Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Time is Right for some Small Teams

Though the country faces economic woes, and our about to be president and vice president keep sounding the doom and gloom alarms, some true adventurers are about to embark on the road to riches in NASCAR. To me, it makes perfect sense, because the chance for small teams to make the field for the big show, or better known as the Sprint Cup is better than it's been in years.

You may ask "Why is this?" OK, I, as the little knowing, little seeing Jimmy C. will tell you why. With waning sponsorship, and cash on hand in general, the major teams who have dominated NASCAR for years have been culled. Sure, teams like Roush-Fenway, Hendrick, and Gibbs are doing just fine, but some of the smaller teams are only running limited schedules, or have folded up entirely. For instance, the famed Wood Brothers are only running selected races this year with 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Bill Elliot at the wheel of their number 21 Ford. Though the winningest number in NASCAR history, the 43, will likely run all the races, it will be mostly owned by a guy named George Gillett, who might be a genius at running a hockey team such as his Montreal Canadiens, or the football team (read 'soccer' in America) the Liverpool Football Club, he has shown little in the way of putting people in position to win races in NASCAR. We've already seen the fiasco that was the Elliot Sadler and AJ Allendinger soap opera played out on Jayski.com.

The 2000 Cup champion, Bobby Labonte is still looking for a job, but is rumored to be close to signing on with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as either the driver of the 41 or, hold on for a second, the 8! Better get out my '8' gear and dust it off again. 2009 indeed shows just how fickle this sport can be, when a past champion and a very recent rookie of the year, Regan Smith, are both looking for jobs. Such is NASCAR in the year 2009.

In any other year, a past Cup champion and winner of 21 Cup races such as Bobby Labonte would not have a problem finding a ride in the Cup series. Neither would 2008's ROTY Regan Smith. But times have changed, and Teresa Earnhardt has been the owner and chief executive of what used to be Dale Earnhardt Inc. for years. I understand that the DEI name will be kept for other reasons besides stock car racing, but basically, DEI is now EGR, or Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. Though Teresa Earnhardt certainly did not bring about the hard times which NASCAR is currently experiencing, what was DEI has certainly shown us just how fast what once was a good race team can fall into nearly obscure depths. If nothing else, the demise of DEI as a racing team shows us just how much weight Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried on his shoulders when he was there. In 2007, Dale Jr. left DEI. In 2009, DEI basically is no more.

But what's bad news for many can be good news for a few. It's been announced that a few smaller teams are getting ready to spread their wings and attempt to fly, at least around the track at Daytona next month. R3 Motorsports, owned by Robert Richardson Sr. is planning on putting a car in the field for NASCAR's greatest race. Tommy Baldwin, a former crew chief, and Daytona 500 winning crew chief has announced that he will be fielding cars under the banner of Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2009.

Other small teams will be attempting to make the field at Daytona and other tracks as well, because the failure of a few old teams leaves room for some new teams to try their hand at racing. As happens in life, racing teams turn full circle eventually. (No pun intended here) Petty, for the most part is gone. Though Richard will be present in the racing community, he will in fact only be a minority owner of the number and car that made him famous. The number 8, which was so hotly contested just a year and a half ago, will apparently be up for grabs by the driver who can bring a sponsor with him, and little else matters.

Speaking of sponsorship, the time is right for some of the companies all over the land, and indeed all over the world to investigate the world of NASCAR. Think about it: Your name plastered on a rolling bill board 38 weeks out of the year, in America's second most watched sport! What a deal! In the NFL, most sponsors only option is to buy the naming rights to an arena. In NASCAR, you can have your name on proud display for much less money. Let's face it: Even if Plaxico Burris plays football again, you're not likely to see "The Rubber Bullet" company logo plastered all over the back of his jersey. You're equally not likely to see the "Humane Society" logo on Michael Vick's jersey anytime soon either. NASCAR: It's more bang for your advertising buck!

Here's to the new year. I wish success to all the teams competing to race in NASCAR in 2009!

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