Toyota debut among issues likely to irritate in 2007
Posted: Wednesday February 7, 2007 2:59PM; Updated: Wednesday February 7, 2007 2:59PM
At the beginning of each season, hope springs eternal. This is the year that your favorite driver will win the championship, the season that your favorite make of car will turn the tide. But behind every silver lining, there's a dark cloud.
And NASCAR has several dark clouds on the horizon for the 2007 season. Here's seven situations just waiting for a tire to blow.
1. Toyota (the manufacturer): The debut of a new manufacturer in Nextel Cup is bound to cause controversy and plenty of rain -- no matter how things go. Most established Cup teams are concerned, believing that well-funded Toyota is going to be a creature of the night that just sucks the life out of stock-car racing. Toyota will be hated if their teams succeed, but will be a failure if the team struggles. Even if the cars are just middle-of-the-pack, the Toyota approach will drive up the cost of doing business, further angering rival teams In other words, there's not a happy ending in sight.
2. Toyota (the teams): Combine a new make of car with new teams and you are bound to have some conflict. None of the Toyota teams are established successes, so how can anyone expect them to perform better with a new manufacturer? Throw in a group of drivers who are largely unproven, and you can be pretty sure that three wrongs won't make a right. Dale Jarrett and Brian Vickers are Toyota's best bets, but neither has ever made the Chase for the Championship. Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield and Dave Blaney are veteran journeyman. David Reutimann is so inexperienced that not only will he be a Cup rookie, but he plans to contend for Rookie of the Year on the Busch series, too. A.J. Allmendinger is not only a rookie but his background is in open-wheel racing, not NASCAR.
3. Car of Tomorrow: So far, NASCAR's planned new car designed to increase competition and reduce costs has drawn little but complaints. The new cars, which are supposed to debut in April at Bristol, are being called "bricks." This experiment could easily blow up in everybody's face, yet, it could also offer more side-by-side action, more slingshot-type moves at restrictor-plate races and more emphasis on a driver's skill. That is a best-case scenario. What will likely happen is that one or more teams will get the COT dialed in first, then run away from the rest of the pack in the standings.
4. Single-car teams: These creatures could be extinct as quickly as next year. It has been almost four years since a driver from a single-car team even won a race (Ricky Craven for owner Cal Wells in March of 2003). The Wood Brothers, BAM Racing and Morgan-McClure Motorsports are among the fewer than 10 single-car teams still making a go of things. But they are in a vicious cycle and most of them will soon face a race-to-race existence. They can't get good equipment and good drivers because they are underfunded. They can't land great sponsorship because they don't have good equipment and great drivers. And heartwarming stories such as the return of Ward Burton to the Nextel Cup circuit will only go so far when his Morgan-McClure team finds itself hopelessly outgunned by juggernauts such as Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
5. Dale Earnhardt Inc.: One of NASCAR's cornerstone teams could quickly become an afterthought. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is in the last year of his contract. If he jump ships, the team will be left with two unproven youngsters in Martin Truex and Paul Menard. Take away Michael Waltrip's success on restrictor-plate tracks, and DEI's claim to fame is limited to its founder and Dale Jr.'s on-and-off the track success.
6. Repaved tracks: Tracks usually have to be redone because there's something wrong with them. Yet the history of NASCAR shows that a new surface usually means trouble. At the very least, the drivers complain about how there is no groove and passing is just not possible. Bruton Smith is working on several of the SMI tracks he owns, Las Vegas will be too fast and there's no telling what will happen to Bristol when they rework the surfaces between races in '07. Texas Motor Speedway also will smooth out its famous "bump." Don't be surprised of the condition of these redone tracks becomes an issue.
7. Dropped calls: Richard Childress Racing has a problem with its cell phones. After losing one of NASCAR's best known sponsors, GM Goodwrench, RCR is in danger of losing corporate giant AT&T. When Nextel joined racing as the title sponsor of NASCAR's top series, it signed a deal that made it the only cell phone company that could be involved in the sport. Cingular and Alltel were grandfathered in, basically given permission to stay as long as they continued to sponsor their current team. Cingular sponsors the No. 31 that Jeff Burton drives for RCR. Unfortunately, AT&T bought Cingular and has decided to switch the brand to AT&T. Without some creative thinking, Childress could soon be without another backer.