBLE], for the 2018 Daytona 500, you have a female race car driver, African-American, and with Kyle, Asian-American. I don't know of any other sport that can say they've got that going into their biggest event of the year. But that, to us is just the beginning. It's showing people opportunities and teaching people about the sport so they can get hands on experience and also follow some of the drivers that they may relate to. And that's big for us.

- I follow a lot of sports I've never seen a commissioner or president of any league that is as involved in social media as both you and Brent Dewar. You guys are right out there with the fans. Where does that come from and why do you feel the need to be so involved with the fans in the sport the way you are?

- It's a great question. And I think it started with what is Twitter? And I knew that I'm getting older, I better learn what this is and experimented with it a little bit and learned that it was really a way for us to interact directly with the fans. One of the things I always talk about is you're in race control. And it used to be, well, was that a good race? Did we make any bad calls?

You'll know pretty quickly on Twitter when you're headed in the media center that, yeah you better be prepared. Here's what's coming. But to me, it's been more of a social outreach to really interact with the people who make a huge effort to go to races and watch races on TV. And they're what allows me to do what I love. So I want to pay that back as much as I can.

- You've been with NASCAR now almost 25 years. But as a guy that spent so much time in Daytona Beach, Florida, What is the morning of the Daytona 500 like for you? What emotions does it bring?

- To me, it's still the best day of the year. I love watching the sun come up at Daytona. You go in the garage, and it's quiet. Just for a moment, no one's in there. When the teams slowly come in, the anticipation that morning, right, that anybody could win. Everybody feels like they've got that chance. And there's only one winner. It's a celebration all day long. To me, it's the ultimate day in motor sports.