Monday, February 02, 2009


A lot has happened since Jimmie Johnson hoisted his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Many have opined that the sport is now at a crossroads. Economic hardship has hit many areas of our nation very hard, and there are a ton of companies who have stopped spending money in racing. Automakers are in trouble, and the funding NASCAR gets from said automakers has taken a hit.

While the Sprint Cup series has the look of being relatively healthy and able to get 43-car fields in all 36 events, questions still surround the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. In Nationwide, the problem of "start and park" teams reared its ugly head numerous times last season, as the back of their 43-car fields would be taken by teams intent on starting the race, running to the first caution, and parking for the day/night.

Debate the merits of such programs all you want, but it seemed to be the only way NASCAR could field a full 43 cars for Nationwide races.

In the Truck series, there were races that didn't even get a full field of 36 trucks. 11 of the first 21 events on the 25-race schedule fell short. As of this writing, the Truck Series team chart is a disaster. Full-time sponsorships are rare, and there is still a goodly number of drivers looking for rides.

It seems like a remote possibility that we'll have a full field of 43 cars/36 trucks for a high percentage of the races on NASCAR's secondary circuits.

That said, Ed Hinton of posted an article that did make me happy. Hinton is a racing veteran who knows a lot more about this than I do (if you don't follow along much, I'm only in my third full season as a serious follower of NASCAR). What he had to say really caught my eye.
Not enough people have been around long enough to remember this: The tougher times are, the better NASCAR gets.

Stock car racing was born of the Great Depression, and NASCAR was organized amid the economic downturns following World War II.

And always, the more unknowns, the more charged the atmosphere around the garages.

Without offseason testing, the suspense over who'll come out on top, when, for how long -- and who might suddenly fade -- will linger, maybe grow, well after the Daytona 500.

So the plot should thicken as the season progresses.

The test ban "could affect the latter part of the season even more than the early part," (Jeff) Burton says. "Right now you can kind of race on what you did at the end of last year. But if you're still racing in May on what you did the end of last year, you're in big trouble."
Works for me. I'm all for anything that heightens competition.

Because of the nature of NASCAR fans, who travel hundreds or maybe thousands of miles to spend a weekend at their favorite racetrack, the economy is going to continue to have an impact on the sport. Instead of leaving their fans worried about how the economy will affect their real lives, NASCAR would do well to give them as good a show as possible every weekend. After all, six hours without thinking about reality is better than you get most weeks these days.

It all starts again Saturday night at Daytona, with the annual Bud Shootout. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 starts Sunday afternoon, and continues next week with the Gatorade Duel at Daytona. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series run there next weekend, too.

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