NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2009 Season Preview: How Can NASCAR Survive the Economic Crisis?

After another long offseason, NASCAR is set to return to our lives with the 31st Annual Bud Shootout in less than two weeks! That means it’s time to get the blood racing and your mind fixated on another year of our sport. This week, we’ll get you thinking on six big questions facing NASCAR this year; as we try and find the answers, the staff you know and love will come at you with our usual blend of facts, opinion, and most of all… a sense of humor. After all, we’ll all need to laugh if these predictions blow up in our face come November…

Today’s Season Preview Topic: With the economic crisis front and center these days, all three of NASCAR’s top-three series are struggling to fill the fields. What should the sanctioning body do to cut costs and get both teams on the track and fans in the stands… or have they already done enough?

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief (Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)

NASCAR made a great choice to eliminate testing, but the whole thing means diddly squat if the big money teams don’t play along. Teams like Hendrick continue to test at non-sanctioned tracks in order to gain an advantage – and as long as that extra track time does give them a leg up on everyone else, the gap between the haves and have nots will keep growing… and growing… to the point that even the Energizer bunny won’t be able to catch up to them.

So, the key for NASCAR to level the playing field is to drop this ridiculous Top-35 rule, keeping the starting lineup intact for all but a select group of owners with three- or four-car super-teams. More people in an ownership role will lead to new drivers, better competition, and greater parity across the board. And while they’re at it, how about local businesses lowering prices for families riding out this economic storm, making it easy to attend a race instead of a $1,000 luxury.

Toni Montgomery, Senior Editor (Fridays/Rick Crawford Driver Diary)

I’m not sure there is anything more that NASCAR can really do. Like Tom said, they’ve eliminated testing for the teams – although the haves will still spend money somehow while the “have nots” won’t and will likely continue to fall behind. But NASCAR can’t make sponsors sign up; and short of paying the teams to race, they can’t get them on the track. Even if the sanctioning body cuts ticket prices at the tracks they own (ISC), unless they can also cut down the rest of the expenses needed to go to a race and then give fans who have lost jobs an income to justify the trip, they won’t do much to put fans in the stands, either. We’re beyond “putting on a better race” being able to fix this.

Amy Henderson, Assistant Editor (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)

What, exactly, has the sanctioning body done? While individual racetracks have made some nice offers to fans with discounted tickets and packages, I haven’t seen NASCAR do much of anything that will make a difference. Sure, there’s the test ban – but all that really means is that the small teams still can’t afford to test, while the larger ones will just travel further to do so. And NASCAR hasn’t done anything for the fans at all since Brian France took the reins.

Cami Starr, Fantasy Racing Editor (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans)

I think the sport’s done all that they can do at the moment. Eliminating testing is something they’ve done to try and help, but let’s be honest – the teams that have money will find ways to spend it and get an edge. They aren’t going to pump money into lesser teams, so there won’t be a change there. And even if NASCAR cuts ticket prices, they can’t put extra money in fans’ budgets to cover the additional costs to get to the track. Like everyone else, they are going to have to ride out this storm.

Matt Taliaferro, Assistant Editor: (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)

Considering how the economic climate has affected everyone – from business to sports to the average family down the street – it’s hard for me to believe that one (or even two or three) measures will go very far in alleviating the financial crunch NASCAR is feeling.

As we know, every action has consequences, many of the unintended variety. Cut down time at the track? Then the track operators suffer. Ban testing? The big teams find loopholes and spend just as much, widening the gap between the haves and have nots. For every solution… there’s another problem.

So, I believe hunkering down and riding out this economic storm is the only thing we can do. The sport will survive – just as this nation will find its way through. In the meantime, the powers that be at NASCAR need to acknowledge the current issues and not pretend as if they don’t exist.

Bryan Davis Keith, Assistant Editor: (Sundays/Nationwide Breakdown)

NASCAR has a bevy of its own sponsors that it should be diverting into funding race teams instead of the sanctioning body itself. Meanwhile, cutting down ticket prices has still not been addressed in a circuit-wide fashion by Brian France. And the reluctance of NASCAR to ban testing entirely instead of simply at sanctioned tracks – a move that still creates a loophole – makes it clear that the sanctioning body has not taken any substantive steps to reduce the overwhelming cost of competition today. It’s not that they haven’t done enough… they really haven’t done anything.

