Childress: NASCAR will be fine
Richard Childress said in the short term there will be mergers but still full fields
There will be a slowdown in fans and sponsors, but Childress isn't worried
Joey Logano said he's learning about Homestead-Miami via his simulation games
These are uncertain times in NASCAR, with money scarce and no relief on the horizon, it seems almost inevitable that the sport will go through some sort of contraction within the next year or two.
How much contraction? That's open for debate, but one of the theories currently being bandied about is that we will see several races next year run without a full field of 43 cars. And to a racing fan (which I am), such a sight would prove much more depressing than the prospect of empty seats in the grandstand.
So two weeks ago at Texas, I sat down with Richard Childress -- who's been going to the races since before I was in short pants -- and asked him what he thought the future would look like. He's certainly got the perspective to know. Childress is one of the team owners who, in the words of one veteran racetracker, "knows what a good baloney sandwich tastes like." He has been in NASCAR through thick and thin, and can remember a time when fields weren't full and when manufacturer involvement in the sport was nil. If anyone in the game today has a feel for hard times, it's this man.
Here's some of what he said -- it may make you feel a little better as we head into the offseason:
On short fields:
"We're going to see more mergers, first of all. But I think you'll see good solid, full fields -- if not extra cars -- next year, even if the heavily funded teams have to miss some dates. If we have 43 of them out there today, and we drop five or six next year, you're still going to have other teams that are out there racing. The folks who want to race are going to if they see an opening."
On NASCAR's ability to survive the economic troubles:
"I'm very bullish on NASCAR and Cup racing because we still have 75 million fans. They're going to be watching television. They're going to be coming to races, and some who can't afford to come to races are going to be watching us on TV. And I feel that what will happen is we'll have a slowdown in sponsorship and the fans coming. But the economy is going to turn back. You've got to feel great about America and the country. We've been through wars and tragedies and hurricanes. You name it, we've been through it all. And I feel strongly that we'll come back from this. It may take us a year. I think a few of the teams will struggle this year and in 2009 getting sponsorships, but I'm looking at brighter days because, again, you've got 75 million fans that you can touch."
On NASCAR in the '70s:
"These are the good old days. Trust me. I was there in the '70s, but these are the good old days right now. I feel very bullish on where NASCAR can go. The thing in the '70s, we might have had 10 million fans. And that's the difference between then and now. You've got to look at the fan base that we've got today, that we've got to market and sell to compared to where we were in the '70s. I don't even know if there were 10 million fans at that time."
Thanks for sticking with Racing Fan this year -- it's been a long and interesting ride. I'll see you next February at Daytona.
HOW TO DRIVE
Joey Logano talks about preparing for his first race at HMS: "I always like to get on my simulation game or 'NASCAR 09' to take a good look at a new track. It's really more to get familiar with the track than anything. There's really no substitute for the real thing, but at least you can get down the basics so you aren't flying totally blind. We've been watching last year's race on tape, as well, to see what I can pick up from there -- where guys were running, stuff like that. I'm told Homestead is most like a smaller Michigan. There are multiple grooves and it sounds like a fun place. We've been able to gain on the mile-and-a-half tracks, recently, so even though I've never been there, I still feel good that the guys at the shop will have the setup close even before the car leaves the shop."
4.8: Average finish for Jimmie Johnson through his first nine starts of the 2007 Chase, during which he won four consecutive races
4.7: Average finish for Johnson through his first nine starts of the 2008 Chase, during which he's won three races
36: The worst finish Johnson can have this weekend and still clinch his third straight Cup title
November 19, 2006: Greg Biffle leads 47 laps en route to victory in the Ford 400, giving him three straight wins at Homestead-Miami Speedway