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The Hall of Fame, sponsorship issues and looking to Charlotte

The Hall of Fame, sponsorship issues and looking to Charlotte

by Matt Taliaferro

And the hits keep on coming
Clint Bowyer just can’t catch a break. Penalized a title-killing 150 points after his car passed post-race inspection and then failed a second, more thorough dissection at the NASCAR R&D Center three weeks ago, Bowyer’s team has been nailed twice more.

After a Friday media center tirade against NASCAR’s penalties, Bowyer was busted for speeding on pit road at Dover — twice. Then this past weekend, he was the victim of a debris caution with 16 laps to go, in a race he was winning handily. Although there was debris spotted, it looked well out of the racing groove and, according to Bowyer, had been there "the entire run" — a 25-lap period of time if you’re to believe him.

If your car is out of tolerance or you’re speeding down pit road or there is debris on the track, fine, the sanctioning body should take appropriate action. The problem lies in that NASCAR has set up the system so it can manipulate it, not that we have proof it always does. And in a case like Bowyer's, he looks like an easy target.

Some media members seem to take offense that their colleagues, as well as fans, continually paint NASCAR as the conspiratorial bad guy in the sort of situations cited above. What those media types (most of whom work for an outlet either owned by or partnered in some way with NASCAR and ISC) won’t admit is that if the system were set up transparently there wouldn’t be a need to look at things with such a skeptical eye.

If we could see the pit road speed being posted on a big bright board or if debris cautions were called with any consistency or penalties explained in any detail whatsoever, the amount of agnostic thinking in NASCAR Nation would diminish exponentially.

Note to the brass in Daytona: This isn’t 1978. The back-room justice and wink-wink, nudge-nudge penalties and rulings you could get away with then, when you were but a lovable little regional curiosity, isn’t accepted now that you claim to be a major league sport on par with the NFL, MLB, et al. And your ratings and attendance are reflecting that.

And your 2011 class is ...
Speckled with surprises. The Hall of Fame Class for 2011 was announced Wednesday. The inductees: David Pearson, Lee Petty, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore.

Pearson was the no-brainer, possibly the greatest ever and a man most believe should have been inducted in the inaugural class. Petty was close to a lock as well, being a three-time champion and patriarch of racing’s most famous family. Allison was a popular champion whose career is now defined by family and personal tragedy as much as on-track greatness. Jarrett is as well respected a driver and personality as anyone in NASCAR who helped build the sport, racking up 50 wins and a pair of titles in a career that for all intents and purposes, lasted only six full seasons. And Moore was a renowned owner and mechanic whose ingenuity and know-how transcended the NASCAR ranks.

The excluded? No Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Inman or Raymond Parks. Of course, they’ll get in — most likely next year — but then again, that’s what we said about a couple of these guys last year.

My ballot (if I had a vote) would’ve read: Pearson, Petty, Inman, Yarborough and Waltrip.

My make-believe ballot next year will read: Inman, Yarborough, Waltrip, Raymond Parks and Herb Thomas. T. Wayne Robertson may sneak in and knock one of those guys out, though.

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Athlon Sports takes a trip around the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit as the series heads home to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Money, like water, finds its level
I do a few radio spots throughout the week (they love me in Chattanooga), and notice that many of the show hosts place more emphasis on driver earnings than I ever have — particularly in a day and age when the payouts in the Cup Series are such that it’s hard to get your arms around them.

Jamie McMurray defies conventional logic, being outside of the Chase with two wins, yet has pocketed $6 million and change in 2010. Of course, his wins happened to come in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, the biggest payouts of the season. In a rare instance of the payout equaling the overall performance (on a relative scale, of course), Jimmie Johnson bests Jamie Mac by about a 150 grand as top earner.

Compare that to what the Hall of Fame inductees pulled down over a career and it makes you wonder how this sport can be in such a financial crisis. Salaries, overheads, travel expenses and the untold millions more that keep the powerhouse (and second-tier) organizations humming along all boil down to sponsorship dollars — not so much race-winnings.