Mike Lovecchio, Assistant Editor: (Mondays/10 Points To Ponder)

With a struggling economy, it’s obvious the corporate-driven sport of NASCAR has suffered. Mergers have become commonplace, Silly Season is now year-round, and fans are more confused than ever as to who’s in which ride and which car belongs to which team. With that said, this has become a crucial year for the sport to bounce back. In 2008, NASCAR still had 17 of the United States’ 20 highest-attended sporting events and was the No. 2 rated sport on television – but how long will fans keep coming around with thinner wallets? Furthermore, how long will teams be able to keep their head above water?

NASCAR needs to do more to ensure the sport stays strong in what looks to be a tough decade ahead. But what will the big wigs do, and how long will they wait? Whatever they decide, they need to do it soon. A $55 ticket for the Daytona 500 is a step in the right direction for fans, but the teams are the ones who are struggling most. A ban on testing helps, but shortening race weekends – or races, for that matter – can also save teams money over the course of a season.

Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: (Mondays/Thinkin’ Out Loud)

First off, all events for the 2009 season should be shortened by 25% of their previous length. The savings to the teams with less wear and tear on their machines would be substantial. Let’s face it, the drivers don’t actually race hard until the final 20 miles anyway; and for fans, some races seem to drag on forever. Long-term, the sport needs to lose the road-course races and the plate races. The hideous expense to the teams for these six events could be eliminated at substantial savings to the owners.

As for the fans, step one is for any racetrack that still bans full-size coolers and tries to cloak their greed in a mantle of “preventing terrorist attacks” needs to drop the charade and let fans bring in outside food and drink. As a fan, I simply refuse to patronize any track that wants to charge me $11 for a cold hot dog and lukewarm watery beer. And for the love of all I hold holy, these track owners finally need to address the traffic issues that make arriving at and departing from Cup tracks an infuriating experience that would have Mother Teresa cursing like Andrew “Dice” Clay.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: (Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)

Has NASCAR done enough already? Are you kidding me! Someone please explain to me what they have done so far! Not one damn thing!

In 2009, there will be short fields in the races (starting with Fontana) and there will be even more no-shows in the stands than last year.

But Brian France does not possess the brains to do anything about it. Instead, he will continue to secure “official” sponsors for NASCAR, thus leaving even less for the teams to battle for what’s left. Don’t believe me? Go back and look at the transcripts of his press conferences that I wrote about last year. And do you see the France Family slashing ticket prices themselves – or, are they still just talking about what to do? Consider Brian’s answer back in November, when he was asked what NASCAR could offer in the way helping the fan save money…

“Quite frankly, we don’t have to [worry], because [the tracks are] right on top of that. They’re very sensitive to the cost and the challenges of race fans who live in this country anyway with the economy; it wasn’t lost on them, with respect to high fuel prices mostly in the summer.”

Is this man arrogant or what!? Here’s an idea… why not turn NASCAR over to Obama? He’ll fix it. He can fix anything!

Tommy Thompson, Senior Writer: (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5)

Like the vast majority of American businesses – and for that matter, individual Americans – NASCAR has little choice but to tighten its belt and hold on as the economy continues to take a dive. There truly is little the corporate-dependent sanctioning body can do but share the pain when the very folks that prove the lifeblood of the sport are hurting. Limiting testing was an earnest move on the surface to save team owners a few bucks – but the results will not make or break them from continuing onward.

Unfortunately, until the Dow Jones Average is above 11,000 again and folks can get their credit card limits upped so that they can travel to an attend races, NASCAR and individual owners will struggle. No need for knee-jerk decisions, though; things will improve… eventually.

Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch Truck Series Expert: (Fridays/Tearing Apart The Trucks)

When NASCAR attempts to help teams by “cutting costs,” they manage to change rules that can frustrate teams and drivers while angering longtime fans. While I can understand the need to fill the fields this year, cutting costs for teams to make it to the track will most likely lead to a lot more “start-and-park” cars instead. As far as getting fans in the stands, the same thing needs to be done now that should have been done years ago – lower ticket prices.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: (Wednesdays/Voice Of Vito)

If the sanctioning body wants to cut costs, the schedule really needs to be trimmed down. Actually, the schedule needs to be trimmed down regardless. It’s basic economics at work here – there is a surplus of NASCAR and interest is waning. Just like a girl who throws herself at you, it’s a little unattractive, unbecoming… and kind of a turnoff.

