I had such high hopes for NASCAR, at least since July. That is when NBC came on board and presented the long sought after broadcast crew that could keep fans glued to the track simply by the strength of their commentary. We have waited years for that to happen, and it is crucial for a sport that has yet to solve some on-track competitive issues and more than a few off it. If the racing is not spellbinding, then the commentary damn well better be if you hope to have anyone watching.
The broadcast team could not solve the biggest off-track issue. Economics. Long gone are the days when Bob bought or borrowed a car and went racing. It costs big money to build the big cars with the big engines supported by big technology and hauled around by big trucks. Long, long gone. If you are in Denver, Colorado, it might cost a few more ducats to do so. To be competitive, to be the reigning Cup champion, you better believe the dollars are big. Without sponsorship, even a successful company with a successful sibling enterprise to help shore things up, cannot long last. This week, we discovered exactly how long.
Furniture Row Racing, established in 2005, Cup champions in 2017, will not be around come next season’s Daytona 500. With 5-hour Energy heading to the exits, and with no sugar daddies waiting to take their place, the cash had simply run out. A defending champion who cannot get proper sponsorship. If that is not a wake-up call for the sport, you might as well let them sleep in.
If nothing else, it should make for a very active silly season. Martin Truex Jr. and pit boss Cole Pearn, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other published reports are bound in tandem for the mothership. Like Erik Jones before him, a move from Furniture Row to Joe Gibbs Racing is being claimed. If those reports are accurate, Daniel Suarez will take his dance to another ballroom, and it probably will result in a step down in his equipment. The really bad news is that one premier ride is disappearing and what, if anything, replaces it will feature a team destined to sit outside the top twenty-five next season. That will not bode well for the sport.
However, NBC does. Indianapolis might, depending on if the Brickyard 400 has solid rubber to avoid the debacle of 2008. At least the cars are different from the time of that disaster, and I am sure Goodyear has better rubber. I am not sure even this broadcast team could save a race where drivers are pitting every 10 laps to keep their tires from exploding.
This marks the final chance for those outside the Chase to win themselves in. All Jimmie Johnson has to do is come home 19 positions better than Alex Bowman, though Bowman could eat that up in a hurry by winning both stages. All Bowman needs is do, other than that, is to keep those behind him away from Victory Lane. Not likely one will slip by, but it could happen. There are some other possibilities when you see that past winners include such outsiders as defending race champ Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, and Jamie McMurray. They could yet upset the apple cart. However, I do not have much hope of that happening.
Did I mention the outstanding broadcast team to take us through all the action on Sunday?
1. KYLE BUSCH – 6 WINS (1038 Pts)
With a “regular season” pennant, he should enter the playoffs in the top spot.
2. KEVIN HARVICK – 6 WINS (1 E.W. – 999 Pts)
He is retiring…from Xfinity racing.
3. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 4 WINS (883 Pts)
Defending champion now in a lame duck situation.
4. CLINT BOWYER – 2 WINS (777 Pts)
Hoping some of A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 magic at Indianapolis might rub off on him this week.
5. KURT BUSCH – 1 WIN (835 Pts)
Nothing definite yet as to where he will run in 2019.
6. JOEY LOGANO – 1 WIN (818 Pts)
Penske finishes last week’s classic 1-2, and that has to have Roger feeling pretty good.
7. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 1 WIN (785 Pts)
As demonstrated at Darlington, this truly is a team sport.
8. CHASE ELLIOTT – 1 WIN (737 Pts)
At 22, the young gent is not retiring from anything, including his Saturday ride at Indy.
9. ERIK JONES – 1 WIN (679 Pts)
Can Erik now be called the original Furniture Row refugee, or is that Kurt?
10. AUSTIN DILLON – 1 WIN (496 Pts)
Daytona (twice), Fontana, and Michigan. Outside the Top Ten everywhere else.
11. KYLE LARSON – 783 POINTS
0.6 seconds. Everything went right last week, except for 0.6 seconds.
12. RYAN BLANEY – 755 POINTS
Still seeking his first Indy Top Ten.
13. DENNY HAMLIN – 738 POINTS
In a dozen starts, has finished on the lead lap at the Brickyard in all but one.
14. ARIC ALMIROLA – 681 POINTS
Do not expect much, as his best finish in six starts at Indianapolis is 13th.
15. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 605 POINTS
If Bowman wins the opening two stages he might start getting nervous.
16. ALEX BOWMAN – 586 POINTS
He does not care who wins on Sunday, as long as it is not one of 14 particular drivers of interest.
17. RICKY STENHOUSE JR. – 518 POINTS
Not exactly hot with Top Ten finishes limited to Bristol, Talladega, and Charlotte in May.
18. RYAN NEWMAN – 503 POINTS
Coming back home again to Indiana, he needs to race like it is 2013 and Jim Nabors is singing.
19. PAUL MENARD – 493 POINTS
Needs to race like it is 2011.
20. DANIEL SUAREZ – 487 POINTS
Reports claim he is about to play off-season musical chairs.