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NASCAR execs rushing to reassure teams that the future is bright, amid a flurry of worries

 Richard Childress: he's seen a heck of a lot of changes in NASCAR over his 40 years in the sport (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  By Mike Mulhern


   It really is an amazing sight – watching NASCAR roadies unloading these dozens of high-dollar, high-tech-filled transcontinental rigs for the Sprint Cup circus midway every Thursday, in whatever town we're playing in, and then again watching the roadies loading it all back up Sunday night and hitting the road for the next race.
   The sport has come quite a ways since the days the Wood brothers would haul their lone race car from track to track on a rollback well-stocked with cases of Beanie Weenies.

   Heck, this sport has changed a lot just since that day Dale Earnhardt died 10 years ago.
   Keeping up with things -- whether you're an engine man, crew chief, driver, car owner, race fan, sponsor, journalist, or NASCAR executive – is tough, as fast as this sport moves.
   The amazing NASCAR marketing machine has been raging, working drivers tirelessly in promotions here, there and yon. And now NASCAR officials, making lengthy presentations to stock car teams, say that they're accelerating their drive to bring new fans into the sport, that they're ratcheting up efforts in diversity, that they want to identify and 'brand' new drivers more quickly, that they want to boost the sport's impact in social media.
   Carl Edwards, the hottest star in this sport today, who has added the grandstand crowd-surfing victory celebration to his standard backflip, says, after getting his NASCAR 'briefing,' "NASCAR has really turned a page, they're really listening."

    Maybe a win by Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be good for the sport (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The past few weeks NASCAR officials have been doing a lot of PowerPoints to show they're riding the wave.
   But…at this point of the season there are some issues to consider.
   After several body blows in the last few days, the sport is suddenly facing some questions, again.
   Is something wrong in NASCAR-land?
   NASCAR execs have been quick to bring out survey results and make the case that they're working hard and long-range to get the sport back on track.
   NASCAR boss Brian France, over the spring, has brought in a lot of new talent, from CBS, from the LPGA, from Bank of America, to boost the sport, looking ahead to the next big TV contract…a lot of high-dollar talent hired not to change the product you see out on the track, but rather the way the sport itself is seen, from the outside, and maybe too from the inside.
   One question: is all this talent really going to change the dynamic? Or is this just so much sound-and-fury, smoke-and-mirrors?
   Yes, there is the sense that NASCAR is looking for a 'softer, gentler' approach, a change from confrontational and defensive to something more positive.
   However, the results are still out.


Or Trevor Bayne.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Of course this may be 'glass half-empty or half-full' situation.
   With Cars 2, and Jeff Gordon as Jeff Gorvette, and Transformers, with Jimmie Johnson as one of the heroes, hitting the big screens across the country right now…with country star Martina McBride headlining here this weekend (Phish is headlining at Watkins Glen, and other tracks are also pushing big concert acts)….with a really nice crowd last weekend at that unlikely stock car racing outpost near San Francisco, and some typically rough-and-tough action (how about that Tony Stewart!), things would seem to be going along just fine here.
   Yes, there are still those secret NASCAR penalties nagging at us, and too many gas mileage races lately.
   But those are minor aggravations.
   -- Jay Frye is suddenly scrambling to put together a new game plan to save the jobs of 150 families, with sponsor/owner Red Bull's decision to either pull out of the sport or dramatically retrench.
   -- Jack Roush and Matt Kenseth are suddenly scrambling to find some major new sponsorship to fill the void left by the imminent departure of sponsor Diageo/Crown Royal.
   -- Fox TV sports boss David Hill wants to move perhaps half of his company's NASCAR events off the network and down to cable.
   -- Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress need new sponsorship to keep that team solid. Is General Mills coming back?
   -- Questions surround UPS….DuPont cut back big this season….Budweiser is only in for a part-sponsorship….the Army likewise is just a part-sponsorship….
   -- Questions are being raised about Home Depot and Joey Logano, who has not performed for HD the way Tony Stewart did….questions about maybe Home Depot wanting Carl Edwards. Remember, rival Lowe's has won five straight championships…
   In recent seasons NASCAR has lost Jack Daniels and Jim Beam as big sponsors. What has soured the alcohol industry?