With the testing “ban” in effect at sanctioned NASCAR tracks, a lot of fat has been trimmed already. Nobody likes testing, for it is both time-consuming and exhausting for the drivers and teams alike. So, the sport has done well in this area so far – although it is distressing to see how many team members were laid off following the 2008 season.

Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch NASCAR Rookie Expert: (Mondays/Rookie Report)

There is only so much the sanctioning body can do before interfering with the sport’s “free market” status. For example, if one owner tries to outspend his competitors, he automatically ups the ante for everyone else who wants to remain competitive… and thus, the “arms race” begins. So, even if NASCAR tried to monitor spending, teams would find a way around it. Just look at the way the big teams are circumventing the “no testing” restriction now by going to non-sanctioned tracks.

But the one thing NASCAR can do in the near term is shorten their race weekends. There is no reason why teams can’t arrive on Friday night, practice and qualify on Saturday and race on Sunday. NASCAR has already shown that if qualifying is rained out, they won’t try again on Saturday, so why keep the extra day? Eliminating one day per weekend adds up over the season when you consider accommodations and additional expenses for the crew.

Danny Peters, Senior Writer: (Tuesdays/Yellow Stripe)

Cost-cutting is a delicate process, but it’s clear there’s still plenty more that NASCAR can do. Working with the tracks to keep prices of tickets, hotels and entertainment at sensible levels on race weekends will be vital – but in my view, there are signs this is already happening.

Kurt Smith, Senior Writer: (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Well, the answer isn’t complex… but it is difficult. NASCAR must do what it has shown little capability of doing in recent years: nothing. Leave the sport, the car, and the rules alone, so that the teams that are struggling to get a handle on the new car have a chance to do just that. If NASCAR is correct in their assertion that the new car will save teams money, then they should stand by that statement. For once, NASCAR needs to bite down on their cheeks (their facial cheeks, I mean) and sit completely still.

Regarding putting fans in the stands, short of offering packages and discounted seats – and I mean on decent seats, not the first two rows on the backstretch – NASCAR could try buying out land near racetracks, building a huge hotel and offering discounted rooms with ticket sales. It’ll never happen… but it sounds nice. Make it so the hotel cost doesn’t kill people who go out of their way.

Oh, and while they’re at it, have them muzzle Bruton Smith about blackouts before any more fans are alienated.

S.D. Grady, Newsletter Contributor & Fan Columnist: (Tuesdays/Fan’s View)

I believe there is little NASCAR can do. The Big Four teams will continue to dominate, and the smaller teams will just get smaller. We might be treated to a few more shade-tree teams attempt the impossible, which I deem to be a good thing. But it is our expectations of the sport that will have to change, and it will be up to the tracks to trim ticket prices to draw in more fans.

Phil Allaway, Website Contributor: (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV)

As for putting fans in the stands, many of the tracks have already announced cuts in ticket prices for certain seats. Richmond, Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) and Texas are three examples of this new initiative that should go on across the board. However, tracks like Watkins Glen are simply standing pat, while others have simply accepted the lower attendance figures and closed off more seats, like Daytona International Speedway closing the Superstretch grandstand for the Coke Zero 400 last year. But no matter which direction they choose, the tracks should also work out deals with hotels so that prices aren’t ludicrously jacked up around race weekends, too.

As far as cutting costs go, the idea of Truck teams using a crate motor has been brought up in the past couple of weeks. That could help boost truck count (which is extremely low for this year) by allowing some Grand National (Camping World East and West) teams to attempt races – provided that they could get a truck. But the only real way to cut costs in the Trucks and Nationwide Series is to make those series more regionalized. The Nationwide Series essentially demands a Sprint Cup travel budget these days; this needs to be changed over the long-term.

Doug Turnbull, Website Contributor: (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not)

Eliminating testing was a good start at trying to reduce costs for teams, but it will not be enough. With teams folding left and right and the remaining ones finding ways around the current testing ban, the gap between the good and the bad teams is only going to grow, meaning less people will end up in the stands. One way NASCAR could help teams cover costs is encourage some of the sponsors that have become series sponsors to fund race teams instead, as some Frontstretch writers have suggested before. But short of NASCAR preparing the racecars like the defunct IROC Series, the sport should never dictate what these teams spend.

John Potts, Website Contributor: (Fridays/Driven To The Past)

They haven’t done anything. What is curtailing testing going to do for new teams or fans? NASCAR needs to get the cars back to where you don’t need an engineer and millions in equipment to set them up. Get away from the overgrown go-kart setup and bring the springs and the shocks back into play. This would give the driver and crew chief more of a role as well as lead to increasing participation by more low-dollar teams. For the fans, work with the motels and reduce prices there as well as at the tracks.

