The Frontstretch: Is There Loyalty Left in NASCAR? by Amy Henderson -- Friday September 4, 2009

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Is There Loyalty Left in NASCAR?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday September 4, 2009


There is a trend I’ve noticed in racing lately, and I don’t like it. It seems like everywhere you turn, a team is firing a driver for nothing he caused, a fan is picking a new favorite when old number one isn’t winning so much, a sponsor is dropping a prospect for a big name or a veteran for the Next Big Thing. People, places, and things that have been a part of the sport for decades find themselves suddenly on the outside looking in. Everyone’s an opportunist, and everyone wants instant gratification.

There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no loyalty in NASCAR.

When Bobby Labonte was released from duty at Hall Of Fame Racing this week for the next seven races, it was a bleak illustration of what the sport has become. It wasn’t exactly Hall Of Fame Racing’s move; it was Yates Racing’s—they supply the cars to HOF and HOF passes over the sponsor dollars—when the sponsor they wanted on the car wanted rookie Erik Darnell behind the wheel. Darnell drives for Roush Fenway Racing’s development program-and Roush Fenway has a “partnership” with Yates Racing. (If by “partnership” you mean Yates signed on to be Roush Fenway’s pawn). -It’s been clear since the merger a couple of years ago that Roush was calling the shots, therefore it shouldn’t really be a surprise that their development driver is the one ousting Labonte. It just stinks. (And it’s not the first time. Travis Kvapil got the Yates ride over Kenny Wallace at Roush’s demand. Before someone changed their mind and Kvapil got dumped too.)

Bobby Labonte, who is being replaced by Erik Darnell for the next seven races behind the wheel of the No. 96 Hall Of Fame Racing Ford, is replacing David Gilliland in the No. 71 TRG Motorsports car during that same stretch leaving many to wonder if there is any loyalty left in NASCAR.

It used to be that a year’s contract was forged with nothing more than a handshake and a promise, and those agreements were usually upheld. Today, contracts are broken and ended prematurely all the time, seemingly with little regard for the other person who signed it. Sometimes it’s mutual, and sometimes it’s performance based—that’s understandable. Ditching a driver for another who is no better is just a rotten thing to do. Most fans are loyal to their drivers (more on that in a moment) and to their drivers’ sponsors, so it’s a rotten way to treat the fans, too. Whether the decision was up to the team owner or the sponsor, it’s no way to repay the loyalty of the driver OR his fans.

Even worse to a used-to-be Nationwide Series fan is the sponsors who have jumped ship on the actual Nationwide Series teams in order to put their name on a Cup driver. Note to those sponsors: I don’t use your products anymore. And I hope that fans don’t, because it makes it acceptable for sponsors to treat teams and drivers like the dirt on the bottom of their shoes. A few years back, AutoZone inked a deal with ppc Racing, but ditched them as soon as the quarter panels of Kevin Harvick’s car opened up—a move that drove several nails into ppc’s coffin. And ppc wasn’t exactly a small potatoes team—they were the last actual Nationwide Series team to win the championship, and they didn’t just win it, they destroyed the competition. But AutoZone’s leave-taking killed them just the same.

Most race fans are loyal to their drivers almost to a fault. Go to the track any given Sunday and you’ll see the ancient Bill Elliott and Alan Kulwicki t-shirts in the stands. You’ll see Dale Earnhardt coolers and Rusty Wallace beach blankets. Fans love their drivers no matter what.

Which makes it that much harder to understand the few who pick a new driver to cheer for when their old favorite hits a run of bad races or the twilight of his career. Adding a second driver, or one in another series is one thing, but to just drop one driver for another is a foreign concept to most fans, and I’ll admit I don’t understand it either. (But then again, I’ve been a Kenny Wallace fan for a dozen years and suffered through more heartache than many fans. And I will never change.) It just seems…cheap to me. If you liked a guy last year when he was winning, ditching him when times get tough is hardly being much of a fan.

Today’s NASCAR is a far cry from the days of the handshake and the promise. That’s progress. But the undercurrent of loyalty thrown under the bus in exchange for some kind of instant gratification is disturbing to me. The foundations the sport was built on are crumbling, and this particular pillar isn’t NASCAR’s fault. So much loyalty is gone from the sport-but perhaps it’s a microcosm of the world around us in general. There may be no crying in baseball, but there should be in NASCAR.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

09/04/2009 12:49 AM

The days of the handshake and promise ended with Brian France. When the person at the helm shows that it’s all about the money, and doesn’t care what the teams are doing to the sport and the fans, the results are predictable. Sounds like the way our banks operated except there won’t be any fans left to bail them out. Sometimes I think NA$CAR is just riding this bull till it bucks ‘em. They made theirs, screw everyone else. Unfortunately, BF won’t suffer the same outcome as Madoff.