    The season's hottest: Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Confidence may suddenly be in short supply in the stock car world, and the NASCAR garage here is filled with some anxious crewmen wondering about the future.
   Is this sport about to be downsized?
   One thing very disturbing about Diageo's decision to pull the plug is that Kenseth has won twice already this season and is in position to make the playoffs, and he's already won a NASCAR championship. What in the world could a sponsor want?
   Apparently it's not that the team and driver are not producing, but perhaps that the sport is not producing for Diageo. Perhaps the sport is not producing for Red Bull.
  During the current economic downturn, the sport has been supported by the purse monies from the eight-year, $4.5 billion TV deal. Work toward a new contract is already under way.
   Is America simply getting bored with NASCAR?
   Are sponsors, the big ones with deep pockets, becoming bored with NASCAR?
   How can NASCAR get its mojo back?
   First, define the problem. What's wrong here?
   NASCAR, in its presentation, says first-time fans have said they have a difficult time understanding the sport. So NASCAR wants to make the whole package more welcoming.
   And of course everyone in America has been waiting for the U.S. economy to turn around, waiting for some three years now.


Jeff Gordon gets a push from teammate Mark Martin in one of the many two-car drafts at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   But here are some other ideas to consider:

   -- Part of the problem may be just 'the gouge.'
   Consider that some teams report hotel rooms for next weekend's Kentucky 400 are $450 each, with a four-night minimum.
   Consider that Daytona this weekend so far is a ghost town. Finding a seat in a restaurant near the track is no sweat. Finding a hotel room is no sweat, if you're willing to pay the price.
   NASCAR tracks can do all the cost-cutting and ticket innovations they want, but when it costs $200-plus a night to stay at a hotel race weekend, that's a big problem.
    Should NASCAR's politicos be in state capitals wrangling for anti-gouging laws to keep hotels from jacking up rates when this sport comes to town?
   -- A parallel issue, some teams say, is that NASCAR and its tracks have put too high a price tag on race weekend marketing. That may be part of the reason for Red Bull's withdrawal. Instead of working to help sponsors market in this sport, NASCAR has, complaints go, rather worked to milk sponsors for as much as it can. Are NASCAR and its tracks making sponsors feel welcome?
   -- Is attitude itself perhaps an issue? NASCAR execs have carried a certain off-putting arrogance for several years now.
   --- Team costs: It is simply too darned expensive to put a decent race team out on the track.
   One team, according to suppliers, budgets a whopping $750,000 per race per team.
   If a car owner could put a competitive team out on the track for, say, $10 million a year, that might be a big plus for the sport. If a car owner could put a competitive team out on the track without having to carry a 100-plus-man roster…..If engines didn't have to pump out 900 horsepower….
   But the team owners already in the game don't want any more competition.


And when will Danica Patrick be a player in Cup racing? Oh, and GoDaddy is indeed being sold, for $2.25 Billion! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   -- Another point: This four-team limit has become an anchor on the sport….a four-team limit that has, with satellite operations linked to engineering and engine contracts, has in fact expanded to six, seven or eight teams, under the control of one company.
   -- Related to that – and an issue that NASCAR has, for some reason, steadfastly refused to address over the years – is the fact that the Detroit auto makers, who hold way too much control over this sport, control who gets to play the game and who doesn't and who gets the good deals and who gets stuck in the doghouse.
    Detroit's control – technology and computer work, and engine technology. If Detroit doesn't give you the okay, you might as well not even bother trying to play the NASCAR game…or resign yourself to being so much more cannon fodder.
    If 25 men could build and sell competitive engines, instead of just the four or five engine operations working the tour today, power wouldn't be so concentrated.
   Some critics point to NASCAR's 'exclusivity' deals as taking potential sponsors out the equation. Like AT&T, Firestone/Bridgestone/Hoosier….
   Some observers point to what they've termed 'speedway fratricide,' the long-running internecine warfare – or at least lack of synergies – between the many NASCAR tour tracks.
   Some observers still point to technical issues like the car-of-tomorrow -- as "a case study of spending money on a non-solution when the simpler solution was already there."
   Some point to similarly expensive technical issues, like NASCAR's questionable switch to ethanol, with the ensuing need to replace all those old gas cans with expensive, high-tech machinery that, to be honest, really doesn't work that well….and like the pending switch to fuel injection (a test is set for Thursday at Kentucky Speedway).



