A little more than a year ago, I did an interview with Michael Andretti (about the Honda Indy returning to Toronto after a year’s absence) and we got talking about the financial health of the sport.
At that time, people were worried that all of the major series would have "short fields" once the various seasons got going.
"Don’t worry about 2009," Andretti had said then. "The year to worry about is 2010. Most teams in open wheel and NASCAR have contracts through 2009. It’s 2010 when the crunch will come."
It turns out Andretti was right. Two of the new teams in Formula One are having serious money trouble and might not be able to race this year. Force India appears to be on shaky ground. The Sauber team’s cars are empty of advertising and Renault is on record as saying they’re 25 million euros short of a full budget.
The IRL is six weeks away from its season-opener in Brazil and the car count is leaning toward the low side. Vision Racing is out of business, Dale Coyne Racing doesn’t have any drivers and the series’ most talented young driver, Graham Rahal, is without a contract.
Saturday, after he was released from the infield care centre at the Daytona Speedway, the one thing NASCAR driver and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a point of talking about was the state of his bank account, which is not flush apparently.
Earhardt’s car was destroyed in one of the Nationwide Series race’s frequent pileups – he was turned sideways into the outside wall and was upside down for a time – and his team’s other car, driven by rookie Danica Patrick, was semi-destroyed in an earlier version of the "big one."
"We’re going to have to go back and balance our books after that," Earhardt said, after joking that it’s okay once in awhile to flip over to attract some attention "but that’s too expensive for me."
"This has been a rough day for JR Motorsports," he continued. "We do our books by the month pretty much, and kind of know where we are financially. We are looking for about $400,000 between now and the end of the season. . . It was an expensive day for us."
That last bit was a reference to a statement made by his sister, and partner in JR Motorsports, Kelly Earnhardt, who told the AP’s Jenna Fryer last week that Dale Jr.’s No. 88 car (the one that was wrecked completely Saturday) only had sponsorship for 12 of this year’s 36 races.
Which is, when you think about it, pretty amazing. Yes, the Nationwide Series is not the Sprint Cup circuit but it gets a lot of media exposure and is relatively affordable, compared to Cup or other North American series. And the driver is not some no-name looking to make a reputation. The driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver year-in and year-out.
If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having trouble finding sponsorship money, what chance do most of the others have?
One driver not having trouble in that area is Patrick, whose sponsor, GoDaddy.com, is backing her in the Nationwide series as well as this year’s IndyCar series.
But while her sponsorship is solid, her attempt to launch her NASCAR career at Daytona hit a snag Saturday when she crashed mid-way through the race (which was eventually won by Tony Stewart).
Because qualifying was rained out, the field was set by owner points from last season and Patrick started 15th in the 43-car field. She ran pretty consistently in the top 15 for the first dozen laps before the car's handling started to give her difficulty and she dropped back to 33rd position to stay out of the way.
Following her two pit stops, when adjustments to her car were made, she was making her way back toward the front (much like she did last weekend in the ARCA race, during which she had a spin and wound up last, only to recover and race her way back up to fifth, before dropping a position to sixth at the checkers), when disaster struck.
Drivers Colin Braun and Josh Wise collided on the front stretch and, as happens in high-speed stock car races on oval tracks, 12 cars were collected before the crashing stopped – including Patrick’s.
"At these big tracks," she said, "when smoke comes up (because cars are wrecking), you’re running so close together, there’s nowhere to go. But the disappointing part, more than anything, is just that I missed out on getting 40 or whatever it was laps left of experience that I could have gotten. And the car was finally where I liked it and I felt confident as a driver. I was finally getting the hang of it."
Which is the right attitude to have. If she can get through the accidents – and sooner or later, all the best drivers (Stewart, Harvick, et al) manage to do that – then she’ll be able to settle down and race and show people what she can do.
She’s got two more starts before going back to the Indy cars for a few months – at California next weekend and at Las Vegas the week after.
The world will continue to watch.
By the way, Carl Edwards finished second in that race on Saturday after Stewart. Harvick was third. Nearly 30 of the 43 cars that started were involved in accidents in the 120-lap wreckfest.
Timothy Peters wins Camping World Truck race
So, I was watching the opening of the Olympics from Vancouver on Friday nght and, at about 10 o’clock, I decided to switch over to Speed to see how the Camping World truck race was going.
Just as I tuned in, J. R. Fitzpatrick from Cambridge, Ont., was making a charge for the lead.
"Sorry," I said to my wife, "if you want to keep watching the Olympics, I suggest you go turn on our other set because I have to watch the finish of this race and then write about it. A young Canadian is possibly going to win it and that would be a big story."
So I watched Fitzpatrick drive a great race and Michael Waltrip was going on and on about how wonderful he was.
And then I thought to myself, "Gee, this sure is a lot like last year’s race. Fitzpatrick put on a show then, too, and really wowed Waltrip."
In any event, the race ended with Fitzpatrick in fourth and since he didn’t win I went back to the Olympics and figured I would do my writeup later because fourth was pretty good but not as good as first.
Later, I went upstairs to write my story and I went to nascar.com to check the final results. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the race had been rained out Friday night and they would try again Saturday.
Yes, I thought to myself later, what I was watching sure was a lot like last year’s race – mainly because it WAS last year’s race.
Todd Bodine finished second to Peters in the 2010 race Saturday night (and then crashed – what is it about racing at Daytona this year?) and Dennis Setzer was third.
The Daytona 500 show starts on TSN today at noon, don’t forget. The green flag will fly at or about 1 p.m.