NASCAR wish list, Danica's racing future, more mailbag
There's a fan who's been writing incessantly about a holiday wish list for NASCAR. During the Christmas season, I thought it was a good idea to bring it up briefly, but with a twist: three wishes where I could go back in time to keep major changes from happening. Let's go through them:
What are some things you'd go back and change in the long timeline of NASCAR's history? Play Santa Genie and let us know for next week: firstname.lastname@example.org or
Talk about starting with a heavy hitter; I bet this guy's Christmas list starts with a 58" flat screen and a BMW. Well, Chris, it's not a matter of whether Danica will "sign" with anyone in IndyCar, as her deal runs through 2012 with Andretti Autosport. She'd have to clear some hurdles and hire some lawyers to opt out a year early.
Will she try? For me, it depends on two things: her level of improvement in NASCAR and the level of national interest in IndyCar. Readers that follow me are well aware how critical I am of Patrick's performance, one top-20 finish in over a dozen Nationwide starts bad enough to fire 95 percent of most rookies in any type of top-tier ride. But she did improve markedly this fall, and with Mark Martin as a driver coach/mentor you never know for 2011. If she comes out of nowhere, pops in six or seven top-10s in her dozen or so NASCAR appearances as a sophomore it's a sign a full-time transition to stock cars could be in order.
But it's also hard to ignore the momentum over in the IndyCar ranks, where it's not just a second-place finish at Homestead that has Danica's open-wheel world buzzing. The
All right Lance, your energy drink story is duly noted and entered into the public record. Just goes to show whenever you have a friendship involving a billionaire, it's hard to count said person out. But note the IndyCar momentum I mentioned above, making it easier for the sport's "other" Gordon to be competitive over the long-term. Don't discount a driver's desire to be successful on-track as well as off, after going winless for seven years on the NASCAR side, with no end to that drought in sight. Even if SPEED hits the jackpot, it won't match the money of AFLAC, UPS and the AMP Energy Drink that funds the driver whose fans you like to hate (Side note: Doesn't it seem everyone is
By the way, while SPEED's a good drink -- tried and approved -- it's a real shame Wave Energy Drink hasn't caught on. Of all the ones I've tried in and around my time in the NASCAR garage, nothing compares.
Same drumbeat, different day. I keep getting questions every week, despite repeated explanations as to why NASCAR won't drop the Chase. Number one: Brian France. The idea came from him, a self-induced proposal that'll make or break his career as the sport's CEO and one where he refuses to budge. Here's a reminder of the NASCAR quote heard 'round the world at Homestead:
The physical reaction and vocal intonation, which plenty of people were in the room for can be described as how people respond when told Brett Favre or Mark Martin are retiring for the 5,005th time. Translation: Yeah, sure you heard that but don't tell me you actually believe it, do you? After that Q-and-A, I'm more convinced than ever this system will not completely disintegrate as long as France remains at the helm. And since it's a family-owned business...
The other theory -- never proven -- is there's a clause in the TV contract that causes ESPN to opt out of the $560 million, eight-year deal signed in 2007 if the Chase is ever taken away. I don't care what anyone says, you're not going to get a straight answer there unless someone publishes the entire scope of the contract, page-by-page a la a Deadspin.com expose. Yet considering worries the network could bolt long before the end of 2014 anyway, the last thing you want to do is piss off executives with a major, landmark shift they may not understand and will open the door to wiggle room on a deal that's already cost them multimillion dollar losses. What do you do when you've got a prisoner trying desperately to escape? Shut the door, hire a good bodyguard and remind them of the fine print. You better believe that's what NASCAR's doing now.
John, NASCAR was hoping to help eradicate this problem in the Nationwide Series, the cost associated with building the new car hopefully keeping start-and-park teams from jumping on board just to pull in. That didn't happen. In four 2010 events with the new chassis, an average of four S&Pers jumped in, with more expected in February as NASCAR struggles to fill the field. Those efforts pale in comparison to the Cup level, where impounding a last-place car's engine for teardown, a process that can force teams to spend more cash, hasn't stopped the onslaught. A serious eradication of NASCAR's middle class to fill the 43-car grid means eight, nine, even 10 cars pulling in early is possible at some of the West Coast and lower-attended races on the circuit.
So as efforts made to fix the problem fail, your email says it all: Why should a small, family-owned team looking to make the race and run the distance take the risk? Check out a name you might not have heard about, Stephan McCurley, as an example. The 20-year-old from Humble, Tex. tried to make three Nationwide races toward the end of last year, just missing two -- Dover and Kansas -- with a team that would have run the distance. In those two races I mentioned, a total of 14 drivers pulled in early, collecting a cool average of over $16,100 in prize money. McCurley? He got zero dollars, paid thousands in expenses and now is discouraged from qualifying for future events.
It would be one thing if these S&P teams were working toward a future goal of running every week. But how can you be successful, getting noticed by sponsors and advertisers if you pull in by lap 30 no matter how well you qualify? Plus, even if McCurley did make the field from a business perspective the incentives are all out of whack. Paul Menard, who ran seventh in the Dover race McCurley missed, made just $3,612 more than if the young driver had qualified, then pulled in on Lap 1 to run 43rd. Differences of as little as $25 per position existed in some NASCAR races, making it silly to go the extra mile when the cost of doing so would be exorbitant.
And finally, in lieu of the "out of left field" email this week here's my equivalent of Christmas charity for the season. We'll see if any readers have some old items to give:
Happy Holidays to you, Jeff, and everyone else out there in Internet land!