Greatest era in NASCAR? Or is sport hurting worse than ever?

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Matt Kenseth at Sonoma Raceway. The Home Depot will not return to NASCAR next season.

By Brandon Caldwell Reporter
June 24, 2014


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.


Let’s rewind back to seven years ago. It was February 5th, 2007. A new NASCAR show debuted on ESPN. With most of the “main stream” “stick and ball” sports having their own shows, it was great for NASCAR fans to finally have sport included with the others.


It was an exciting time for NASCAR, and I was pumped up as a fan. Rumblings of the car that was “the game changer,” an new car known as the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), was supposed to make racing better, make the sport safer, and lower the costs for the smaller teams to compete at the highest level of American Motorsports.


Then Toyota, the first Japanese nameplate in NASCAR was willing to step up, big time, to be a part of NASCAR and signed on with several teams to get some of the pie. It felt like NASCAR was on top of the world, and sponsors couldn’t get enough of it.


Then today the announcement that NASCAR Now has been cancelled by ESPN, it makes me think there are a few possible reasons.


The sports television landscape is changing. There’s a lot more competition on TV for sports than there was in 2007.


With CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports 1 and 2 now in the picture, it’s very possible that ESPN could be changing its face entirely and will focus on other, not so mainstream sports to cover to be different. That being said, NFL Primetime and Baseball Tonight are not anywhere near being cancelled.


The 2007 Daytona 500 was one of the most exciting Daytona 500s in the history of the illustrious race. Kevin Harvick beat Mark Martin to the line, and I remember one of my non-racing fan friends, calling me up and telling me how exciting that was. He couldn’t wait for the next race in California.


That Daytona 500 field featured and abundance of Fortune 500 companies and entities sponsoring various cars.


Yet, U.S. Army, Cingular Wireless, Miccosukee Resorts, AAA, Dodge Dealers (2), Coors Light, Interstate Batteries, Jim Beam, Yellow Transportation, Waste Management, Jack Daniel’s, Texaco/Havoline, Cheerios, UPS, Office Depot, Kellogg’s/Carquest, NAPA Auto Parts, Crown Royal, DLP HDTV, Little Debbie, Best Buy, Valvoline, Alltel, Domino’s, and Wells Fargo have all either left the sport or have drawn back their presence, and now today we learned The Home Depot.


All of these sponsors, 27 of them, and 28 if you include a second Mars sponsored car (Ricky Rudd), were in the 2007 Daytona 500.


This shows me that the sport is no longer appealing to big money sponsors. What’s scary about today’s announcement about The Home Depot is that its main competition Lowe’s is still a main primary sponsor. Part of the reason they are is to compete with The Home Depot. The sponsor, who has won two championships with driver, Tony Stewart, will be completely out of the sport after 2014. It is a real shame that Home Depot, a sponsor which demographically seems to line up perfectly for the NASCAR fans, doesn’t see the point of sponsoring a team anymore, or so you would think.


There are plenty of reasons for this. Dwindling TV ratings, dwindling track attendance and just the shear cost of building, maintaining, and running a competitive Sprint Cup Series team has just gotten outrageous.


Remember that CoT? “The Great Equalizer?” That car that started the downward spiral for NASCAR, which made the sport only safer in five years, forced teams to build brand new racecars right away.

Remember, the original plan was to run the car on a partial schedule in 2007 and 2008, and run it full-time in 2009. But that changed. NASCAR announced midway through 2007 that it would run full-time in 2008, a year earlier than originally stated.


That moved forced smaller teams to build racecars more quickly, and put some of them, mainly Petty Enterprises, out of business. Richard Petty was forced to merge his team with George Gillett’s operation before the 2008 season. Then the economy crashed, and sponsorship didn’t come like NASCAR would hope, and there were teams that just couldn’t survive.


Then before the 2013, NASCAR announced that it would change the car once again. Do the math, five years. The new CoT lasted five years, and it was gone for good, after many costly face lifts. NASCAR created the Gen-6 car in 2013, to give the manufacturers more identification, and help decipher the differences between Fords, Chevys, and Toyotas.


Wait what about Dodge? Remember, 2007 they sponsored two race cars, and supported 14 teams, in that same Daytona 500 was completely gone following a championship run in 2012. No engine company to build Dodge’s engines is what ultimately led to their demise in NASCAR. The sport got so expensive that now there are only four main engine suppliers for three manufacturers, and no more room for Dodge.


But what does all of this have to do with Home Depot? Home Depot fit the demographic for NASCAR in 2007. But now, with the addition of Toyota, the move out west, the corporate image, and many drivers who now fans don’t relate to in 2014 due to the new age drivers wealth and arrogance, many of the fans who were a part of the sport in 2007, have lost their love, and lost drivers to relate to. NASCAR has shut up drivers like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin for speaking out against the sport, and the demographic of fans in the sport has completely changed. It’s sort of a mixture of the arrogant corporate people going up against the old school, blue collar fans that are still remembering the good old days, and have that last bit of hope that it could get back there one day. 


Due to that change alone, The Home Depot doesn’t see the point of sponsoring in NASCAR anymore. The scary part is, eventually, even after six championships, and possibly closing in on a record tying, seventh, Lowe’s may eventually have the same fate in the next seven years. Where will NASCAR be? That’s time’s story to tell. All I know is, the once powerful and iconic Home Depot sponsorship gone, is a sad day in NASCAR history, and NASCAR Now cancelling, show the true “state of our sport,” and it’s certainly a scary one going forward, regardless of what others tell you.


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