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Shakedown Session: Entry Lists Getting Smaller & Smaller? Problem, NASCAR?

In a brutal economy where money is hard to come by for many families, NASCAR has been hit especially hard with a bad economy for sponsorship. This has resulted in either short fields at some Nationwide Series events or fields filled with almost 20% of the entries listed as “start and park” entries. Not even the Camping World Truck Series has been immune to this problem. In the first ten races, the series was able to have full fields without a great deal of start and park efforts. But thanks, in part, to a few teams either shutting down or scaling back to a part-time schedule, now the Truck Series is staring down the barrel of a short field this weekend at Iowa. Even the Sprint Cup Series has had to rely on start-and-park teams the past several years just to get a full field.

This begs the obvious question: What the hell is causing this? Could it really be the economy forcing teams to shut down or start-and-park? Or could other mitigating factors be at work? First of all, the disparity in the Nationwide Series to the teams that are on the top-tier (Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush-Fenway, Kevin Harvick Inc., Jr. Motorsports, and Turner Motorsports) compared to the lower-end operations (JD Motorsports, TriStar Motorsports, Key Motorsports, etc.) is seemingly insurmountable. These Cup & Cup-affiliated organizations have hoarded up as many sponsors as they can by primarily putting Cup drivers in their cars leaving the cupboard extremely bare for many of the other teams in terms of extra sponsorship dollars to go around.

Things have become so bad for teams like Key Motorsports that they’ve resorted to becoming a 4-car start-and-park operation after running full races earlier in the year or Rick Ware Racing, which has to park three cars just to run Timmy Hill the full distance in races. Or in the worst case scenarios, such as Nationwide Series mainstay teams such as Team Rensi Motorsports and Baker Curb Racing, they have had to suspend team operations in hope of finding the sponsorship money to even be able to compete again.

Again, one has to wonder if the economy is solely to blame for all this. The answer, sadly, is no. The Cup teams have not helped things, but Nationwide Series purses being continually slashed the last two years to barely 70 percent of what they were in 2009 is more of a demoralizer than anything else. Many of the teams have fallen by the wayside, been reduced to the practice of start-and-parking, or taken their operation to the Sprint Cup Series like K-Automotive did this season. With teams only getting paid a fraction of what they once were getting paid, and the cost of equipment to even be semi-competitive in NASCAR’s Triple A-level of racing going up, some teams have had to resort to desperate measures just to keep their team afloat.

It also looks like these problems could very well be on the horizon for the Camping World Truck Series as well. With Rick Ware Racing, Panhandle Motorsports, and the Nos. 30 and 77 from Germain Racing all either scaling back operations or shutting down entirely, the entry lists on the Truck Series side are starting to get smaller and smaller. This week at Iowa, to date, only 33 trucks are slated to attempt the race. For the first ten races, the series had been filling fields without a huge presence of start-and-park efforts. But now, just like with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, it just might be to become a necessity to even help the series survive.

At the end of the day, is there really any surefire cure for this sort of NASCAR recession? At least in the short-term, there doesn’t appear to be one. However, if NASCAR could take some small steps such as raising the Nationwide purse even by 10 percent, that would be some form of progress. But the big question is has too much damage already been done in the long run?

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