Five non-Danica storylines to watch, including the Mayfield case
Don't get me wrong here -- Danica's decision is one of those "once-in-a-blue-moon" events that'll keep the sport buzzing all the way up to the IndyCar driver's Daytona debut on Feb. 6. But let's not lose sight of other people and stories to keep an eye on between now and Speedweeks.
The tough part is that it's not done yet. Current garage buzz centers on the possible shutdown of RCR's fourth car, the No. 07, whose primary sponsor (Jack Daniel's) left the sport at the end of the 2009 season.
"If we don't run the whole season," he told SI, "we won't run the first five races."
The No. 07's decision could have a huge impact on Team Red Bull (TRB). Right now, the No. 82 car (
What makes it tricky is that the sport has allowed car owners the chance to "sell" their spot on the grid to the highest bidder. Typically, new teams would be knocking down the door to buy a place on the grid, but right now, there's simply no one with the funding to buy them. Just three "new" teams have announced they'll step up to full-time competition in 2010, and all are single-car, underdog operations without the cash to buy their way in. Most importantly, with four teams leaving, NASCAR finds itself with one less car on the track -- not something it needs to see when it already had six "start and park" teams filling the back of the grid to end 2009. Unless the sport recruits new owners with funding, expect cars to pull off after a few laps in the race while collecting hard-earned fans' money for their "effort."
This is a move Busch has wanted to make for two years, but it comes with curious timing. After Busch missed the Chase just one year after leading the points, critics were already questioning whether he spreads himself too thin by moonlighting in Nationwide and Truck. Now, he has less than two months to put together a championship Truck team? The management group Busch puts in place will be crucial (he's off to a good start by tabbing championship crew chief
The whole scenario provides another distraction for Busch on the verge of contract talks where he makes his real money (his deals with Joe Gibbs Racing and Cup sponsor M&M's expire after 2010). And with
Bottom line, if there are any hidden secrets about drugs in the NASCAR garage, there are dozens of people with nothing to lose looking to air that dirty laundry in public. It's the type of case the sport would usually settle out of court ... except Mayfield steadfastly refuses as his career is already ruined by the failed drug test for methamphetamines that led to this whole case in the first place. Stay tuned...
How strange that a story to watch is based on how much Dale Jr. stays out of the news. But after the worst season of his career (25th in points, just five top 10 finishes), it's the best strategy for a man who'd lost both the passion and confidence to compete by season's end.
For Earnhardt to recover, he needs to get over this year the way he would get over an ex-girlfriend -- maybe travel to a deserted island where no one knows him, relax on the beach with friends, and clear his head. He has
All sports go through a down cycle when it comes to new talent, but in this fast-changing world, the same selection can quickly get stale without new challenges. There are just a handful of rookies in Nationwide and Trucks, and the sport needs to tackle new initiatives aimed at redeveloping the pipeline of talent. Among the former "up-and-coming" stars still looking for a job this offseason are
One small note on Danica before we go. Love or hate the decision, it's hard to deny the marketing value she brings to the sport. I talked to the people who run the Davie Brown Index (DBI), a list comparing 2,800 major celebrities and their marketing value. Right now, Patrick ranks #661 on the list, trailing only