The Good The Bad And The Ugly Part 2

Sponsors- NASCAR signed a big deal earlier this year with Nextel to take over as the series sponsor in what has been the Winston Cup for all these many years. The news isn’t as good for team owners in the series. Several big name teams are still searching for sponsorship for 2004. Dale Earnhardt Inc. has announced they will cut the 1 team back to a partial schedule in 2004. Bill Elliott’s plan to run up to fifteen races next year hinges on finding a sponsor, and Elliott is more popular than cold beer on a hot Fourth Of July. Meanwhile teams on the fringes like the 49,4 and 74 continue their Quixotic quest for sponsorship. If Winston/Nextel Cup is so amazingly popular, why the sudden reluctance of corporate America to get a seat at the table? (Simple answer: It costs too dang much to sponsor a competitive team especially when a sponsor has to pay off the networks as well as the team owner to get thier rolling billboard on TV.) In the Busch and truck series the sponsorship situation has reached a critical stage, many competitive teams have been forced out of business, and the field fillers showing up to take their places are having a negative effect on the quality of racing.

Punks- Some of the new drivers who have tasted a little success have let that success go to their heads. Kurt Busch may be the most reviled driver in the series currently after his provocation of Jimmy Spencer at Michigan and his subsequent running to the cops after the incident like some sort of damn Yankee. (What’s that? Oh, yeah, right.) Despite having faced the almost unprecedented penalty of sitting out a Cup race in 2002, Kevin Harvick’s conduct during the entire second race weekend at Richmond was more appropriate to the WWE than NASCAR. Word is Harvick is scheduled for off season shoulder surgery to see if doctors can remove part of that chip he carries around. Being fined and placed on probation no longer means a thing. Drivers make enough money the fines are a joke, and if a driver misbehaves while on probation, NASCAR just extends the length of that probation.

TV Ratings- Ratings, especially towards the end of the season, began showing occasionally alarming drops. Some pundits will say that that’s because of a lopsided championship battle. My guess it has more to do with a string of decidedly substandard races during the summer during which it seemed every race was decided by fuel economy. Whatever the case NASCAR’s proposed radical points system change to create a ten race “playoff” system at the end of the year is a cure that’s worse than the disease.

Generation Last Starts Taking Their Bows- It’s going to be strange not to see Bill Elliott out there racing at Daytona this February. Bill has decided to cut back to a ten to fifteen race schedule for the next two to three years. Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte have both indicated while their retirements are not imminent, they are in the foreseeable future. A lot of people get annoyed when I bring it up, but races just aren’t as much fun without Dale Earnhardt out there on the track. These are the drivers who have drawn countless fans to the sport and as they retire some of their fans begin losing interest in the Brave New NASCAR. If NBC thinks it’s difficult to find a replacement for Friends on Thursday nights, wait until they try to replace Heroes on Sunday afternoon.

Fuel Mileage Races- Is there anything more boring than fuel mileage races? (Well, baseball, but besides that?) But more and more NASCAR races are decided when one driver manages to stretch a tank of gas long enough to complete a race with one less pit stop than his rivals. NASCAR needs to start tinkering with race distances to cut down on the possibility fuel economy will decide the outcome of the events.

Toyota- NASCAR seems quite pleased that Toyota will join the truck series ranks next season with an eye towards eventually competing in Winston Cup. But in every poll I’ve seen, fans have an overwhelmingly negative attitude towards the arrival of the Japanese automaker. It seems the Japanese have a strange sense of marketing programs. Why do they want to be in the truck series just so everyone treats them like the bad guy? The Toyota Tundra’s rollout was promoted in part by a co-starring role with California’s new Governor in T3. Maybe it was just me, but I left the theater with the notion if a Toyota Tundra can’t outrun a fire engine and a crane without a cyborg’s intervention I probably don’t want one. And apparently they don’t bolt the doors on those things too tight either. If a Japanese automaker starts enjoying success or heaven forbid dominates in any of NASCAR’s divisions my guess is that would drive fans away in droves.

Robert Yates Racing- The once mighty team fell on hard times this season with Dale Jarrett winding up 26th in the standings and Elliott Sadler finishing in 22nd. That’s despite having two big dollar, high profile sponsors signed on. Once again infighting amidst the teams (complicated by an unspeakable personal tragedy that befell then crew chief Shawn Parker) really seemed to derail things. Robert Yates even replaced himself as General Manager of the team tapping Eddie D’Hondt to try to sort out the mess. But the fact remains Jarrett begins 2004 with a fourth different crew chief at the helm in as many years. Good luck to Mike Ford.

Nextel Slow Out of the Box- First came the big announcement that Nextel would be replacing Winston as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top division, complete with a press conference in New York. In an unintended comedy of errors NASCAR and Nextel couldn’t even agree on the name of the new series with NASCAR’s press release calling it “the NASCAR Nextel Cup” and Nextel’s labeling it “Nextel Cup.” Then we heard that the familiar red and white Winston colors will be replaced with yellow and black when Nextel takes over. And since then there’s been damn little hard information. There is no Nextel Racing site. There’s no one in charge of answering media queries. Rumors continue to swirl that current scanners will become obsolete next season (Nextel says no, George Pyne of NASCAR says probably) but there’s no hard information for fans who might have put a Nextel cell phone on their Christmas list this year if that’s the case. The entire deal smacks of something that was thrown together so hastily Nextel is basically clueless as to what is going on and it appears NASCAR is running roughshod over them as Nextel tries to sort it all out. So, Mr. Nextel, if you’re reading this, the first race in 2004 is the Daytona 500 February 15th. It’s in Daytona, Florida. Email me if you need directions. No sense in trying to call me on a cell phone. Those things are so dang unreliable.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2003

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