So maybe this ìsponsorship crisisî in the Cup ranks isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s time the team owners started competing within their means. Maybe it’s time they sat down with one another and laid out some terms. Maybe they, along with the sanctioning body, start showing some fiscal responsibility and get away from their early-2000s model of running a race team, demanding $20-30 million to make the cars go ’round in circles.

Look, I don’t have access to these teams’ books, but I bet if I did my jaw would drop. So maybe Mobil 1, Budweiser, DuPont, Bass Pro and Aflac are setting a new standard: They’re ponying up a more-than-modest amount of money to sell their wares in a partial-sponsorship role and the teams can do the adjusting while a recession that never seems to end continues to demand we squeeze more money out of a penny.

After all, when word breaks that pay for Wall Street executives is hitting an all-time high of $144 billion (yeah, these are the guys you and I bailed out about a year ago), the sport doesn’t need team owners and drivers worth millions crying about money. There are too many salt-of-the-earth types struggling to pay their mortgage that have more legitimate concerns.

Speaking of sponsorship ...
Tony Stewart unveiled a new partner for the 2011 season and beyond. Mobil 1, jumping ship from Penske Racing at the conclusion of the season, will adorn Stewart’s No. 14 Chevy for 11 races next season.

Wait, 11 races? That’s about the same as McDonald’s is on Jamie McMurray’s hood or DuPont on Jeff Gordon’s this year. And this from a company in Mobil 1 that has been a full-time primary the last decade or so. But I guess my earlier rant cleared up the reasons behind the reduction in funding.

Haven’t I seen this movie before?
I’m not one to jump on the weekly bandwagon (you know, the latest guy to win a race is suddenly the biggest threat to unseat a four-time champion), but that win by Tony Stewart in Southern California sure was timely.

Moving to within 107 points of Jimmie Johnson in the Chase standings, Smoke has gained 60 points the last two weeks. Of course, the fuel-gamble-gone-bad at New Hampshire is especially painful now, but something Stewart has seemed to put behind him, mainly because there’s no other healthy way to handle it.

In the meantime, Johnson continues to demoralize, with runs of first, second and third in the last three weeks following his own rough New Hampshire outing (25th). Now that he has the points lead, it’s a matter of some driver (Hamlin? Harvick? Gordon?) outperforming him. And as the last four Chase runs have shown us, that just doesn’t happen. Johnson and the boys typically get stronger as the playoffs roll on, not weaker.

I’m not prepared to anoint anyone anything just yet, but man, it sure doesn’t look good for anyone not named Jimmie, Chad or Rick.

Of course, next week I’ll probably change my mind.

Charlotte entry list
Fifty one cars will attempt to qualify for the Bank of America 500 this weekend. Of those, roughly 13 cars, were they to make the show, would be start and park efforts. Since the S&P teams seem to have no issue with working the system, then surely they won’t mind if I list them for all to see:

07 – Robby Gordon (RGM), 09 – Landon Cassell (Phoenix Racing), 23 – Johnny Sauter (R3 Motorsports), 26 – Patrick Carpentier (FRR), 36 – J.J. Yeley (TBR), 64 – Jeff Green (Gunselman Motorsports), 87 – Joe Nemechek (NEMCO), 92 – Brian Keselowski in a self-owned slow car.

As always, the healthiest S&P teams of PRISM Parkingsports and Whitney FaultyMotorsports (does it really matter the number of the cars or the drivers?) will make a few gold tokens by completing 25 laps or so.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Hot Laps
There have only been 103 Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, dating back to the 1960 World 600 which was won by Joe Lee Johnson. Joe Lee put four laps on the field en route to his second and final career win.

There’s a three-way traffic jam at the top of the all-time wins list in Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison each have six points-paying wins here. Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty have five apiece. Other active drivers with multiple wins: Mark Martin (4), Jeff Burton (3), Kasey Kahne (3), Bill Elliott (2) and Bobby Labonte (2).

Martin’s 18 top 5s and 23 top 10s (51 starts) leads all active drivers. Johnson leads all active drivers with a ninth-place average finish (minimum four starts).

For a full rundown of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s specs, a crew chief’s take on the track, some fantasy racing advice and a detailed performance history, visit Athlon Sports' Charlotte Motor Speedway Track Profile.