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As Lebron James announced his return to Cleveland on Friday it became “What’s old is new again”. I began reminiscing about the good ol’ days in NASCAR and wished that phrase applied to this sport. I will go through what I would reinstate if I could hit the “rewind” button so to speak.
Firstly I grew up watching the Winston Cup Series. While I will be the first to admit the relationship with a tobacco company wasn’t the greatest marriage a sport could have, the term “Winston Cup Championship” sounds better than “Nextel or Sprint Cup Championship”. It bothers me that when a media type or even NASCAR itself refers to Richard “The King” Petty’s statistics as “200 Sprint Cup victories”. As far as I am aware Petty has never won in the current format. I also feel that NASCAR is doing itself a disservice by doing this. Winston did pay big dollars and was a huge part of the success of NASCAR over the years and to completely ignore this history makes NASCAR feel like a sell out. Shouldn’t wins/championships prior to 2004 still be called what they were? Winston Cup victories/championships?
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Race locations are a huge bone of contention for me. I am fully aware of NASCAR expansion to new markets. Fontana, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas are newer tracks on the circuit. All are cookie cutter tracks that produce high speeds and apron to wall racing. To accommodate these tracks Bruton Smith purchased North Wilkesboro and North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham and moved these dates to their newer/bigger venues. They have since mothballed these tracks. NASCAR also took away a race from Darlington and Atlanta. All of these except Atlanta are short tracks where there was door to door racing, beating and banging and subsequently tempers flared. They personified NASCAR and the type of racing that these stock cars were meant to be in.
Certain numbers just seem to belong to certain racers. The number 3 with Dale Earnhardt. It just doesn’t look right with Austin Dillon. Tony Stewart in the 14 looks peculiar compared to him the 20 car. Same goes with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 88 versus his number 8 car. Matt Kenseth in the 20 versus the 17, Ryan Newman in the 31 (through the 39) versus the 12, Kasey Kahne in the 9 compared to the 5 are but a few in the current era of NASCAR that just don’t seem the same since the change of car numbers.
Sponsors are who pay the bills (along with fans’ dollars), but sponsor changes sometimes just do not make sense. Why on earth would DeWalt – a long time Matt Kenseth – say they are leaving NASCAR, then shortly thereafter re-emerge with Marcos Ambrose. I am unsure if Ambrose’s likeness sells more drills and power tools than Kenseth did. While likely paying less money to be Ambrose’s sponsor, they are also receiving a lot less exposure. The same can be said when Home Depot left Tony Stewart, Budweiser left Earnhardt Jr., and Dupont left Jeff Gordon (although Dupont was rebranded as Axalta and is now in a lesser sponsorship role).
Further some major sponsors have either disappeared altogether or their sponsorship is a shadow of their former selves: STP is merely a part-time contributor with the 43, oil product and companies are all but non-existent (Valvoline, Texaco, Amoco, Pennzoil, Chevron). Beer companies were always huge players in the sport with three full time rides being sponsored by Miller Genuine Draft (then Miller Lite) with Rusty Wallace, Coors Light with Sterling Marlin and Budweiser with a variety of drivers most notable being Jr. Coors Light has all but disappeared now choosing to sponsor the pole position award, and the other two being part time sponsors of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.
With all this being said I have realized that I have a certain fondness for the NASCAR I grew up watching. I enjoy the current racing in where there are more competitive drivers and any number of drivers can win any given race, but there was something to say about the 3 coming up to someone’s back bumper to “rattle his cage”. You knew who it was and what would happen. Could any of these reasons be behind declining interest? What would you do if you could hit “rewind”?