Sharon J
09/04/2009 07:40 AM

I was a Steve Park fan and have never picked a favorite driver since his misfortune in Nascar. In fact, I no longer have the desire to watch Nascar that I one had.

09/04/2009 07:57 AM

So good, I AVOID shopping places that sponsor NA$CRAP as a whole, well, as best I can anyway, even if it becomes an unknown brand that ends up in either my closet, my pantry, my garage! Got to admit, hard to find some things you need, but it can be done!

Remember when TIDE dumped DW? I do, and there has never ever been another box of TIDE in my house!

Get the idea?

09/04/2009 09:23 AM

No. There is no loyalty when all that counts is the bottom line. They days of a driver staying with a team through thick and thin are over. It’s like a college ball coach. He wins championships, but the first year he has a losing season, he’s out. In NASCAR it’s all about money, age, good looks, and a generic accent.

09/04/2009 09:50 AM

I show the same loyalty to the sponsors as they do to their drivers.

P on U
09/04/2009 10:57 AM

Great article, and follow up comments! mkrcr – I couldn’t agree with you more!!! The ‘product’ is garbage and crap always rolls down hill. Stand-by as I am sure it will get much worse! Thanks again BF – Na$crap is now just a traveling circus. BOO HOO =(

09/04/2009 10:58 AM

Rather than just quit buying the product, just drop an e-mail to the product and tell them why you are not going to buy their product. You will get an answer; it may be a brushoff or maybe an answer that makes sense. If you get a brushoff, spend some time on line and find the e-mail address of the CEO and send that person a copy of your e-mail and the brushoff reply. I did that after I got a really rude brushoff and the CEO sent me an apology and said the person sending me the brushoff had been reprimanded. That person also sent me an apology. they also sent coupons for free products, but I was still p______ about and gave them to my daughter.

09/04/2009 12:42 PM

I don’t think I’ve heard of fans simply dropping a favorite driver when he starts running poorly… you’ll have to give us an example or something.

And a driver switching to another team or manufacturer is a perfectly good reason to stop pulling for that driver, depending on the circumstances.

09/04/2009 01:58 PM

How about nascar taking potential sponsors for themselves instead of it going to a team? When nascar does these kinds of deals it opens the doors for what is pointed out in the article.

An owner HAS to do what is needed to stay afloat.

The flip side is that the drivers HAVE to do what it takes to get noticed…and that’s drive their tail off for the win. Too many drivers still just “ride around”, which goes back to nascar and the points system.

Ultimately it’s up to nascar to handle things the way they see fit. But I won’t be betting any money for a sanctioning body that thinks putting the Auto Club Speedway in the chase is a good idea.

09/04/2009 04:03 PM

I am glad the wood brothers picked up David gilliland after TRG dropped him for bobby labonte. i am not a labonte hater but come on he isn’t exactly hot material. heck Davids time with Yates proved to be a better outcome bobby is 32 in points David was 27th. what really bothers me is that David was humiliated to be a start and park driver. but to be a team player he helped the team build sponsors and cash, now they have it and give away his seat. no respect in nascar garages any more

Kevin in SoCal
09/04/2009 10:58 PM

Come on Jim, what else were they going to do with ACS? You all moaned and complained about ACS having the Labor Day date, so at least now the race is back in the South East with a date swap with Atlanta. NASCAR wants races out West to attract new fans and stop over saturating the South East market, and they arent listening to the old school about which tracks deserve races.

paul sparks
09/05/2009 12:59 PM

Didn’t Tide stay with Hendrick instead of going with DW to his new team?
Nascar should leverage the official “item” with their teams. If you don’t have cars, there is no Nascar.
The biggest question is during the 80s and 1990s, a sponsor would get noticed and it was an affordable consumer product. I’m certain that there are products to be used, and places to shop (I’ve shopped at Target bc they support racing), but some of the sponsors just don’t make sense.

09/05/2009 07:41 PM

I never drop a driver as my favorite, I just add another one! Why do you have to choose only one? It’s like having more than one kid, you root for all of them and you’re happy when any one of them wins.
Biffle, Kyle Bush, Eric Darnell, or Brad K. and Vickers I like all of them.
Besides, if you root for more than one driver, you have fewer races to be disappointed with every weekend. Much more fun to watch!

09/07/2009 08:22 AM

Nascar should have been looking at what happened to CART and trying to avoid their mistakes, but it seems they have taken it won’t happen to us approach.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.