Five races remain in this year's Chase for the Championship, but that's far from the only compelling storyline hitting NASCAR down the homestretch. Too often, the fight for the title obscures other, important changes that will shape the sport not just on the grid, but off the track in 2011. So let's examine five under-the-radar moves to watch as the season winds to a close:
For Red Bull Racing, they were simply going through the motions with fill-in driver
But Kahne's departure also sets another ominous tone, the future of his former organization in doubt after months of debt rumors. Multiple sources tell
For Petty, it's another blow in the twilight of a NASCAR driver-turned-ownership career, the latest group of investors pulling the plug on a two-year trek that began with Boston Ventures in June 2008. That group wound up giving up the ghost by the end of the year, and a tumultuous merger in 2009 with
The ramifications, of course, are significant regardless of what happens, a full four-car loss virtually guaranteeing NASCAR could have less than 30 fully-funded cars at the Cup level next season. My gut is someone, somewhere will step in to keep the sport's living legend afloat, but nothing is certain anymore in a world where money is drying up faster than water in the Sahara. One other name to keep an eye on as this disaster develops:
It's not. While the Hendrick line continues to be McGrew and Earnhardt together in 2011, garage talk has indicated a private shift is in the works. The rumor mill is all over the place with potential replacements, the hottest new name mentioned being
Another name in the mix has been
And there was definitely some talking: a marketing session by main sponsor Nationwide on how well the series was going, the type of presentation where you fall asleep at work or bring your iPhone to text the whole time. Indeed, being called a "waste of time" by one prominent owner off the record, the meeting did nothing but speculate on possible tweaks instead of giving definitive decisions. That means there's no answer on whether the series will ban current full-timers
What NASCAR decides here will be pivotal to the series' future along with driver development, the yearly crop of rookies all but ground to a halt by professional interlopers taking away both finishes and prime driving opportunities. There's a movement in the garage to push for a change, but Nationwide itself is so publicly outspoken with the status quo you just don't know what direction officials lean on this one anymore.
My best bets are on Edwards and Martin, both of whom have looked much sharper over the past month and have the past history to pull out surprise performances at Texas and Phoenix down the stretch.
But regardless of which path the sport goes down, don't expect the status quo for next season. There's too much negativity and concern surrounding the current system, especially if a fifth straight title from J.J. becomes reality at Homestead this November.
Any tweaks would be the third in just the last seven years to their system. The way things are going, there better not be a fourth.