The Frontstretch: The Greed That Brought The Nationwide Series to Its Knees by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 17, 2011

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The Greed That Brought The Nationwide Series to Its Knees

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday March 17, 2011

 

It all comes down to money. Racing costs a lot of it. Teams need someone to spend it. And sponsors are the ones to do it-in return for TV time. It’s been that way in racing for years. In the beginning, teams raced with small, local sponsors, because the audience was decidedly…well, local. Races weren’t shown on TV except for the odd clip on Wide World of Sports, right between the bowling clip and some guy wiping out on skis. So local businesses advertised on racecars to draw the local audience to their doors. When the modern era brought more coverage, national sponsors became the norm. Racing got them something valuable: TV time. Overall, it came at a cheaper rate than actually buying commercial airtime, and the added bonus is that they got more time than the 30-second commercial slot.

The Nationwide (then Busch) Series was perfect for a variety of sponsors in those days. Smaller companies which perhaps couldn’t afford the more expensive Cup cars could easily cover a Busch team with cash left over. Even if the TV coverage wasn’t on a major network, they got a return on their investment. Everyone from Nestle (there is something funny about seeing a racecar adorned with the word Crunch, incidentally) to Slim Jims to the Vermont Teddy Bear Company could hawk their products on the side of a car and know the world was watching. Or at least enough people to make it worth it. The Cup teams cost a lot, the Busch teams cost a lot less, and those sponsors could still get a competitive car. At least that’s how it used to work.

Until the Cup teams got in on the act.

It started innocuously enough. Sort of, anyway; one of the cars was fluorescent green and orange and you could probably see it at midnight on a moonless night inside a cave, but it was kind of an anomaly at the time. It was the beginning of something different, though. It was the Roush Racing entry of Jeff Burton, sponsored by Gain detergent. Following on the heels of Roush’s Winn-Dixie-backed entry for Mark Martin, the entry wasn’t even full-time. But it was the start of a slippery slope. Fielded by one of the wealthiest owners in the game, the cars were fast, and the drivers at the top of their game. Sponsors were willing to pay a bit more to be on them, not only for the star power, but because this combination of elite equipment and elite driver were almost guaranteed to run up front, giving the sponsor a solid return for less cost than sponsoring their Cup cars. But the Busch Series teams still did okay in those days at the beginning of the millenium, their drivers won a good half of the races and always won the championship.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are the two previous Nationwide Series champions, and still dominate TV broadcasts today with sponsorship lineups at least in part poached from other Nationwide Series operations.

But as sponsors wised up to the fact that you could buy a winning car with a Cup star in it for (relatively) cheap in the Nationwide Series, everything changed. The Cup owners landed deals for their Busch teams that would have financed a small-time Cup team easily in those days, and in the process, so began the slow squeezing of the sponsors who were the mainstay of the series-the smaller companies who, remember, couldn’t afford a Cup car. Because now, the cost was that of a Cup car. So Nestle and Slim Jims and Vermont Teddy Bear all went away.

At the same time this change was happening, an influx of casual fans to the sport created the perfect storm that brought the series to its knees, finally driving away even title sponsor Anheuser-Busch, which was eventually replaced by a cut-rate deal with Nationwide. And those fans, by and large, weren’t interested in learning the names of two series worth of drivers. It was easier to follow their favorite in either series he ran. And the sponsors loved it. It was still cheaper than a Cup deal, and they could get the Cup guy for a lot of races, maybe even the whole year-maybe even win a championship. Boy would that be worth some airtime. But they paid more than the old series sponsors ever could. So they left, and teams left with them, even championship stables crumbling in ruin in the wake of the lazy and uninformed.

Fast forward to 2011, and the landscape in the series is bleak. Even the Cup-backed, Cup-driven teams are struggling to find backing, at least in part because they managed to price everyone out of the game, including themselves. Unless you’re a Cup superstar, there’s little TV time to justify the investment. And so the Nationwide teams, the teams who want to race in that series as its own entity and not as a warm-up for Sunday, struggle to stay afloat from week to week. It’s not even the Cup drivers that are the problem, per se. In the 1990’s and before, the Cup guys ran the series-but they most often did so for independent or self-owned operations. But as the owners got greedy, they made the drivers greedy, and greed is killing the series.

Take RAB Racing. RAB is still an upstart in the series, but they’re building it right. They won Montreal last year with Boris Said, their first and only win. This year, with veteran NNS driver Kenny Wallace, the team has two top 10s in three races and sits 14th in owner points-Wallace is eighth in driver points. This is a solid Nationwide Series team. Yet, according to Wallace, they still need primary sponsorship for more than a third of the races this year. Fourteen races have yet to be picked up.

