A Look Ahead to the NASCAR Offseason and 2009: The Economy Takes Its Toll

Thayne HallyburtonCorrespondent INovember 24, 2008

The "Big Three" are in shambles financially, teams are merging and folding, more than 1000 NASCAR-related jobs have been lost in the first week following the end of the 2008 season and teams are searching for sponsors like never before.

The current economic downturn has hit our favourite sport even worse than we might have originally expected. Sponsors are being given spots on cars, by NASCAR teams, for far below market value and have been for the past year, just to get the sponsor exposed to the sport and to get even a little extra money coming in.

In 2008 there were 45 full time teams vying for 43 starting positions, every weekend. This year NASCAR can expect to have races where the maximum amount of spots open will not be filled.

The only good news, as far as teams expanding or starting up, is out of Richard Childress Racing. They are adding a fourth team the No. 33, which will see Clint Bowyer in the driver's seat and will feature General Mills cereals on the hood, who left Petty Enterprises.

Fans may be saying, "hold on! Tony Stewart is starting a team!" This is true he does now own half of a NASCAR team, but the team is neither starting, nor expanding. Stewart is now a partner in Haas CNC Racing, which is now called Stewart-Haas Racing. In 2008 Haas fielded two cars with sponsorship from State Water Heaters.

The team will again field two cars, but the team size, numbers, drivers are all changing. Tony Stewart will run the Office Depot and Old Spice sponsored No. 14 Chevrolet Impala. Joining Stewart will be Ryan Newman in the Army sponsored No. 4 Impala. This team expects to take on 13 more people than they employed in 2008.

That little bit of good news is over-shadowed by all of the downsizing, merging and possible folding that has taken place and will continue to take place over the next little while.

Let's recap:

  • Dale Earnhardt Incorporated merges with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to form Chip 'n' Dale racing. Well, it will actually be called Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, but I like the other name better! They are going from a combined car count of seven to just four and currently have just two sponsors signed.
  • Ray Evernham sells his stake in Gillette-Evernham Motorsports and leaves the sport.
  • more than 1000 jobs have been lost since Monday November 17, 2008.
  • Furniture Row Racing releases Joe Nemecheck and Announces reduced schedule for 2009.
  • BAM Racing ceased operations and released Ken Schrader.
  • Ford Announce a smaller support package for NASCAR teams and pull out of the Camping World Truck Serie. They will provide technical support to their truck teams.
  • Dodge completely pulls out of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
  • Bill Davis Racing cut it's entire staff save for a handful of people.
  • rumors of a GM and Dodge merger.

This all comes just one week into the off season and more bad news is sure to come. The biggest reason for all of this is attributed to the manufacturer side of the sport and how hard it has been hit of late. According to Bloomberg News Service, sales in the United States dropped 32 percent last month alone becoming the lowest monthly total since 1991.

GM sales plunged 45 percent, Ford fell 30 percent and even Toyota slid 23 percent. Chrysler LLC was down 35 percent.

If you adjust for population growth, it's the worst sales month in the post-World War II era'' for the industry, Mike DiGiovanni, GM's chief sales analyst, said on a conference call with investors and the media. "Clearly we're in a dire situation."

With only two extra full time cars in 2008 and the already confirmed loss of five full time teams, (DEI-two, Ganassi-one,Furniture Row-one, Bill Davis-one) and more surely to follow, it is unrealistic to think that all 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races next year will have full fields.

*The opinions expressed here are solely of the author's*