BY ROGER DIEZ
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Writer
It has been a long, hard-fought racing season, but it’s over at last. Now we start counting the days until the 2009 season starts. Before I do anything else, I want to congratulate the newly crowned 2008 NASCAR champions; Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Johnny Benson.
An honorable mention goes to Carl Edwards, who came so close in two out of the three top NASCAR divisions. He is also the new NASCAR fuel mileage king, scoring two of his nine Cup wins with remarkable mileage runs. Congrats also to Kyle Busch for winning 21 races spread among all three divisions. I know that I (and many others) have had some harsh things to say about the Shrub this past season, but the kid can drive a race car.
– A few weeks back I enthused over the Formula 1 championship chase going down to the very end of the very last race. Well, the Craftsman Truck series finale was every bit as exciting. If you missed it, you missed one of the best championship finishes in any race series ever.
Johnny Benson’s truck wasn’t as fast as Ron Hornaday’s last Friday night, but Benson took advantage of a combination of strategy and luck to win his first Truck title. It will look nice on his trophy shelf next to his Busch series championship hardware. Benson had contemplated retirement from the big leagues of racing after this season, but winning the championship may have changed those plans. Stand by for more news on that front.
– NASCAR dropped a huge bombshell on the Cup competitors just before the Homestead season finale, announcing a ban on all testing at tracks where Cup cars will run in 2009. The move is expected to save teams anywhere from $1 million to $3 million per season, but is going to be a hardship on single-car teams and rookies. Multi-car teams can share information on Friday practice sessions, but single car teams won’t have that ability.
And rookies will be looking at tracks they have only run with video games and simulators. Teams are lobbying hard to be allowed to run telemetry equipment on Fridays, noting that it is the only way to get accurate track data to program their seven-post shaker rigs and simulators. There is still a lot that is not understood about the setup of the new car, and allowing telemetry in Friday practice sessions would certainly add to the knowledge base.
– Of course, the testing ban was all about the economy and saving teams money. In the current economic climate, sponsors are reluctant to part with the huge sums they have lavished on NASCAR sponsorship in the past. And some of the sponsors that are still participating are moving their dollars to teams that consistently make the Chase.
This hurts those teams that were already in trouble. Witness the recent merger of DEI and Ganassi Racing, the precarious financial position of Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers, among others. And with the big three American auto manufacturers on the ropes and begging Congress for bailout money, how much longer can they continue to subsidize the sport at traditional levels?
I’m afraid that NASCAR, and all racing series, are heading down a rough road in 2009 and possible a few more seasons to follow. At a recent press conference, NASCAR CEO Brian France addressed these and other issues, among them ticket prices and financial assistance for struggling race teams.
The bottom line is that France laid ticket price reductions at the feet of the track operators and said it is neither NASCAR’s policy nor its responsibility to bolster troubled race teams. However, if there are fewer viable race teams, the automakers depart, and fans can’t afford tickets, how healthy can the sport be?
– Finally, congratulations to a couple of local racers who received honors at awards banquets last week. Hunter Colodny was named Legends division Rookie of the Year at Shasta Speedway and finished fifth in the season point standings. And Bobby Hodges won the “2008 ARP Sportsman of the Year” in the Westcar Late Model division. Hodges tied in points for first place but was relegated to second due to missing a race while on college visits.