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November 13, 2008     Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
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November 13, 2008

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~" SPIRIT OF JEFFERSON Farmer's ADVOCATE - Thursday, November 13 2008 13 is written b ,v Media General News Service and produced by Media General Syndication Services JOHNSON BOWYER Sprint Cup Nati~ide ~ri~ ,1. Jimmie Johnson 656111. Clint ~r ~ 49"/7 12. Cad Edwards 642012. Carl Edwards .4921 |3. Greg Biffle 635813. Brad Keselowski 4624 |4. Jeff Burton 629214. David Ragan * 4431 ,51Kevin Han/ick 6233] 5. Mike Bliss 4397 Big key for NASCAR? Fans in the stands,81 17i:Jeff~rdon 6151 7. [:)avid ~utimann 4264 |18. Matt Kenseth 6091 8. Mike Wallace 4019 9i Jason Leffler 39 6 By Mike Mulhem 10. Dale EamhardtJr. 6087 lO.MarcosAmbrose 3921 11: J~n Keller 3776 LapbyLap photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images Jimmie Johnson crosses the finish line to win the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix Inter- national Raceway. The victory was Johnson's seventh of the season and third straight at the track. He extended his lead over second-place Carl Edwards to 141 points heading into the season finale. Lap by Lap It looks as if it's time for Brian France, the CEO of NASCAR, to call car owners, t ack promoters and maybe TV executives together to ensure that key figures in stock- car racing are working together in two areas crucial to success -- putting fans in the stands and eyeballs in front of televisions. Geoff Smith, who runs Jack Roush's racing operations, says: "No paradigm should be sacred right now It's, 'What's the result? What worked? What didn't? Can we improve? Can we get rid of the things that didn't work?' "There is not one reason that is acceptable not to change, if it leads to a better result. And if anybody's ego gets in the way, that's too bad." The state of stock-car racing is ripe for debate as Jimmie Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick roll through the final days to what looks like a third straight Sprint Cup championship after Johnson's solid win Sunday in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. France addressed the issue head-on Sunday, but more might need to be done, and a summit might be the next step. Smith says that the basic issues are clear. "The key barometer of health for all of us relates to fan attendance at the track and fan attendance to the broadcasts," he said. "Those two can be viewed as the primary focus for priorities, and if they're working, at some level they will work for everybody. "Without those two things, the sponsorship attractive- ness would diminish for everybody. "Right now, in terms of the Sprint Cup series, there is still very robust fan attendance and excellent TV ratings. But in the econ- omy overall, you either have marketing budgets that have been cut or are being held back, waiting to see where money has to be moved in order to survive." In light of the new administration going to Washington, the good news for NASCAR is "Maybe they might need to lower their profit margins," he said, "to help fill the stands. It is a critical time, and it will be a prolonged critical time," said Geoff Smith of Roush Racing. economy may Phoenix International Raceway, the site of last Sunday's Sprint Cup stop and Jimmie Johnson's latest victory, is one of NASCAR's key markets, and business is boom- ing here. But is NASCAR doing all it can to milk this market? It would be nice if one of the sport's long-suffering underdog teams -- think of the late Alan Kulwicki here -- could make a championship bid next season. Fans love to root for an underdog. But not this season. Even the powerful Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress operations struggled to keep up with owners Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush in this Chase. Chip Ganassi, down to 1V2 spon- sors for an operation that began the season with three full teams, is apparently trying to merge/sell/whatever, although it's not clear how a Dodge team . might mesh with a Chevy company such as DEI. Can Ganassi deal with his Target spon- sorship? Can Ganassi deal with his Juan Pablo Montoya contract? ~J I Illllllll II the willingness, even eagerness, in Congress send that team to the wrong people, to peo- to help the automotive industry. But it is a pie who don't have any decision-making complex situation facing NASCAR and its authority. But they generally ask the ques- many businesses, tions they're interested in, rather than One possible spinoff from that is about the industry itself. NASCAR's testing policies. France says he "I'm sure the hard