Sunday, January 10, 2010

Things to Watch in the New Season

We're almost one month from the Daytona 500, so it is time to look at what the 2010 season could bring.

Sponsorship - With the down turn in the economy, funds for advertising and sponsorship has dried up. The true test will be this year. Will Nascar have trouble finding race sponsors? Will mid-pack teams have sponsorship? What about back of the packers? Without adequate sponsorship, Nascar may be facing smaller fields by the end of the year - which already struck the Truck series and the Nationwide series. Teams can't scrape by without sponsorship for long. Look for Cup teams to have similar problems. Maybe we're entering the era where drivers have multiple sponsors and no primary sponsor.

Race Attendance - Face it, attending a race is expensive. The only time hotels charge the amount listed on the back of the room door is during a Nascar weekend. Couple it with the now typically high gas prices during the spring and summer, unemployment, and the trend of staycations, race attendance could fall. Again. The end of the 2009 season featured empty stands in nearly every TV shot. Look for it to continue unless prices go down for tickets, hotels, airfare etc.

TV Viewership - As race attendance fell, TV viewership fell too. If Nascar TV viewing continues to trend downward, Nascar will lose the ability to draw advertisers and potentially lose out when the next TV contract comes up for bid. The new car may be safer, but people don't like watching it.

Schedule Re-alignment - Nascar needs to fix the schedule. Do we need two Poconos? Two Californias? Should the Chase races be the same every year? I recommend a hard look at the races, when they are held (seasonally), and attendance. Why not rotate the schedule - odd years Pocono has 2 races while Cali has 1, even years Cali has 2 while Pocono has 1? My other recommendation is to add a road course to the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Will Junior win or even contend for a win in 2010? Like him or not, Junior is the most popular driver, and as his season goes, so goes Nascar's popularity (to some degree). If Junior can make a comeback, it will fuel both the lovers and the haters. Nascar needs him to do well.

Jimmie Johnson -Johnson's 2010 could be interesting as he will become a father sometime in 2010. Jeff Gordon's perspective changed with the birth of his daughter, and I expect Johnson's view will change too - Baby will need a ring too! Johnson needs a serious rival - and Nascar needs the rivalry. Without anyone to challenge him, non-fans yawn and turn the channel.

Jeff Gordon - Each year, I wonder how many more years Gordon is going to race. His much publicized back problems and his apparently serene home life are taking a toll on his fierce competitive spirit. If he'd win the 5th championship, I think we'd be seeing the last of Jeff Gordon.

Tony Stewart - Can he repeat with another good season? Or will he hit a sophomore slump in ownership?

Juan Pablo Montoya - Montoya has made a few more friends in the Nascar garage than in the Formula One garage (due to the different cultures more than anything else). But, he is still an aggressive driver who ticks people off. Will this lead to on-track problems this year? Or will he continue to get a pass? Will Earnhardt Ganassi be able to support him? Or will Montoya be looking to leave? Will Ganassi try to leave?

Kasey Kahne - Will Kahne stay with Richard Petty or will he bolt at the end of his contract? Kahne made a lot of stinging comments last year about the team. He's always admitted to admiring Tony Stewart. And remember that contract battle with Ford when he left to go to Dodge? I doubt Kahne has forgotten it.

Kevin Harvick - Harvick and Richard Childress have admitted that things haven't gone well with Harvick's team. The question is whether Childress can appease Harvick enough to keep him in the fold.

Doubtless, there will be other issues that pop up during the year (the rear spoiler, no double line at Daytona/Talladega etc), but these should be enough to keep in mind for the first half of the year.