By: Drew Hierwarter
Will blank hoods and quarter panels be the norm next season?
In the world of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup teams the “off-season” is mostly about getting ready for the Daytona 500. Almost from the time they arrive at the shop on the Monday morning following the last race of the season at Homestead, the preparations begin for the first race of the next season. It’s only a few weeks before pre-season, Daytona testing begins and there is a lot of work to do. This year, however, things will be very different.
In a move to save team owners a little money, NASCAR has banned all testing at tracks holding a NASCAR sanction. That means there will be no organized testing at Daytona in January, or anywhere else for that matter. The ban doesn’t go into effect until January so several teams are cramming some testing into December while they can. The Red Bull team has scheduled two tests at Nashville Superspeedway for example. But for the most part there will little to no testing done. But there is another factor that’s changing this year’s winter plans and that’s money. Or to be more precise, the lack of money.
Normally by this time of year all of next year’s sponsor commitments are set. Negotiations begin as early as June and by September most contracts are signed, hand shakes are done, and new decals and paint supplies are ordered. But not this year. The sudden downturn in the U.S. economy has forced a lot of companies, both large and small, to reconsider spending $20 to $30 million scarce dollars on racing sponsorship.
For example the #78 Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser, has released driver Joe Nemecheck because they can only afford to run a partial schedule in 2009, and may decide to not compete at all next year. Michael Waltrip Racing has, to date, only been able to secure partial funding for the car to be driven by David Reutimann after the departure of UPS. Chad McCumbee had been slated for a full time ride in the Petty Enterprises #44 car for 2009 but that may change. “We have to wait for sponsorship,” McCumbee said. “If we don’t have it, we can’t go racing. We’ve had some things lined up, but when companies start to struggle, NASCAR sponsorship will be the first to go.”
So the focus of the typical NASCAR off-season has definitely changed. Instead of looking for speed at Daytona, many teams will be occupied with looking for money. That’s a commodity that’s becoming increasingly rare. There may be fewer haulers coming through the tunnel at Daytona International Speedway next February for the start of Speedweeks. And those teams that do arrive in sunny Florida will be leaner and ready to do more with less than they’ve had in many years.
The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will have a different look, but racing will go on. Many race teams will find a way to make it. There are only 85 days until the 2009 Daytona 500 takes the green flag and then the focus will be back on winning.