2009: A Defining Year For Nascar

Brian KennedyCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2009

February is upon us and that only means one thing: the 51st running of the Daytona 500 is upon us.

The Bud Shootout, Coors Pole Day, and the Gatorade 150's all help appetize the fans hunger for 43 roaring cars going 200 laps at the Daytona Speedway. In the past, excitement has filled the air as drivers, crews and fans gear up for the biggest race week of the season.

As a new season is upon us, excitement has been replaced with uncertainty as the US economy has taken a big bite into the sport. Mergers between teams have been made and jobs have been cut, leaving some drivers looking for another ride. Sponsors have dropped out of sponsoring teams, and getting a race sold out is like pulling teeth.  It's the reality that we as Americans face: a rough economy mixed in with less jobs and even less money.

If there is any light at the end of this long tunnel, it's the simple fact that sports help take us away from our daily worries. Nascar is no different; 2009 will be a defining year for Nascar because if the sport can brave this tough weather, then there will be green pastures on the other side.

With that it's now time to look at the 2009 season and the changes we as fans are going to have to get used to. 

1. Who is Driving for Who?

If you are new to the sport, you have nothing to worry about, welcome. Unfortunately for those who have been longtime fans of their favorite drivers, chances are you could be buying new merchandise. The silly season is a tradition in Nascar, but this off-season has without a doubt been the silliest. Here is a list of the drivers who have new teams and sponsors:

No. 07: Casey Mears (Jack Daniels)

No. 8: Aric Almorola (Sponsor TBA)

No. 12: David Stremme (Alltel)

No. 13: Max Papis (Geico)

No. 14: Tony Stewart (Old Spice/Office Depot)

No. 15: Marc Davis (BobCat/Howard University)

No. 20: Joey Lagano (Home Depot/Farm Bureau)

No. 33: Clint Bowyer (General Mills)

No. 36: Scott Riggs (Sponsor TBA)

No. 39: Ryan Newman (US Army)

No. 43: Reed Sorenson (Multiple Sponsors)

No. 44: AJ Allendinger (Multiple Sponsors)

No. 47: Marcos Ambrose(Little Debbie/Clorox/Kingsford)

No. 78: Regan Smith (Furniture Row)

No. 82: Scott Speed (Red Bull)

No. 96: Bobby Labonte (Ask.com)

No. 98: Paul Menard(Menards)

2. Purge the Urge to Merge.

Never before in the sport of Nascar have so many teams decided to join forces to help cut costs and improve their organizations. Petty Enterprises joined forces with Gillette-Evernham, DEI teamed up with Ganassi Motorsports, and Robert Yates Racing recently agreed to team with Hall of Fame Racing. What does this all mean? It means that the practice of owning a single car team is close to being dead.

Tommy Baldwin Motorsports is trying to field a one car team this year, but chances are if sponsorship is not found fast, the dream could soon become a nightmare. Wood Brothers Racing, a one car stable in Nascar for over 50 years, is having to cut back on its racing schedule to help save money. Furniture Row Motorsports, the team many thought could break the trend of having multiple race teams, has finally fallen to the financial bug and is cutting back on its schedule as well.

What does all this mean? It means that Nascar could lift its rule of teams only fielding four teams during a season. With the way things are going, Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress could each own 21 cars and field their own race. May the best owner win!

3. To Go or Not to Go?

One of the main struggles Nascar has had to deal with the past few years is the sagging attendance numbers. While a handful of tracks (Bristol, Richmond, New Hampshire and Pocono) have great attendance numbers each race, many others lack the attendance numbers. The bad economy has been the main reason for fans staying home. Why pay $75 for a seat at a race when that money could go towards gas or food for the family.

Track Owners and Managers have now gone back to the drawing board finding ways to lure fans back to the races. LowesMotor Speedway is offering Ride along programs to fans who buy certain tickets before a certain date. Martinsville and Talladega Speedways are offering ticket discounts to college students, military personnel and families. While it is a start, it is only the beginning for tracks to try and get back the fans who helped build the behemoth structures. Have more giveaways to the fans, something to lure the patrons back to the seats.

4. Favorites to win the 2009 Sprint Cup

1. Jimmie Johnson

2. Kyle Busch

3. Carl Edwards

4. Tony Stewart

5. Jeff Gordon

Dark Horse: Brian Vickers