Ahh it's Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. The day we all watch a little rodent climb out of a hole and listen to some guy "read" his prediction on whether winter will continue for six more weeks, or if spring is around the corner.
But today, in Punxsutawney Phil's eyes, I saw something different. He wasn't just predicting that winter would continue for a prolonged time, he was telling NASCAR fans that they have nine more months of bad racing coming up.
As we enter the 2009 season, things are looking down for my beloved sport. The economy has swept away top-sponsors and tracks are struggling to sell tickets.
According to Phil (as I'll call him), here are some predictions for the 2009 season:
1. Tracks will continue to struggle selling tickets — Let's face it, NASCAR has overpriced themselves for the average fan. (I know this has been beat to death in recent weeks, but it remains the number one concern I have for NASCAR.)
When talks about blacking-out races arose, one has to think it was nothing more than a marketing scheme to get the big-wigs to look like heroes. NASCAR wants to sell tickets, but they can't do it at $75-125 a piece. If they want to get fans back into the seats, how about they lower the prices a bit.
2. Fields will struggle to be filled each weekend — The news looks promising that 15 new teams have applied for ownership and submitted cars to be approved by NASCAR.
On the bad side, most of these are part-timers who will probably spent a few laps on the track before parking and collecting a pay check.
Phil's eyes told me this morning that NASCAR may have some races where only 43 cars show up... or it may have some where less than 43 show up.
3. NASCAR needs a new champion — I'm sorry Jimmie "Three-Peat" Johnson fans, but the sport needs diversity. Nobody likes to watch the same guy win the points championship three years in a row.
Sure, Johnson may not have been a fan favorite prior to winning the championships, I mean does the guy ever have problems on the track that they can't rebound from?
But, when a team dominates a sport, they quickly become one of two things.
First, they have the new fans who jump on the bandwagon in support, and second they have the haters who are mad that their team isn't winning.
NASCAR needs a change this year, not that they need to change rules to ensure it happens (see expanding the Chase field for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon), but the sport can't live off a four-in-a-row season.
4. Earnhardt Jr. will continue to struggle — If Junior could just win a championship, NASCAR could profit by the millions.
Junior is by far the most popular driver in the garage, and when he struggles (as he always seems to do after the halfway point of each race and the season), NASCAR loses a huge fan base.
If Junior is competing for races, you are talking about millions of people who aren't showing up at the tracks and/or watching the races from home.
NASCAR needs Junior to win a championship, but it doesn't appear it'll happen anytime soon.
Junior still has a lot of growing up to do and he and Tony Eury Jr. have got to learn how to adjust on their race cars throughout a race.
How many times did we see the No. 88 run up front, leading laps, only to fade away and finish outside the top-10 because of the changing track conditions?
5. Mark Martin will finish his full-time career (maybe?) without a championship — Sure, we all read David's piece about Martin (Mark Martin: Already a Champion), but the fact of the matter is, Martin doesn't have the hardware he wants.
We all know Martin has had an amazing career and is by far one of the best and most down-to-earth drivers ever to get behind the wheel, but 2009 won't bring him his first championship either.
Martin steps into the best racing equipment around, but getting used to his new crew and teammates will take longer than a year.
He has said that '09 is his final full-time season, though we've heard that before.
While those who read Phil's forecast say he's correct 100 percent of the time, actual records according to the U.S. National Climate Prediction Center says he is only correct about 39 percent of the time.
While Phil has always specialized in predicting winter, his predictions on NASCAR this year seem to be dead-on.
Welcome Phil, to the exciting world of NASCAR fandom!
Photo: Official groundhog handlers Ben Hughes (L) and John Griffiths (R) look at weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Feb. 2, 2009. Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. (Reuters/Jason Cohn)
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