By admin | January 1, 2009
By Richard Allen
We have reached the end of another year and that often causes folks to reflect on the memorable moments of the past twelve months. Of course, the NASCAR year ended several weeks ago but there is still cause for reminiscing.
A few years from now, when people look back, what will NASCAR 2008 be remembered for?
There were several compelling stories to come from the past year in the world of major stock car racing. Some of those stories were good for the sport and some were not.
Unfortunately for NASCAR, what will most likely wind up as the biggest story for 2008 is not a positive. High gas prices and a poor economy provided many fans who seemed on the verge of giving up on the sport to finally walk away.
Scores of empty seats, particularly over the second half of the season, showed themselves. Even the very popular venues of Talladega, Daytona and Bristol had less than capacity crowds. If this trend continues we may look back to 2008 as the year NASCAR’s wheels finally came off with its fan base.
2008 may also be remembered as a year of significant changes in the team structure of the sport. Two very high profile driver changes took place. At the beginning of the year, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drove his first race for his new team at Hendrick Motorsports. At the end of the season, Tony Stewart ended his highly successful relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive for his own team.
Also, NASCAR’s garage area seemed much like Wall Street with all the mergers and acquisitions that either took place or were rumored to be taking place. Lack of sponsorship and the high cost of racing drove several teams such as Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing to each other in hopes that together they might accomplish what they could not on their own.
Other teams such as that of the Pettys and the Wood Brothers may disappear all together.
As far as actual on track happenings are concerned, 2008 should be remembered for Jimmie Johnson’s feat of winning a third consecutive Sprint Cup championship. That accomplishment had only taken place one other time when Cale Yarborough managed it thirty years ago.
In another development on the track, and off, 2008 may be remembered for the emergence of Toyota in NASCAR’s top division while at the same time their competitors seemed to be falling apart off the track.
Kyle Busch won eight Sprint Cup races for the Japanese auto maker in 2008. While that was happening on the track, Toyota’s American counterparts in the auto industry found themselves before Congress asking for money to stay afloat.
2008 certainly had its moments. Perhaps the most important thing about 2008 is that it will lead into 2009 which could be the most pivotal year in the history of NASCAR.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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