Saturday, January 09, 2010

Chasing Twelve of NASCAR's NeverEnding Stories

A new year, and technically, a new decade! It is time to look at those persistent NASCAR stories that we suffered through last year, and that we will be digesting this year, too! Twelve stories, representing a Chase-full!

The Economy. Yes, it is still looming it's nasty head over the world in general, and NASCAR specifically. Off season conversation still talks about the need for teams to merge or form alliances. Team members are still losing their jobs. Start up teams are succeeding or dying. Sadly, this is a truism all through the country, in all sectors. While there are glimmers of hope, we will still have to listen to this story for several months.

Jeremy Mayfield. *Sigh* (That sigh is exactly what I did when I typed his name.) The Great Drug Testing Debate will continue, at least, until September. In the meantime, we will be subjected to dribbles of information whenever NASCAR and Mayfield attorneys go to court. One has to wonder if Mayfield's wallet will be depleted before September.

The COT. It looks as if the furor and angst over the COT will be renewed for a few months, as NASCAR is reported to be considering a return to the spoiler, replacing the despised wing. I doubt though, that it will ensure that drivers at Talladega will always drive side by side.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This debate has been years in the making, and it is a no-win situation. If Dale Jr continues to struggle this year, we will hear that either he is not talented, or he is not getting the right equipment. If he succeeds, his detractors will claim it IS the equipment. The Jr Nation is getting tired of Jr being blamed for lack of attendance at races, and yet we will continue to see stands empty out if Jr does not complete a race. No winners predicted!

Jimmy Johnson. It is astonishing that such a mild mannered Clark Kent of a man turns into Superman on the track, much to the ire of any non-JJ fans. All 2009, we heard how horrible it would be for him to make history and win a 4th championship. Now, in 2010, we will hear the speculation of how the impending baby arrival will ensure that there will not be 5 championships in a row.

Race broadcasts. NASCAR has a huge problem. None of the three (four, counting Speed, even though it is technically FOX) broadcast partners are popular with the fans. Each have good and bad issues, but none are universally popular. And yet, the NASCAR franchise appears to be strong enough for Showtime to want an exclusive show.

Danica Patrick. Can she? Will she? And the marketing machine that is part of her image will still raise the hackles of many fans. Many are tired of Danica Mania, yet few dispute that she will bring some much needed attention on the stock car side of the motorsports industry.

Nationwide series: Is it a driver development series? Is it fair of Cup drivers to usurp the money and the fame from the lower tier? It depends on if you are a sponsor of one of those big names who bring fame to their brand, or if you are a struggling team trying to cover your tire bill.

Start and Parks. See #1, blame the economy. Yet some of those teams will be back in 2010, with a few of them expanding and having sponsors. Perhaps the Start and Parks have a few good ideas on basic survival.

Social media. Facebook and Twitter are being used extensively by NASCAR, journalists, bloggers, teams, and drivers. Sadly, some of the best journalists in the industry lost their jobs when NASCAR Scene planned huge cutbacks. Curiously, they may be victims of their social media skills, as the printed media is going away since the internet provides instant gratification to the fans.

Credibility. Many fans of NASCAR are loudly protesting that NASCAR is not credible, and is indeed turning the sport into a clone of professional wrestling. Debris cautions, inspection penalties, driver penalties and drug testing are among the most discussed and contested subjects. NASCAR has a huge job to do, but it appears that fixing their reputation may be at the top of the list.

The Chase. The debate continues on the 'fairness' of the Chase, with particular emphasis on the resetting of points at the beginning of the Chase for the Cup. Listeners to SiriusXM128 know that it brings a constant stream of commentary. Will it end? The complaints will be around as long as there is a Chase.

As I review the list, I am convinced that the vast majority of these stories will survive well into next year. Good, bad or ugly, these topics will continue to be at the forefront of our sport.