Mike Ravesi, Website Contributor: (Mondays/Bubble Breakdown)

If NASCAR wants to cut costs, then cut down the mileage on these races. For example, there’s no need for two 500-mile races at Pocono. The sport could also eliminate some races at tracks that have two dates, such as Las Vegas and California. Instead, put those races back at the heart of NASCAR country, at places like Rockingham and Darlington. It would cut down on travel expenses, if nothing else, and the good racing will bring the fans back (assuming they don’t do things like schedule The Rock in February again). And if NASCAR really wants to get the attention of the fans, how about moving Watkins Glen and Talladega’s second race to Saturday night?

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Bryan Davis Keith

Matt,Matt, Matt!

Still flogging the same dead horse!
With the NA$CAR schedule loaded up with tracks,(Cookie cutters, Pocono, Indy) that produce the same old snoozers week after. You want to ditch the road courses. Brilliant plan. What do you want to replace them with? Maybe Kentucky, & a second race,(if that is the correct word) at Kansas.
Granted a 3500 lb. car isn’t ever going to be a Porsche, & this new car they have forced on the sport, isn’t nerely as good as the last one, handling wise, but the road courses are a welcome change of pace. It brings a different set of skills into play.
If they REALLY wanted to save the teams $$ then cut out California. It’s a long trip, a crummy race, (& that’s the good ones) no one out there really cares, & neither do most of us.
If they really wanted to get some buzz, & attention, they should run the Springfield Mile, & bring the rain tires to the road courses, for cup.
What King Brian is doing isn’t working so good.
I can understand not wanting to go to the races, but when fans start not even turning on the TV’s then they need to check their hole cards.

Bryan Davis Keith

John Potts has it right. In the mid-to-late 90’s NASCAR was gaining in popularity due to many factors. The downside is that this also brought along NASCAR going coporate. NASCAR along the way lost what it was about in the first place which is racing. They’ve now made a car which is for all intensive puposes an IROC car, teams now have employees that number well into the hundreds, (Remember that guys like Dave Marcus had 13 employees in the late 90’s), You now have a few owners that own 4 car teams while “Partnering” with another 2 or 3 car team. These are things that got NASCAR to where it is today after what I consider the peak of NASCAR. There is not one good reason for a “team” to have more than two cars and partner with no one. If France wants to compare NASCAR to baseball or football then he would also come to the realization that owners of those teams do not own multiple teams as the reasons are fairly obvious..(unless you work for NASCAR). Like John stated the cars should be something that the teams_can actually work on not these things that they can make very limited changes on. NASCAR should get back to basics..what they had been doing up until the mid-90’s. While I’m at it ditch the “Top-35” rule, run what you have wide open and beat the other guys to get into the race..

Bryan Davis Keith

We’ll just have to “wait and see”. The hype is there, let’s see some action. All of the ingredients for success have been carefully measured. Time to test the recipe.

Bryan Davis Keith

So Tom says “by all accounts, he whined during his tenure with the No. 96 car, refusing to make the best of second-rate equipment ”

and Mike says “I believe Joe Gibbs Racing cut Logano’s HoF Racing schedule back because he struggled so badly, and they didn’t want to scare off potential sponsors”

so which is it? Sounds like there is a story there to get to the bottom of. Anybody got the balls?

Bryan Davis Keith

I find it interesting that Brad K. will be running 17 races in Cup this year using Hendrick equipment even though 10 races are with Fitch racing. He is my pick for Rookie of the Year. And I watched the end of the Toyota race and Logano got ROBBED(and I don’t even like him as a driver.)

Bryan Davis Keith


Well, NASCAR’s decision to penalize Logano was another of the plethora of NASCAR’s inconsistent “judgment” calls.

IMHO: While I’m not sure he deserved to be penalized, Logano’s attempt to win was one that NASCAR was following their rules for penalizing someone. However, I’ve seen drivers do much worse and get no penalties whatsoever.

OVERALL: I’m one for the middle ground on Joey. I think that he *can* do it, but he hasn’t proven anything on the cup level yet.

We’ll have to wait and see. I just hope Gibbs and company give him enough time to mature both as a driver and as a person.