Keep in mind that Wallace should be a sponsor’s dream. He’s outgoing and willing to go the extra mile for his backers with appearances and advertising. He’s a three-time Most Popular Driver in the Nationwide Series and is the only Nationwide regular to hold that honor (Brad Keselowski also has three, but won one of them as a Cup regular running both schedules). Wallace also has 161 top 10 finishes in the series. This guy shouldn’t have any trouble finding backing, right?

Yet the team has that glaring void of 14 races to fill.

Wallace works daily to change that. His many fans will even sponsor the ride in Charlotte this fall-for $20 fans can get their names on the car, a meet & greet with the driver, and photos. When Wallace first ran a fan-sponsored car in 2009, it was an instant success-the names included, among other notables, that of five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Wallace is well-liked and well-respected in the garage, and it showed. So Wallace and RAB will do the same thing this year-because it means there aren’t fifteen unsponsored races.

And RAB Racing is by no means alone. Phoenix Racing, once a series staple, has been reduced to a part-time schedule with Landon Cassill. Even the Cup teams are struggling-despite being second in points, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has sponsorship for only eight races. Joe Gibbs Racing’s development drivers are woefully short of backers as well.

Why are these teams having so much trouble? The sluggish economy is partly to blame, of course, but the bigger part of the problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the television broadcast team. In most races, a large percentage of the field gets less than 30 seconds of airtime-at a cost far higher than simply buying a 30-second commercial slot in the broadcast. At Las Vegas, for example, Wallace got no independent mentions despite running in the top 10. He was mentioned as someone passed him or if he was racing with a Cup team for a spot, but only in the context of the Cup driver. What kind of incentive is that for a company to fork out a couple million dollars?

That’s right, none. If you can find one, watch a race broadcast from the 1990’s-you will see far more equitable coverage of teams, especially those running well. All that time translates into dollars for a sponsor-dollars that are getting harder and harder to find as a handful of drivers get the lion’s share of coverage.

All of this leads to where we are now on the slippery slope, and that’s pretty near rock bottom. The Nationwide Series, once a thriving series with its own identity, flounders in the shadow of the Cup Series to the point where ESPN has all but said that they will cover the Cup guys to the point of ignoring the Nationwide championship battle if a Cup driver is winning (and one usually is). The greed for a win is at a fever pitch among Cup drivers and owners, and it’s killing the series slowly as backers see little reward and a lot of risk. It’s all about return on investment, and right now, there isn’t a return.

Contact Amy Henderson

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madhat
03/18/2011 08:33 AM
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Thank you. Your dead on Amy with your articule. During the off season, I was hoping that NASCAR would do the right thing and correct the issue with the Nationwide series. Unfortunatly, they totally blew it with the “you can only run for one championchip rule”. From my last count, a sprint cup driver has won the first three races. Great job NASCAR for fixing the problem. I stopped watching the Nationwide series because it’s boring watching a couple of guys win every race because they have twice the budget then the other teams. Whats more annoying is the media heaping praise over these drivers like they did something that special. I can beat my six year old in chess, but the wife doesn’t slap me on the back and tell me how great I am. The series is a joke and has become an extended practice for the cup guys.

Curtis Webster
03/18/2011 08:56 AM
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To take it one step further, greed is killing NASCAR, period. The main culprits are the Ivory towers of NACAR in Daytona. We have lost the grass roots beginnings of NASCAR because of greed. North Wilksboro could not accomodate enough paying customers, so they lost their dates. the same has happened with Rockingham. If you are looking for the seeds of greed in this sport, look at the top.

Oldsmo-Bill
03/18/2011 09:34 AM
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Great article, Amy. And great comment by madhat about the chess thing. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I’m SO sick and tired of hearing all the hype about PeeWee Herman (Oops: sorry – Kyle Busch) and his total number of wins in all three series! Just imagine if Hank Aaron had competed in AAA-ball at the same time as the majors: Would he be lionized like Kryle? Or lambasted for “picking on the little guys”? Hank Aaron is considered great because he did it all in the BIG LEAGUE. And I’d be willing to guess that he has been quite satisfied with the money that he made there, too. Same cannot be said for the “Buschwhackers”.

steven
03/18/2011 09:34 AM
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Danica comes in with Go (pimp) Daddy and easily has a car that the can beat over half the field. Then the broadcasters fall all over themselves saying what a great job she is doing.

