A handful of NASCAR team execs, owners, officials and drivers believe that '11 "will be a year of recovery for NASCAR after two very taxing seasons of declining television ratings and attendance, plus truly trying economic times, especially for the teams," according to Tom Jensen of SPEEDTV.com. As the Sprint Cup Series kicks off Sunday with the Daytona 500, team officials are indicating that "sponsor interest is coming back after a couple of fallow seasons." Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark said, "What we've seen in the last year is way more interest." Team Owner Rick Hendrick agreed, noting that "total sponsorship dollars for his four-car Sprint Cup team will be up slightly in 2011 compared with 2010." Hendrick: "I personally think that brighter days are ahead for our economy and for our sport. Again, there has been a lot of activity. ... You’ve got people out looking, shopping, where (two years ago) the phones weren’t ringing and people weren’t returning your calls, either. That part of it feels real good." Team Owner Roger Penske said, "I feel better. There's more people that today -- maybe not writing big checks, but there are more people interested in putting their toes back in the water" (SPEEDTV.com, 2/17).
TIMES ARE A CHANGIN': The AP's Chris Jenkins reported Greg Biffle believes that he and other drivers "expecting to sign new deals in the near future are going to experience a market correction," given how the "economy's slow recovery continues to buffet NASCAR." While his primary sponsor, 3M, has "weathered the recession and Biffle expects them to re-sign with him and the No. 16 team for next year and beyond, the driver also knows he'll be taking a significant pay cut in his next contract with Roush Fenway Racing." Biffle: "The sponsor dollars go down, let's say, 40 percent or 35 percent. That's a significant number, so that's got to come from somewhere. It's going to be cut back at the team for engineering, personnel, driver salaries, all the way down. We're going to have to economize what we're doing to continue on." But Jenkins noted despite "wide-ranging cuts to advertising budgets in recent years, NASCAR officials say there hasn't been a mass sponsor exodus from the sport." NASCAR Managing Dir of Corporate Communications Ramsey Poston said that the "number of sponsors has remained relatively stable -- about 400 companies still invest in the sport, including about 100 in the Fortune 500 -- even if they have scaled back spending." Still, "many of the companies that stayed in NASCAR aren't as willing or able to spend as much as they did at the peak of the sport's popularity in the mid-2000s." Driver Jeff Burton believes that the economy "has hit NASCAR harder than other major sports." Burton: "We're still in tough economic times. Things are not that different today than they were six months ago" (AP, 2/17).
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY: YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Hart wrote NASCAR "did show some flexibility" this offseason by implementing the new 43-to-1 points system, because "it's not every day a sport revamps the way it keeps score." But ultimately, NASCAR "blew this opportunity." Instead of "rewarding winning more, the new points system actually devalues wins by a small fraction." Hart wrote because there is "nothing substantive about the points change, we can only assume NASCAR thinks the Chase is good as-is, and that they blame the decline in television ratings -- down more than 20 percent for this year’s playoff -- and the public’s general ambivalence toward the Chase on you, the folks, for not getting it." What NASCAR officials "don’t seem to be considering is that maybe you have something better to do, like, say, watching a football game," or that maybe "it's something else entirely." Hart: "Whatever the case is, NASCAR didn’t do anything to address those concerns" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/15).