Crew chief Steve Addington (R) and Kurt Busch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   For years NASCAR dismissed many of these issues. 
   Now it's doing more fan surveys. Twitter and Facebook can of course provide some answers for free.
   And the new NASCAR operation appears eager to put a new coat of paint on this sport.
   That's well and good. But the house itself may need some repairs too.
   Something worrisome, perhaps – do all these new NASCAR execs really understanding racing?

   Who are the key NASCAR executives to watch in all this:
   -- New: David Higdon is now head of the PR/marketing operation;
   -- New: Steve Herbst is now boss of broadcasting/global media strategy;
   -- Paul Brooks, already one of the sport's top men, is now running a new 'innovation group;'
   -- Mark Jenkins is now leading NASCAR's 'digital media initiatives;'
   -- New: Brett Jewkes has come in to take the role of 'chief communications officer;'
   -- New: Jim O'Connell is the new sales guy;
   -- Eric Nyquist is head of 'strategic development.'
   -- Steve O'Donnell remains point man for 'racing operations;'
   -- George Silbermann remains in charge of the sport's 'development series' around the country;
   -- and Marcus Jadotte continues running NASCAR's 'diversity' programs.


   Clint Bowyer: one of several drivers sweating things out for 2012 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   NASCAR racing, as a business, has changed considerably over the years. It's hard to recall those days when an entire team could fit into a doolie, driver included.
   This is the scene: stock car teams now are crewed by men with families, and they worry about normal family things like medical care at a decent price, not how to drive a rental car into the motel swimming pool.
   So when Fox' David Hill, on the golf course with NASCAR president Mike Helton, makes the pitch to move half a dozen Sprint Cup races back to cable, well, that would be a bad move for the sport, which has already lost NBC network TV and much of ABC network TV.
   Consider: In the 2006 season NASCAR averaged nearly 8 million viewers for each race, in the package headlined by Fox and NBC. But last season NASCAR's average TV viewers had dropped to just under 6 million. That's a loss of about 25 percent of the TV audience.
   On top of that, the 18-34 male demographic for this sport has been iffy. It was sinking for two years, though now it's going back up.
   So Brian France himself may have to step to the plate and not only try to rally his troops but also pump up some of the sport's sponsors, and give the high sign to potential new sponsors to 'Come on in, the water's fine.'
   However France's 'state-of-the-sport' talks the past year or so have been generally lackluster at best, so he'll need to crank it up loud this time.

   Perhaps it's time to start rethinking this sport in some big ways.
   Maybe it's time to look again at the February-to-November schedule, and to reconsider where this sport plays. Was it a mistake to drop that second Los Angeles race? Is it a mistake not to make the Montreal stop a full Cup event?
   Is it time to start thinking outside the box?

   Will NASCAR's 'new' game plan lead to new boom times?
   Or have NASCAR executives lost track of the core of what made this sport so great?
   Jeff Gordon, after listening to NASCAR's presentation, says "Some of the things, to me, are definitely going in the right direction."
   Gordon, remember, just got effectively dumped by long-time sponsor DuPont, which cut back this season from full sponsorship to a partial deal, so he's acutely aware of the big picture.
    "Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at everything of where the sport is at," Gordon says.
   "In these times -- not just in our sport, which I think is having a great year -- you look at how tough it is just to be in business in general around the world. How do you impact not only our core fans, who are already big, loyal fans, but reach out to new fans….
     "I think a lot of what they are saying makes a lot of sense…"
    However, some skeptics, who have heard this spiel before, worry that NASCAR may be talking the talk but question if NASCAR can now walk the walk, and make something big happen.

