Thursday April 2nd, 2009

Given the state of the U.S. economy, it's a well-known fact that NASCAR's immediate future -- tied as it is to the fate of corporate America -- is uncertain. But with the news earlier this week that the White House was effectively taking over General Motors, while at the same telling Chrysler that it was off the federal dole, a murky outlook has grown suddenly more opaque. Everybody knew last year that a pullout of at least one automaker was a real possibility. Now they're going to have to come to terms that such a situation is almost a certainty. We are extremely close to being through the looking glass here, people.

Regardless of the what the real problem is in Detroit -- onerous and unsustainable union obligations, pathetic mismanagement and poor products are all, to varying degrees, the American auto industry's major problems -- their problems are about to become NASCAR's problems. A lot of money seems about ready to fly the coop.

Last November, I chatted with Richard Childress about such a possibility. Childress knows from lean times. As an independent car owner in the 1970s, he made his way in a sport where there was minimal participation from the U.S. auto companies. And despite the vast fortune he has made for himself since as a racer, he also knows, in the words of one Cup insider, what a good baloney sandwich tastes like.

Childress told me that in the new environment, with sponsorship money scarce, performance was going to be more important than ever. That makes me wonder what the effect of a GM pullout would be on superteams like Hendrick Motorsports and, yes, Richard Childress Racing. Both teams have established stars and superlative track records. But can they maintain such things without manufacturer support? Will this clear the way for Toyota to finally dominate a uniquely American game?

I'm not sure. But something tells me we're either about to see at least a minor resurgence of NASCAR's small-market teams, or a hoarding of the remaining resources by the sport's biggest and most powerful teams, followed closely by their domination of everything in sight. My money is on the latter option, if only because a scarcity of resources seems a condition ripe for exploitation by those with cash on hand. The game just seems too big, and too expensive, for anything else.

47: Races since Jeff Gordon's last victory

0: Number of wins for Gordon in 16 starts at Texas Motor Speedway

2: Number of times in Gordon's 18-year career that he has finished a race in 43rd place -- both last-place results came at Texas, including a DNF-run last April

This spot may have to be renamed in honor of Kyle Busch if he keeps up his interesting and bizarre run of small-circuit highlights. Two weeks ago it was the Nationwide race at Bristol, last week it was the trucks at Martinsville. Check out how he handles defeat this time around. My only observation is: now we all know what it looks like when Busch goes jogging along a highway. That and this reminds me of the scene in the vastly underrated Planes, Trains & Automobiles where Steve Martin's character, abandoned by a shuttle bus, hoofs his way back to an airport terminal from the rental-car lot. You're messing with the wrong guy! Indeed.

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