News And Views

Trying to assimilate all the news that’s rumbling in the racing industry the last couple of days. Let me see if I can add some perspective to a couple of developments since last weekend’s checkered flags fell.

First, as our leader Pete Pistone outlines elsewhere, NASCAR’s next TV deal could well have a much different look after the 2006 season. It’s no secret that NBC has lost significant money on the package, despite strong and growing ratings. NBC, of all the broadcast networks, has had an aversion to losing money on broadcast sports, choosing to focus instead on the Olympics and various time-buy and partnership deals. While agreeing to spend $600 million a year to get the NFL back might seem counter to that philosophy, it’s a move that is hard to argue with given the NFL’s status. One suspects NBC’s very capable sports management has already created a business plan for the NFL that gives them at least a break-even forecast during the new NFL contract.

I agree with Pete’s assessment that bringing back the NFL makes it unlikely that NBC will remain a player in NASCAR television. For months many in the industry have whispered that ABC and ESPN would be back in the picture, maybe as early as next season by buying out NBC’s contract.

While NBC has done a first-rate job with our sport, many stakeholders greatly miss ESPN’s style and substance in showcasing NASCAR. All of this makes more change likely, in my view. What will happen to TNT’s share of the second-half TV package remains to be seen. Turner has a long history with NASCAR and it’s hard to imagine TNT or TBS won’t stay involved on some level. Perhaps the next NASCAR TV deal will be split into thirds….or perhaps TNT takes over the Busch Series, much as SPEED now is the sole TV outlet for the Craftsman Trucks. Brian France, George Pyne, and Paul Brooks are, I’m sure, looking long and hard at the various options and will no doubt move quickly to get new contracts in place.

Still waiting for the other shoe to drop regarding the penalties assessed James Finch’s Busch Series team for having an illegal carburetor on their Dodge last Saturday at Texas.
I attended a media luncheon Monday for another series, and the flap over the 1 team’s cheated-up carburetor was the major topic of discussion. Many who were at Texas said they’d never before seen NASCAR take such a tough stance against a team whose car had failed post-race inspection. It appears clear there are only a couple of explanations: either the car got through pre-race tech with a wrong carburetor, or someone got into the locked-down garage area before the race and swapped pieces on the race car. NASCAR has clearly been moving to plug the few tiny holes that might be left in its tech inspection and officiating procedures. Expect the toughest post-race penalties yet against the Finch team, soon. It’ll be most interesting to see if the penalties affect Finch’s #09 Nextel Cup team as well.

Finally, the rumblings from the open-wheel world. There’s word this week that again, some conversations have taken place between Champ Car and the IRL, apparently at the highest level. Many who don’t have a stake in this battle one way or the other can’t understand why the two sides haven’t long ago made peace. While it seems that that would be the wisest course, key leaders on both sides are convinced they are heading in the correct direction.

Mario Andretti is correct in saying 2007 could be the window of opportunity to bring things back together, given both series are planning new car and engine rules. Common tech rules would seem to be a wise thing. Whether that will happen is difficult to predict. Champ Car is making long-term plans in many areas; perhaps the best answer, as some are predicting, is for both sides to declare victory, lay down their weapons, and take things back to the situation that prevailed for many years, with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway overseeing the Indy 500, and Champ Car administering the rest of the season, creating an 18-race schedule that takes open-wheel racing into its best markets and offering fans the fastest, toughest competition anywhere, on street, road, and oval tracks. We shall see.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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