Bryan Davis Keith

Thorougbred? Are you kidding me? He’s got a lot to learn, & little insight to learn it. He, & his Daddy, believe he’s the greatest thing to come along in awhile.
I predict he won’t “make it,” because he doesn’t know how to deal with failure.

Bryan Davis Keith

Use same exact car for both top series.
Provides cheap source of cars for all owners and quickens learning process.

Bryan Davis Keith

“Until the Dow Jones Average is above 11,000 again and folks can get their credit card limits upped so that they can travel to an attend races NASCAR and individual owners will be hurting. No need for knee-jerk decisions – things will improve…eventually.”

Are you for real? Yeah, that is just what this country needs…higher credit card limits for the average Joe. Isnt that what got us into the mess we are in now..people living way above their means because of ‘credit’? And isnt that why the dow was over 11k? Because the investors/bankers were financing all that bad debt?
Jeeze Tommy Thompson, I must be an idiot and you are a fricking genius!

Bryan Davis Keith

Nascar will survive this crisis just as they’ve weathered past crises.

Poorly run teams will make bad decisions and go under. Well run teams will make good decisions and prosper. New people with good ideas will take advantage of the opportunity to start new, well-run teams (and new people with bad ideas will start doomed-to-fail teams).

*Track owners* will use the law of supply and demand to set ticket prices that will net them the greatest profit.

*Hotel owners* will use the law of supply and demand to set room prices at the level that gives them the greatest profit (any fool who thinks there is something evil and unprecedented about high hotel costs on race weekends has obviously never tried to go to the beach in July, New England during peak leaf season, or a ski resort over Christmas break).

Nascar — the race sanctioning body — has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the cost of either tickets or hotel rooms!!!!!

Kurt Smith has it exactly right. Nascar needs to deliberately choose to do nothing (except, perhaps, to trim waste out of its own operations).

Most especially Nascar needs to avoid embarking on more ridiculous schemes to ensure that success is punished while failure is rewarded.

Bryan Davis Keith

Does Nascar think the bubble they created hasn’t burst just like the housing and credit bubble? When they run out of tarps to cover the empty seats and the tracks don’t take in enough to cover their expenses, maybe Brian France and his crew will figure out that they also need to have a reality check. People are having problems paying the cable bill, let alone traveling to sit though some of the worst racing we’ve seen in 10 years.

Bryan Davis Keith

Mike Ravesi says:

“If NASCAR wants to cut costs, then cut down the mileage on these races. For example, there’s no need for two 500 lap races at Pocono.” Surprise! You just got your wish! NASCAR just announced that there will be two 500 MILE races at Pocono this summer. That a reduction of over 750 miles of boring racing. Talk about progress!

Bryan Davis Keith

NASCAR will survive and thrive if they present the one thing that people come for in the first place…good racing. But you know what, I dont see a lot of good racing anymore. I see a lot of single file, follow the leader driving. I dont live near a track, so I dont go to races. I try to watch them on TV. I usually get bored with either the same couple of drivers winning or not seeing any passing.(and for me passing does not include letting a team-mate go past you so that they can pick up 5 more points and it doesnt include coming out of the pits first). I think NASCAR started to decline when they started cutting out the unique tracks and went with cookie-cutters that are as fun to watch as Golf or some other Sunday afternoon infomercial that induces sleep.
I think that NASCAR has made it bed, and is now finding out that it has to sleep in it. Or fold.

Bryan Davis Keith

The reason I will never go to a Daytona 500 again is because it is a waste of time and money. You can not get a decent seat (anything higher than row 40) even if you buy an overpriced multiple day package. Most of the seats where you can actually see part of the track are saved in blocks and are unavailable to average Joes like me. We flew down from New England to watch that race and it was a horrible experience for all of us. Never again.

Bryan Davis Keith

Qualify and race the same day. Stop all of the lap after lap preparation for qualifying and racing. Qualify and race with what you brought. Stop all of the pre-race hype, just a bit of stuff between qualifying and the race. Limit the number of sets of tires used. Go back to bias ply tires and make the spoilers smaller so the drivers have to drive and race. Then drop the cost of tickets. Fans won’t have to spend so much for food and overnight stays. Teams won’t spend so much on tires and fuel.

Bryan Davis Keith

The two races at Pocono were never 500 LAPS, but were always 500 MILES (200 laps of 2.5 mile track). Mike Ravesi and 5point0 need to get their facts straight. DUH. But making these races even shorter would be an improvement.

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