The sport of NASCAR used to be a place where a gentleman's agreement was all a driver had to have to race a car. There were no 20 page contracts and incentive clauses. No one worried about sharing licensing revenue or mandatory driver appearances. If an owner wanted you to drive his car, he asked you to drive his car. You agreed on a fee that you would be paid and you went out and raced the car. Then NASCAR became corporate. Everything about the sport became about the money. Sponsorship dollars went up so that teams could keep up with the ever increasing cost of technology. Every square inch of the car and the driver became a miniature billboard for someone to use for advertising. And drivers were forced to negotiate contracts with the car owners to make sure they were duly compensated. Somewhere around the time that this commercialization of the sport took place, the whole concept of loyalty went out the window.
Back in the handshake days, drivers drove because that was what they wanted to do. They had a passion to go fast and compete against other people trying to do that same thing. Making a living was not a high priority. Sure, they wanted to make a little money, but no one thought of becoming a millionaire driving a race car. In those days, loyalty was a given. Owners and drivers stuck together through thick and thin. It took a major falling out before a driver left a team or an owner took a driver out of the seat. The rift between David Pearson and the Wood Brothers comes to mind. They won a multitude of races together. However, they often had differences of opinion. Still, they stuck it out because they were good together and they were loyal to each other. It took a major miscommunication at Darlington to finally drive a wedge all of the way between the driver and the team before they parted ways.
In the modern NASCAR world, that loyalty is in short supply. There are a few instances: Jeff Gordon with Hendrick Motorsports, Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing, and Ryan Newman with Penske South come to mind. However, last year was a serious reminder that loyalty doesn't run nearly as deep as it used to. Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch, after much wrangling, were allowed to opt out of their contracts and switch teams a year before their contracts expired. The fact that Busch was in the Chase for the Championship simply highlighted the fact that the modern driver is more interested in getting the best deal for themselves rather than continuing a very productive relationship.
Now this week we see that owners are not immune to throwing loyalty out of the window. After making the Chase in the first two years of its existence, Jeremy Mayfield was rewarded with losing his entire team to Kasey Kahne. After his team subsequently struggled this year, and fell out of the top 35 in owner's points last week, he was informed, by his business manager, that he would not be in his car this week at Watkins Glen. Mayfield was already rumored to be on the way out at Evernham Motorsports thanks to another rumor that Elliott Sadler was going to be put into the #19 ride. It is a shame that someone who has stayed the course with his team and organization would be treated so badly this year. Mayfield is a proven winner. He is one of seven drivers to make the Chase in the first two years of its existence. He is a proven pitch man. Remember "Hey Jeremy!"? Ray Evernham should be ashamed of the way this entire situation has been handled.
The other reminder that loyalty is in short supply is the news that Mark McFarland has been released from JR Motorsports. This is a first year Busch team. Granted, McFarland has one top 10 and quite a few mid to back-of-the-pack finishes, but this is the team's first year. There simply has to be more patience shown in developing a driver. McFarland has been a champion in other series. He is a competent driver. Everyone knows the woes of the Busch regulars this year trying to compete with the Buschwhackers. It is just a shame that the leash is so ridiculously short for a promising driver.
NASCAR fans are a loyal bunch. They will drive for hours and stand in terrible weather for a chance to meet their favorite driver. They will sell their car just because their driver switches to a team that runs a different manufacturer. They'll refuse to use certain products because they are not a NASCAR sponsor or they sponsor a competitor's race car. Its too bad that the owners and drivers in the sport that they love don't have the same loyalty towards each other.
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