    Welcoming race fans will be a priority in NASCAR's newest game plan (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

AMERICA is tired of nascar

AMERICA is tired of nascar allways focusing on jeff gordon[chevy] jimmy johnson[chevy] dale jr[chevy] kevin harvick[chevy] tony stewart[chevy]you can see where this seems a little bias to the other manufacturers.ford gets a little tv time and toyota and dodge but a ford can take the lead in a race and the camera is fixed on dale jr running 27th or one of the other fore mentioned drivers.ford is running a little better this year from last year when they where at a disadvantage with their outdated engines but for ford to be competitive for fans and or sponsors nascar done nothing to help. let chevy get behind and see how fast nascar works to get them back on top. sponsors are hesitant to stay with manufacturers for this reason.oh ok clint bower drives a chevy but what has he done got lucky and won a couple races so did michael waltrip.

Until NASCAR figures out a

Until NASCAR figures out a way to cut costs, for the competitors and fans, don't look for anything to change. They can make all of the powerpoint presentations they want, but the bottom line is that it costs too much to go to the Cup races now, especially if you live out of town. Why is that? Well, somebody has to pay for the expensive racecars, fancy tractor trailer rigs to get them there, 20-man crews at the track to work on each little piece of the car, the jets and helicoptors for the drivers to arrive in style, and for the extravagant lifestyles that the owners and drivers now have to have. Many of the fans have figured out that it's just not worth the money to see a Cup race in person anymore. With the hotel rates you listed above, I'd be looking at $2000 for just the hotel and race tickets. That does not include the cost of getting there, food, and parking fees. For $2000, I can buy a mean 55"-60" LED TV and a surround system to go with it, and I can watch ALL of the races on it. Don't preach to me about "being there is so much better", because I've been and it isn't. The view from the couch on a big-screen HDTV is better, and without the cramped seating and hours of waiting in the parking lot after the race is over. Other fans are figuring this out too.
It seems the sponsors are tiring of pumping a seemingly endless stream of money into these race teams also. The amount never seems to be enough for the Big 4 teams, and when they have success they only ask the sponsor for more. $750,000 per race? Wow. That would last almost a whole season 25 years ago. NASCAR needs to be of the same mind as all of our radical politicians are now, and find ways to cut, cut, cut. The fans are paying the price, and they're sick of it.
Will somebody please tell NASCAR that "NASCAR" is not a sport. NASCAR is a sanctioning body, and stock car racing is the sport.

When NASCAR gets back to its

When NASCAR gets back to its roots, it will again become extremely popular. The price for everything is way to high for new talent and teams to try and break into the sport,add to that the fact that the drivers have way too much of a "hollywood" image and it spells disaster for the sport. I have said it before, bring the teams and tracks back to the roots of NASCAR, bring back dates to Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, get rid of these cookie cutter tracks that bring the same basic results everytime at every track, and for the love of god get out of dead markets like Vegas or Kansas. The teams need sponsors to keep the operations running, yet it is too expensive for most of those sponsors. The sport needs to fill seats at the tracks, yet it is way too expensive to attend the race, especially if you are traveling to the race and having to stay in the local hotels. Mr. Helton you must find a way to CUT THE COSTS or risk losing everything the sport has been fighting for for well over 50 years.

It's true about the price

It's true about the price gouging in KY. We are staying at a Hampton Inn in Carrollton, 12 miles south of the track. There is a 3 night minimum stay at $269/night. The sign on the back of the door says the maximum rate for the room is $189/night. Even that's too high for a room but when there's only a handful of hotels near the track you're stuck. And don't get me started on the concession prices at the track......

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