Full Throttle - Special Edition · Mike Neff · Thursday August 30, 2007
Sponsors spend a ton of money getting their name and logos painted onto cars in the Nextel Cup series. Some of them pay more than 30 million dollars, in fact, just to spend a full season on the hood of a top flight team. However, it appears as though some people in the garage area feel as though that large amount of cash is purchasing more than paint on a car, or perhaps a simple sponsor appearance at a national office. No, that type of money appears to take a team one step further – to the point of purchasing favoritism from the ones who make the calls in NASCAR each weekend. Sound a little crazy to you? It doesn’t to Jack Roush, the legendary NASCAR car owner who had no problem raising such concerns on live television last weekend.
During the NASCAR Victory Lane show on SPEED, taped after the race on Saturday night, Roush made it very clear that he felt sponsors purchase the favor of NASCAR by the amount of time that they purchase during race broadcasts. He made the following comment during the show: "It's a different world now. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was the politician, he was the NASCAR doctor. He could get things through the sanctioning body that nobody else could. And that paid some dividends for him, he reaped the benefits from that. It is a different world today. It is as much a matter of who you know but what you do, and what your sponsor does. The more TV time your sponsor buys, the better shape you are in."
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Roush is insinuating; the more money you pour into NASCAR’s seemingly unlimited bank account, the more chance you’ll have of getting the break you need exactly when you need it. While that is a rather bold statement from Mr. Roush, at the very least it provides some food for thought with a sport that continues to struggle with basic issues of legitimacy.
At first glance, Roush’s statements don’t have solid evidence to back them up. In looking back at the past few years in Cup, the series champions have not been some of the sponsors that pay quite a bit of money for advertising time during the race broadcasts. For example, last year's champion was Jimmie Johnson, who drives the Lowe’s Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick. Now, Lowe's owns the naming rights for the race track in Charlotte, and even does the occasional television commercial – but they are not one of the main NASCAR sponsors. In fact, Lowe’s doesn’t even fall within the Top 10 companies that spend the most money on the sport itself, beyond just its sponsorship of the No. 48 car.
Along those same lines, major sponsors don’t appear to be dealt the hand of favoritism Roush implies. Tony Stewart was the champion in 2005, and Home Depot is a rather big television advertiser; however, Stewart has certainly not received any preferential treatment from the sanctioning body when it comes to fines and probations. Just look at his track record for proof. Meanwhile, 2004 saw Kurt Busch raise the Cup as the first winner of the Chase, driving for Sharpie, Crown Royal, and Irwin Tools. While Sharpie sponsors a race, and almost everyone in the garage has a box full of them in their pocket, they aren't that big of a television advertiser. So, there you have it – at least from the championship perspective, it appears as though Roush might be more than a little off base.
It is understandable where Roush was heading with his comments – he truly believes that the biggest dollar sponsors in the sport can get some better calls and quicker rule changes than when the little guys speak up. At the same time, for someone like Roush to say that is a bit of a surprise – Roush Fenway racing is one of the bigger teams in the sport, one of the most financially stable in terms of sponsorship and future growth. The team’s drivers are as high profile as they come – for example, there are as many Office Depot commercials with Carl Edwards that appear during the races than any other sponsor that doesn't brew beer in St. Louis. And with the Car of Tomorrow coming into the sport, the amount of rule changes that can be applied that will affect one manufacturer over another are rather nonexistent.
So, if you’re Roush, why make such a dangerous statement?
Just one word can explain such an inappropriate action : bitterness. The ultimate sound of this statement by Jack Roush is that of a man who feels as though he was wronged by the sanctioning body in the past; and now, years later, he's taking a pot shot in order to feel the cool taste of revenge.
Are rulings in NASCAR races subjective? Certainly they are, and they have to be; each situation has variables that constantly change when you’re going around in circles at 200 miles per hour. However, the degree of favoritism that is played by the sanctioning body is rather hard to substantiate. Considering the fact that last year's Champion, the two most popular drivers in the sport, and one of the biggest hotheads stock car racing has ever seen have all been fined $100,000 and docked 100 driver points this year, it is extremely difficult to prove that there is any kind of favoritism in the NASCAR's calls.
So, in the future let's hope Jack Roush can focus his energies toward making his organization better and enjoying the victory that his driver earns, instead of taking a cheap shot at the sanctioning body on national TV. Just a few years back, Roush stood at the pinnacle of the sport; the sole reason his domination came unglued was simply because he didn't plan properly for the Car of Tomorrow – not because NASCAR made a series of bad calls. Unused to falling so far off the pace, he appears bitter that it has cost him a lot of time and money to catch up.
However, none of Roush’s problems appear to be NASCAR’s fault – and they shouldn’t be labeled as such. Hopefully, going forward he will not feel the need to lie on TV again, just to gain attention for an accusation that simply isn’t true.
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