questions are being understands well the mar-asked. I sure want them to be asked. Just tell keting and promotional us: Are you doing everything you think you value to his tracks of open can do to bring fans in?" testing, and it has been sug- Smith says that the most important thing for gested that NASCAR bring the sport is having fans in the stands full but open testing to all Sprint that teams have "no voice in addressing what Cup tracks, within as many might be done by track practices to improve as 10 days before a race,that." and use the sessions not "Maybe they might need to lower their profit only for studying tires and margins," he said, "to help fill the stands. It is a technology but also for critical time, and it will be a prolonged critical marketing the sport to fans time. And I wouldn't leave any Stone untumed and allowing fans in free. about what might be done to ensure that the Smith says that part of the sport as a whole rides through this. problem is that there is "no "Starting with fans at the racetrack let's general community" in make sure our stands are filled." NASCAR to discuss business issues. "It's all run by NASCAR," he said, "and Mike Mulhern has covered NASCARfor 35 when NASCAR wants to solicit an opinion years at the Winston-Salem Journal in North it will send a team out. But sometimes they Carolina. mean Tony Stewart, NASCAR's newest team owner, said that his first few months in this part of the game have been eye-openers, par- ticularly in light of the financial problems surrounding GM, which is helping bankroll his step up to owner: "I'm not worried so much about trying to cut back as I am trying to find the funds we need to get the job done," Stewart said. NASCAR is thinking its planned 2009 expansion of the mid-week testing rules. But rather than cut back on such testing, NASCAR should instead work with its promoters to choreograph Mike Mulhem test sessions as big "advance PR Lapby/ap and marketing" operations for each coming tour race. NASCAR needs to be promoting its own tour tracks with such testing sessions, and it should turn those sessions into big fan-and- media events. How will NASCAR execs tweak the Chase for 2009, if Johnson seals his third straight title Sunday? After all, the point of the Chase i was to make the fall stretch of the NASCAR schedule more exciting. The basic problem with the current points rules is that a driver is hit too hard for a bad day, and he doesn't get a big enough boost for finishing, say, in the top three. Roush suggests a mulligan; a better idea might be a separate points system for the 12 drivers in the title hunt, as Stewart has suggested. NASCAR also should consider changes in the tour dates that some racetracks now enjoy. The point: NASCAR's title chase should feature the sport's 10 best tracks. Loudon, Dover and Martinsville are nice places and put on some good, interesting racing, but they're not Vegas, baby. The first thing the France family should do -- or maybe, since he owns both tracks now, Bruton Smith could do --- is kick off the chase in late September at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Or maybe expand the playoffs to 12 races: 12 drivers in 12 races, and throw in Sonoma, Calif or Montreal as a road-course ringer. Mike Mulhern has covered NASCAR for 35 years at the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina. I 12. Tony Stewart 6059 13 David I~gan 4208 14. Kasey Kahne 3935 I~i Martin Truex Jr.: 3705 16. Jamie McMurray 3644 17. Ryan:N~fi 3635 18. Kurt Busch 3601 19!~an Vickers 3513 20. Case,/Meats 3385 12. David Stremme 3772 13i:: Kelly Bires 3621 14. Steve Wallace 3497 3466 16. Kenny Wallace 3057 117i:S~ 18. Kevin Harvick 2936 19. Denny ~mlid:: 26i2 20. Joey Logano . 2416 i,i,' Ford 400 Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.) When: Nov. 16, 3 p.m. EST On the air: ABC Distance: 267 laps, 400 miles Track qualifying record: Jamie McMurray, 181.111 mph, 2003 Track race record: Tony Stewart, 140.335 mph, 1999 007 winner: Matt Kenseth Homestead-Miami Speedway tg Turn 4 Turn 3 Trade 1 .S-mile oval Banking: 18-20 degrees, turns; 4 degrees, sbaights Nationwide Series Race. Ford 300 (Homestead-Miami Speedway) When: Nov. 15, 4 p.m. EST On the air: ESPN2 W/ho's Hot" Carl Edwards. He has gained 151 points in his past six Nationwide races, posting eight straight top-5 finishes and closing the gap between him and leader Clint Bowyer. Who's Not: Jeff Gordon. An engine failure at Phoenix resulted in a 41st-place finish, and the former champion may be looking at his first winless season since his rookie year of 1993. I I III IIIIIIIII II Pzcord For "I've been watching him since he first came on the scene. 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