Fire drama at Joe Gibbs Racing

Ten people were treated and released for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out inside the Joe Gibbs Racing complex in Huntersville, N.C., on Tuesday.

It's believed that a laser cutter caught fire in the machine shop, with observers saying that smoke poured from the complex until the emergency services were able to take care of it.

"The fire department was called and the fire was quickly contained and extinguished," the team said in a statement. "A few of our employees received treatment on site for issues related to smoke inhalation. All employees were able to return to work within the hour to continue preparations for the 2012 NASCAR season."

JGR spokesman Chris Helein added that "We're going through [the damage] now. I think it was isolated to that one piece of equipment."

The team had a similar emergency last year when a fire caused serious damage to the engine assembly area in February 2011, but without resulting in any injuries.

NASCAR focusses on online development

The sanctioning body of NASCAR is putting a renewed focus on digital and online activity as key to the series' future.

The organisers announced at the end of January that they had reached a deal with Turner Sports, who have run NASCAR's official website since 2001, to take back the online rights a year earlier than originally planned under existing contracts. That means that from the start of 2013, the series will take back control over online streaming of races, live statistics, archive information, video and photos.

"We will be taking a very, very active role, already are, and not just us but the rest of the industry," said NASCAR Chairman Brian France. He added that it was "very important for us to manage those rights carefully in the future. Obviously between digital and social media, it's the new medium to develop that deep relationship with our fans and communicate with them."

As part of the trade-off involved in the new arrangements, Turner Sports will continue oversee advertising and sponsorships across NASCAR's digital platforms through 2016.

NASCAR organisers are also highlighting social media activity as key to their strategy of tackling a downturn in audience figures for the sport and are already encouraging all drivers and teams to get active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"We are hiring someone new," said NASCAR's Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps. A big part of the job will be training an entire industry, from driver reps to driver teams to our own internal teams, on social."

No one is exempt, as veteran driver Mark Martin found out when his team boss Michael Waltrip presented him with a fait accompli in terms of a Twitter account.

"I don't know about this," was the 53-year-old driver's initial reaction, at first making it clear that he wasn't likely to tweet more than once a week. "I'm not what they call an early adapter to new technology."

A week on, and Martin was getting used to the idea. "I just like playing with it and talking to the fans," he ended up admitting after quickly amassing over 10,000 followers to his new Twitter account. "I'd have never done it on my own. I thought just kids did it, but I've got people all ages following me now.

"Never thought I'd get into it, but it's kind of neat," he said. "I guess they've hooked me."

Mayfield continues with appeal

Former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield was last week back in the US Court of Appeals as he continued his legal action against NASCAR over the suspension handed down to him after a failed drug test in 2009.

NASCAR say that the test proved positive for methamphetamines, but Mayfield's legal team is protesting the suspension and claim that NASCAR Chairman Brian France - who was also present in court - had a vendetta against the driver.

Mayfield's original case was dismissed after it was ruled that the driver had waived his right to sue the sanctioning body as part of terms and conditions of his original driver contract with the series.

In the latest appeal hearing, Mayfield's attorneys argued that NASCAR acted in a willful and malicious manner in making the drug test results public. They are also seeking to introduce evidence that France ordered Mayfield be parked during the 2006 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as evidence of a vendetta by the CEO toward Mayfield.

"It simply didn't happen," said the series' attorney David Boies. As for making the drug test results positive: "Where somebody consents to have results of tests made public, they can't complain that the results are made public."

NASCAR has countered Mayfield's accusations by claiming that the former driver is simply trying to extort a settlement from them in order to pay off his mounting debts.

"It's a very unfortunate situation where you have a driver that has tested positive for using methamphetamines, and everybody agrees [such] people shouldn't be driving in NASCAR races," Boies summarised after the hearing.

A decision on the appeal is likely by April. A successful appeal would send the case back to US District Court for further litigation.

Mayfield's recent arrest for alleged possession of 1.5 grams of methamphetamine discovered after a police raid on his home following a tip-off about stolen property was not raised in the hearing.

"We're working our way through all that," Mayfield is quoted as telling reporters. "That will all come out pretty soon. We're trying to get to the bottom of everything."