NASCAR season is just around the corner and once again there are many changes afoot. From the economic situation, especially the big 3 automakers, to the greed and ambition of the owners and drivers, to the rabid intensity of the fans, this season will have it all.
Here are some of the things to look for:
1. Ever-changing sponsorships. NASCAR is treading on thin ice with its increasingly fluid sponsorship deals. With the owners demanding more and more money for sponsorship deals, and the sponsors facing difficult times themselves, we will see many more part time sponsor deals. This is a risky move on the part of NASCAR. The fans of this sport are famous for being fiercely loyal to the sponsors of their favorite driver. With part-time deals, will the fans stay with a product? Did Budweiser lose market share without Dale Jr.? Will the sponsors put as much marketing effort into the sport without an identifying driver or car? Will the fans continue to buy t-shirts and hats carrying a product logo knowing that another driver, possibly an “enemy driver” will be sporting that logo the next time the race comes to town? When a fan is wearing a National Guard shirt, is he a longtime fan of Greg Biffle, or a recent fan of Dale Earnhart, Jr., or even a fan of Jeff Gordon? The time may come that the fans will lose their loyalty as much as the owners and drivers. That will hurt everyone.
2. Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony Stewart is making the jump to being an owner/driver. Few drivers have tackled that duty, with even fewer being successful. Ownership is a full-time task, just ask Michael Waltrip. Will Stewarts temperament allow him to be successful at either?
3. Can anyone stop Jimmy Johnson? With 3 championships in a row, with a total dominance in the Chase, is Jimmy Johnson unbeatable? The combination of Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, and Hendrick Motorsports may prove to be too much for the sport. Until someone takes a major step forward this team is still a favorite to win at any track, any week.
4. Is Jeff Gordon slowing down? The winningest active driver in the sport has only been average the past 3 seasons. Two years ago, he looked like the Gordon of old, but still was not enough to beat his teammate, Jimmie Johnson. In 2008, Gordon failed to win a single race. 2009 isn’t looking any better.
5. Will Junior ever break out? The sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhart, Jr., has yet to live up to his potential. Making the move to Hendrick gave him a boost into the top 5 or 10, but he needs to step it up a notch to be consistently in the hunt for wins. A change in crew chiefs would probably help in the long run, but would not be comfortable for him