I went to the NASCAR race at Infineon last Sunday and it made me realize that NASCAR is in real trouble. In past years, even at 8:00 in the morning, you ran in to bumper to bumper traffic getting to the track, This year we drove right in and in to a line only about 15 deep at the ticket booths. Usually you are met with businesses giving goodie bags of promo stuff, again, nothing like that this year. When we got on the property, there were not the vendors that you usually see.
The track had cut ticket prices in half and that still left them with a little more than half the usual crowd. The cut in prices meant that there were no support races on Sunday, and little to keep our attention until the start of the race, which was later than normal because of the needs of television. Once the cars hit the track, it was obvious that sponsorship was not the same as past years. Normally, the second tier teams are sponsored by local businesses, and again, there was little of that this year. Some of the normal local hot shoes weren’t in the race. Jim Ingelbright and Scott Pruett who always seem to have a ride for the Infineon race, weren’t there. The only reason Boris Said made the race was because he put together his own program. It was disappointing to not have the threat of a road course ringer taking the weekend. It never happens, but in the past, the threat was always there.
When the winner was decided, Casey Kahne and Richard Petty Motorsports, the first win in 10 years for Petty, the discussions were not celebrations of the victory. The discussions were all about the future of Richard Petty Motorsports, the Petty family has always been the royalty of NASCAR, but Richard was forced to be the face of a team he has no real input in their decisions. He couldn’t answer many of the questions, because the Gillets, the real owners, hadn’t discussed their plans with him. It was really pretty embarrassing to see a pillar of NASCAR not knowing the future of his own team.
It appears that all the factory money is drying up, at the same time as commercial sponsorship is drying up. Next year go out to Napa Airport on Thursday, and I bet you won’t see near as many private jets sitting on the tarmac. I also believe that the worry on qualifying won’t be who’s going home, but who will come out to fill the field. Without factory money, there will be less engineering and speeds and competition will suffer. The days of four car teams will be over, and I think a number of teams will consolidate and hope for the best.
The crowds aren’t in the stands, the TV ratings are down, this leads to the sponsors not seeing the value of being in NASCAR. This will lead to the teams throttling back, and the spiral goes on. Teams will be happy that they have the COT as they try to survive. The series will become a spec series and equality will reign, for better or worse.