Elvis has left the building. The magic number for David Gilliland and the Number 38 DIGITAL TV TRANSITION Ford Fusion is 2009. The 2008 NASCAR season wrapped up on November 16 at the Ford 400 in Homestead, Florida, where the good news was that Gilliland finally managed to finish a race while sporting the bureaucratically text-heavy/graphics-free/black-and-white standards of its sponsor, the FCC.

As previously reported here, the Number 38 car failed to make it to the finish line in the first two of the three races it ran under FCC sponsorship, so the Homestead finish might have been cause for celebration at the Commission. But despite briefly cracking the top ten late in the race, Gilliland managed to slide back into the pack to end up in the 27 spot when the checkered flag came down. So they probably weren’t popping the Cristal on the Eighth Floor.

Chairman Martin, the main (and possibly sole) FCC cheerleader for the Number 38, was quoted after Gilliland’s impressive crash at Phoenix as saying that, “[e]xcept for the cars that win the races, the cars that are in wrecks get a lot of attention”. We understand this to be a variation on the old saw that any publicity is good publicity, in which event the Homestead race was probably a bust: During the four hours or so that the race was aired on ABC, the Number 38 DIGITAL TV TRANSITION Ford Fusion was mentioned maybe twice and appeared on-screen only for nanoseconds – and only when it serendipitously happened to be near a car the announcers were actually interested in.

As a practical matter, we doubt that the FCC’s sponsorship of the Number 38 (reportedly to the tune of some $350,000) has made any real difference relative to the upcoming DTV transition. The FCC-mandated PSA bombardment has already sensitized (or, possibly, de-sensitized) the viewing public to the fact of the February 17, 2009, transition date. (The fact that at least one brutally funny send-up of those PSA’s has already had more than 700,000 hits on YouTube — and enjoyed considerable email circulation beyond that — suggests more than a little audience burn-out on the whole PSA approach.)

But let’s not forget the issue of embedded advertising, which we raised last month when the NASCAR sponsorship was first announced. If and when the FCC moves forward with the embedded advertising inquiry/rulemaking it started last June, it will be interesting to see how the agency deals with broadcast coverage of NASCAR races.