Cleat Geeks

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“Drivers start your engines”, these are the words NASCAR fans have been waiting for since the last race in November of 2014. This Sunday is the beginning of the new season and with it comes the never ending logo’s, patches and badges of every product covering every square inch of every car, uniform, hat and billboard that the human eye can possibly see at any NASCAR event. I am not naive, I know all sports are very dependent upon sponsors and networks to infuse dollars into the sport but with NASCAR the sponsors are the only thing that can keep its heart pumping and it also can be it’s Achilles heal when it comes to a level playing field, rules and the enforcement of any infractions. If the ever so popular saying by Al Davis, the once iconic owner of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders was “just win baby” then the shameful mantra of NASCAR is “just sell baby”

Danica2This is never so evident as the results of Danica Patrick versus the first class ride and resources she has. In her first two season as a full time driver on NASCAR’s top division she has finished 27th in the 2013 points race and last season she finished 28th. If I have offended any women out there it is not my intention and in fact I have great respect for Danica trying to make it in a male dominated sport. I do not think thought that Danica switched to NASCAR to be a pioneer. I’m sure the 100 million dollars that Stewart-Haas gave her when they signed her to a 5 year deal was the major factor in her joining NASCAR. Now, I firmly believe that Stewart-Haas and only secured the services of Danica because she was a women in a male dominated sport and most importantly because she was a cash cow. I have to think this because it cannot be because of her driving history. Before joining Stewart-Haas, Danica had only won 1 race in her professional career and that hasn’t changed since she joined NASCAR. NASCAR however I’m sure would feel better if she did win a race just to be sure she maintains being a media darling. If you don’t believe me, Forbes Magazine did a story on Danica in 2013 hinting NASCAR’s biggest hope is Danica winning a race. I have absolutely no doubt that this is a fact and believe NASCAR suits go to bed every night praying  Danica wins a race. Why? because as Kyle Petty put it, “she is not a race car driver she is a marketing machine” and again NASCAR is all about the marketing.Danica3

To Danica’s defense, she did not ask for any of this, she just wants to drive a race car. The fact she is a “marketing machine” is not her fault, it’s NASCAR’s fault. Frankly, NASCAR has continually for all intensive purposes become a whore to its sponsors. Sponsors reel more power in NASCAR then any other sport by a long shot. Do they have the right, you decide. In 2013 the average cost to be a primary sponsor for a team was between $5 to $35 million dollars a year. The cost to be an associate sponsor for a team is between $250,000 up to $2 million dollars. How sad is the situation? Sometimes it doesn’t matter if your a good driver, if you can’t sell you don’t get a ride. One of the best lines a heard from a driver was an interview with Tony Stewart after an on track incident with Paul Menard. Like Tony or not, he was 100% right when he said “Paul Menard wouldn’t be a driver if his daddy didn’t pay for it”. paulmenardIf you didn’t know, Paul Menard race team is sponsored by his daddy’s company. Unlike Danica, at least Paul has won a NASCAR race however I don’t think that matters in either case for different reason’s. In Menards case its not like Richard Childress will fire him because he would lose Menard’s daddy’s sponsorship. While in Danica’s case just wants to see the $$$$ Danica generates through her popularity. We have in several cases seen drivers switch teams and the sponsor move with the driver and leave the previous team. The best comparison I can make to just how dynamic the power sponsors have in NASCAR is to try to compare it to other sports. What happens in NASCAR would be the equivalent of Coke a Cola dictating who the starting Quarterback will be for the Chicago Bears or Miller Lite naming the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees. I’m sure sponsors in other sports reel some influence but no where near the magnitude that it does in NASCAR.

I have picked on Danica Patrick and Paul Menard because they are the most visible examples of how NASCAR cannot make a move without first fore seeing what the ramifications to sponsorship dollars would be. I enjoy NASCAR racing but I have very little trust in its decision makers and its decision process. How Clint Boyer who purposely tried to change the outcome of a race wasn’t suspended let alone was allowed to be part of the chase was pathetic. In any other sport that’s called point shaving and a crime. NASCAR however did not want to ruffle the feathers of the sponsors so they let everybody play. At least we now know NAPA Auto parts has a conscience seeing they basically told Michael Waltrip Racing were to stick it following their shady antics. I’m looking forward to the NASCAR season but as always will watch as if I’m watching big time Wrestling, I can’t always believe what I’m seeing or hearing. As I close this article I would be remiss and not keeping with NASCAR policy if I did not thank Lazy Boy for the comfortable chair I sat in to write this and I also thank Apple Computers for the fine lap top I used and I can’t forget Jack Daniels for helping me keep a straight face while I listen to NASCAR executives explain their rulings and what ever else they are trying to sell me.



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