Jimmie Johnson will be the toast of New York City this week as the Sprint Cup Series invades the Big Apple for its annual awards banquet. The sport will have its best foot forward in front of the glare of the TV cameras but it comes at a time when the sport may be facing some of its toughest times thanks to the economic struggles that our country is facing.
This sport might run on Sunoco on race days but it is the big-time sponsor dollars that enables the teams to show up each week and put on the kind of show that has us counting the days until the green flag waves at Daytona in February. Sadly, this year there might not be enough of those sponsor dollars to fuel the sport at the level we have grown to enjoy.
This unsettled state of the sport has raised more than a few questions that will have to be answered during this off season that for the first time will not have the usual amount of testing after NASCAR put a stop to all testing at its sanctioned tracks. Here are a few questions that will also give you something to think about as we try to make our way through what looks like is going to be a long quite off season.
• Will there be enough cars to fill a 43-car field? As of right now there are not enough fully sponsored teams to fill the top 35 in owner’s points. If the season started tomorrow, tracks would have to depend on part-time teams to fill the field, as it doesn’t look like there may be 43 full-time teams running the entire schedule.
• Will DEI’s merger with Ganassi improve both teams performance? Hard to see where the performance will pick up especially when you consider that both Ganassi and DEI struggled the entire season. The only bright spots of the new merger are Paul Menard who finished 15th and Juan Pablo Montoya who finished 25th in the final standings. Performance wasn’t the only area in which the two organizations slipped; both lost sponsors that forced huge layoffs in their shops. Besides looking for money to go racing, the newlyformed organization must also decide on which car to race. DEI raced Chevrolets last season while Ganassi raced Dodges.
• Will the no testing policy hurt competition? The Sprint Cup teams will be heading into their second season of using the COT which will allow them to fall back on the notes of this past season which should give them a baseline to start the season. Teams are lobbying NASCAR for more practice time when they arrive at the track next season which would help every team, but ultimately the better-funded teams will be the ones that arrive at the track with a better package to go racing.
• What does next season hold for Tony Stewart as an owner/ driver? Tony’s new Stewart-Haas two-car operation does have some roots as Haas has been racing for several years. The only problem is that it hasn’t been racing at the level that Stewart and his driver Ryan Newman have. One positive for the team is that it will be getting the bulk of its equipment from Hendrick Motorsports that should make it competitive from the start. The biggest question hanging over the head of Stewart is the shaky future of GM that was instrumental in him making the move to become an owner. Newman’s team still needs some sponsorship, so much of Tony’s success this season will be linked to the flow of sponsorship dollars that comes through the front door.
• Will the economic picture force NASCAR into franchising? All of the major professional sports with the exception of NASCAR operate under the franchise system. Teams in the major sports are still free to do business on their own but they know that they will share in the money the league gets from TV agreements. If NASCAR would sell teams a franchise in the sport, they would be guaranteed of starting each race and enjoy some of the TV money that the governing body receives each year. The balance of power would still be the same in the sport as the individual teams would still be free to sign sponsorships and owners would still be free to own up to four teams. Franchising wouldn’t level the playing field but it would make sure that there are more teams able to get on the playing field each year.