ONE: THREE WEEKS OFF
It’s been three weeks since I last penned a Five Points to Ponder column and in NASCAR terms, that feels like an absolute age. The reason for my lack of scribing is that I’ve been on an absolutely epic 15-day cross-country road trip from San Francisco to Boston. In all, we drove for some 5,142 miles starting in Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco with overnight stops in Reno, Wendover, Grand Junction, Albuquerque, Lubbock, Austin, Dallas, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Bethlehem, and ending up in Boston on the East Coast.
For me, a foreigner who has lived here in the United States for 14 years, it was a wonderful opportunity to see this great nation, including trips on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado and to the epic Bonneville Salt Flats, out in Utah where they set those world land speed records.
As you might expect, I didn’t watch a lot of NASCAR in that time, although we did go pretty close to Watkins Glen. Twitter did keep me up to speed, though, a sign of how racing has truly evolved to the point that in 2014, you’re only one social media step away from jumping back on board. And I did have one truly NASCAR piece of the trip: a visit to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., where we had an evening event. I didn’t get to take my car out on the track, but it certainly was good to be at a home-away-from-home on my extravaganza of a journey.
TWO: THE NASCAR XFINITY SERIES
So where is the sport now? Financially, in a better spot than you might think. News broke yesterday that broadcasting and cable company giant Comcast, and in particular its Xfinity division, is in negotiations with NASCAR to become the title sponsor of the sport’s second series.
The proposed deal for Comcast’s broadband, TV and phone division is said to be in the region of $100 million across either five or six years. Nationwide Insurance, by comparison, paid between $10-12 million a year for their seven-year stretch as title sponsor.
“We anticipate NASCAR will soon be aligned with an outstanding brand that will help take this series to new heights,” a NASCAR statement noted, “but out of respect for our current partner and the process, we will not comment on speculation about any potential replacements until there actually is one.”
Such is the nature of announcements of this type that you can pretty much put your mortgage on this deal getting inked. For NASCAR, it’s another sign of progress despite the dropping TV numbers and at-track attendance it’s fought far too often in recent years. It also comes hot on the heels of May’s announcement that Camping World extended its Truck Series sponsorship through 2022. Those partnerships give much-needed stability to the sport’s two development arms in need of good news.
All told, it’s a great piece of business for NASCAR – and if it can tie up Sprint to another extension before we hit the 2015 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body will be sitting pretty. The mobile phone giant, which has sponsored the top echelon since 2004, currently has a deal running through 2016 and will begin contract extension discussions in the offseason.
THREE: THREE TO GO
Just three races remain before we begin the unpredictable lottery that will be the 2014 iteration of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And what a short stretch of night racing it is with visits to three of the most iconic tracks on the calendar.
First up, it’s the Bristol Night Race in the Thunder Valley Coliseum, where triumph can turn to tragedy in the twitch of an accelerator pedal. Then over the Labor Day weekend and the curtain fall of summer, it’s a 500-miler at the lightning fast abrasive 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway before we finish up the NASCAR regular season and set the Chase field at Richmond International Raceway.
For the participants of the Sprint Cup circus – and indeed the fans in the stands and watching on television – it’s a trio of races that promises to be anything but predictable, something that isn’t always the case in Cup racing, given the preponderance of cookie-cutter tracks on the schedule.
One thing is sure: for those on the playoff bubble there is absolutely no margin for error at three venues that tend to provide more drama and more mistakes than elsewhere.
FOUR: 45 YEARS STRONG FOR RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING
On Sept. 14 – just a few weeks away – Richard Childress Racing will celebrate a huge milestone: namely 45 years in existence as a race team.
It’s an impressive and worthy marker, spanning five decades, and one worth celebrating in this ADD, social media-ridden, quickly forgotten world we live in today.
RCR began life at Talladega Superspeedway when team principal Richard Childress, then just a mere 23 years of age, strapped into his 1968 Chevrolet and fired up his engine. Childress finished 23rd that afternoon, completing 80 of the 188 laps in a race won by Richard Brickhouse. Childress would go on to make 285 starts in 12 years with a third place at Nashville in 1978 his best finish before taking over a primary ownership role in 1981 – a position he still holds 33 years later.
Fans are encouraged to share their memories, alongside those posted on RCR’s digital channels, using the hashtag #RCR45. Normally, I wouldn’t be excited by yet another hashtag, but given the rich and illustrious history of this fine organization I encourage you all to take part.
FIVE: NO SPONSOR MENTIONS
In what must be a Sprint Cup first, it seems as if Jeff Gordon forgot to thank his plethora of sponsors in his televised ESPN Victory Lane interview last weekend.
Gordon has won a remarkable 91 times in a 23-year, 748-race Cup career, and I’ll wager it might just be the first time he’s omitted to thank the companies that make it possible. I’m sure he rectified it elsewhere (or even in the radio interview right after) but this was one that both made me smile and also showed just how important each race victory is.
One final point to note: the last time Gordon won at both Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway in the same season, he went on to take the overall crown. Watch this space, folks. Watch this space.