mrclause
03/18/2011 10:03 AM
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You certainly hit this one straight between the eye’s!I’ve been in and around this Nationwide series since the 60’s when it was the Late model Sportsman deal in the Carolina s and Virginia. At one point when the cup drivers came down into that series they generally got their butts kicked by the likes of Ellis, Sr, Ard, Hutchins, Cagle,Jarrett, Gant, and others simply because they came with equal equipment. They came without the cubic dollars, the cup technology. Any wins that came their way were earned not bought. Then the NASCAR greed entered into the deal. Seeing only the dollar value of a double show with the names of the sport headlining both shows. Of course it has to be said that NASCAR has never thought about losing the lower series teams, drivers, sponsors, owners. They have always only seen today’s profit. They have never understood the importance of all of the series in tomorrows racing. Add to that the mindset of a cup driver dropping down into the Nationwide or truck series with high dollar technology and dollars and thinking how great they are in stealing the thunder from the series regulars, from those putting their all into the series they can actually afford, most of the time. I have never understood the happiness they demonstrate with a win when the field was no where near equal. Where the budgets were millions of dollars apart. Dollars, not drivers ability. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are little more than school yard bullies. They aren’t that much better, they just have more money. They are racing with cubic dollars and not cubic inches or cubic talent. NASCAR has never had any understanding of reality or appreciation of who brung em to this dance. It has always been about money, nothing more. We the fans have never stunk up the show, NASCAR continues to and wonders why they are losing fans. To the Ivory Tower in Daytona! We the fans and our dollars made NASCAR what it is ,but, also what it will be. NASCAR thinks nothing of blowing off it’s past history, the drivers that they’ve ignored in hard times, the fans that made them, but, they just might be blowing off tomorrow with their short sightedness and arrogance. The fans have stopped drinking the kool aid. We want the full meal back.

Russ Edwards
03/18/2011 10:11 AM
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Its hard to say who is the most responsible, the Cup Owners, or Nascar. But this trend isnt new. You see it at your local short track where there is competition to have the newest fanciest and most importantly longest trailer. And the same thing is happening in Cup. They’ve already driven the smaller teams out, and nobody is coming in . As the shiny toys get more expensive the need for an influx of money to pay the bills gets greater. Soon no sponsors will be able to afford an entire race schedule. At some point there will be consolidation even among the mega teams. And where will the blame be put? Probably not where it should be, which is really the team owners. They have let it get this way.

Rob
03/18/2011 11:45 AM
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Does anyone else notice a similarity between today’s NASCAR and the former CART series?

Joe
03/18/2011 12:55 PM
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Great article Amy. It’s my contention that the problem started with the TV deals and one network in particular….FOX. The broadcast team is only there to shil for whomever shells out the most money. The problem with NASCAR today is that it less about automobile racing and more about $ promotion. And finally, Rob’s comment about the similarities between NASCAR and CART is spot on.

sylvia richardson
03/18/2011 01:21 PM
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all this is nothing but a lot of bs and it is with all the [old poops] head people that can’t see what made this a great sport. now its nothing… needs to look back not forwards.sorry for the drivers. pretty boys,lucky dog and that stupid chase, and brain is a nut.

wcfan
03/18/2011 02:58 PM
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I like how alot of you bash the buschwackers for having all the money and technology in one breath and then want to praise Richard Petty for his 200 cup wins. Yes they were all in a series but in the 60’s and early 70’s he had all the money and technology, so he was basically a buschwacker.

I will agree that greed is a big part of the problem. I have said for many years that nascar needs to take the Busch series and Trucks back to the short tracks that helped build nascar.

If you took those series to North Wilkesboro, and Rockingham for a companion event you would sell 50.000+ seats and have a GREAT WEEKEND of racing. I say less cup/busch weekend and more busch/truck weekends would do more to get cup guys out of the lower series then only racing for one championship. Some of these drivers just like to race and if they are at the track what else is there to do.

Ron
03/18/2011 09:09 PM
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WOW, you make EXCELLENT points in a well-written article, Amy. We could only hope that the those who run NASCAR would read and think carefully about the points being made. Also, many good responses by others.

Wingcars6970
03/18/2011 10:32 PM
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wcfan said: I like how alot of you bash the buschwackers for having all the money and technology in one breath and then want to praise Richard Petty for his 200 cup wins. Yes they were all in a series but in the 60’s and early 70’s he had all the money and technology, so he was basically a buschwacker.

That’s crazy – There were teams other than Petty that won plenty of races. What money and technology? They had the smarts on improving their cars within (and bending the crap out of) the rules…..good old fashioned ingenuity…and so did some of the others. And, Petty did not run in lower divisions – stealing their candy.

tom1194
03/18/2011 11:36 PM
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I liked your article, but your forgot? to mention the millions of sponsorship dollars nascar has pocketed using the “official blah blah of nascar” shill. Go look at the list of these sponsors well over 100 the last I saw. nascar says either pay fox to be talked about or pay us and we will help you sell something.
racing is gone the circus has come to town.

wcfan
03/19/2011 11:26 AM
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wingcars6970
What happened to all that ingenuity since 1984? And then it was as simple as on oversized engine.

FS_Amy
03/19/2011 09:14 PM
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@ Susan: Did I watch the Nationwide race today? No, I did not. Would I have watched without the Cup guys in the race? Absolutely! The outcome is too predictable. I prefer to not now the outcome before the race. I rarely watch a NNS race anymore, because the networks don’t show the Nationwide drivers even if they’re running as well as the Cup guys. It’s boring. So I usually just check later to see how the real Nationwide teams did and call it good. I like my Cup races on Sunday.

FS_Amy
03/19/2011 09:17 PM
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That should read “I prefer to not know…” There’s something stuck under my “k” key!

Matt
03/19/2011 10:07 PM
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@ Susan – Once again, you are set in your mindset and fail to see the other side of the coin. Today’s race was painful to watch. How exactly is Busch the savior of the series? He puts none of his money into the series, rides around with equiptment better than everyone else and wins every other week. How is leading 10,000 laps supposed to be impressive with those circumstances?

You also believe nobody would be interested in the Nationwide series without Cup drivers. The stand alone Truck series race at Darlington attracted 20,000 fans in the stands with just 1 Cupper in the field. 33% capacity in a series that nobody should care about.

Your post, designed to bash Amy for her views, actually supported her point. The Nationwide series used to have its own culture and fan base. In the 2000’s Cup owners took advantage of the series to give sponsors a 2 for 1 special. They spent the most, were on tv the most, and attracted the most sponsors. If you bother to look at anyone besides Busch & the Cuppers, it’s obvious how difficult things are for the series regulars today. The conditions grow worse year by year as once competitive teams struggle to survive and eventually close. The fan base has diminished in disgust and has been replaced by fans, such as yourself, that have no respect for the series.

phil h
03/20/2011 01:50 AM
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looks like Susan is also having a hissy-fit!! How professional of you!What a moron!

FS_Amy
03/20/2011 11:08 AM
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@Susan. It’s your prerogative to make vacuous comments on columns, of course, but before you do, you might want to consider the cogency of your remarks. I don’t cover Nationwide Series races. On the occasion that I do, I fastidiously watch the race in its entirety. When I’m not working, it’s a choice to watch the race. Do you honestly believe that sportswriters watch every event in their assigned sport? I can assure you that that is usually not the case; a baseball writer, for example, does not watch a 162-game season for 30 teams. He or she watches the events necessary for the assignment, though he is certainly entitled to watch other events for personal enjoyment. Journalistic ethics would require a writer to have full knowledge of an event we write about and probably the other events that directly affect that event; the rest is gravy that we enjoy if we wish. It is most certainly neither unprofessional nor unethical to choose to watch or not to watch a sporting event that the journalist is not providing coverage for. Just thought I’d clear up that misconception.

Scott
03/20/2011 01:25 PM
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Are web sure that Susan is not just Randy Goldman in drag? She is just as much, if not more, obnoxious as him.

I guess if you don’t have good points to make Susan, you just resort to name-calling. Now, that is a definitely hissy-fit that you are throwing there. Grow up please!

Scott
03/20/2011 02:44 PM
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Susan,

Please explain to all of us why in the world you read this page if all of the writers are as bad as you say?

SS Mike
03/20/2011 03:57 PM
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Oh oh, Susan has sand in her vagina again.

Matt
03/20/2011 07:14 PM
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Susan – I am not Matt McLaughlin. So try again.

Steve
03/21/2011 03:50 PM
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Susan, in defense of Amy, I don’t think she needs to cover any Nationwide race this weekend or any other weekend to determine what everyone else has known for about 5 years now. Cup drivers are killing the series.

You obviously aren’t a fan of Nascar racing but a fan of a particular driver only. This is where you lose your credibility….That and insulting everyone who doesn’t agree with you.

And you must be new to this sport too because the NW series (also known as the Busch series which you probably don’t remember) did just fine without any Cup guys racing on a weekly basis. It actually provided great racing every week.

Your comments about the incompetence of the NW regulars is ignorant. Its a development series, not the Cup series. You seem to think both series should be on the level of Cup.

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
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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.