Sunday, July 13, 2003

Dow: Auto racing insider

Money short for NASCAR's minors

NASCAR has no worries about its top series, Winston Cup (or Nextel Cup or Winston/Nextel Cup or whatever it's called these days). It is as healthy as a weed, grabbing a 6.0 national rating for last week's Pepsi 400 on NBC.

That was a 15 percent increase from last year's race broadcast on Fox.

Not bad considering the race was the first in the switch from Fox to NBC and came at the circuit's midseason point. Apparently some 20 million people got the message, which is why Nextel had no reservations about passing along an extra $50 million to NASCAR in advertising revenues for next season.

Life is good at the top of NASCAR. It is the drivers and teams below that are dodging the dust that Winston Cup leaves behind. For them, the money eventually will run out if NASCAR does not step in.

NASCAR president Mike Helton says the Busch Series is America's second-most popular racing series based on attendance, ratings and competition at the track.

Notice he doesn't say based on driver pay. For the second-most watched series, the Busch Series sometimes is treated like Single-A by NASCAR.

Busch drivers are woefully underpaid by comparison, and when the economy is down, the sponsors just aren't there to fit the bill. That is why Todd Bodine, who is sixth in the standings, goes week to week not knowing if he'll be driving.

"NASCAR needs to put more money into the Busch Series," former driver Darrell Waltrip said. "Every track should have a minimum purse. It's imperative, because it's bad for the series when people drop off."

It's not much different for Craftsman Truck Series teams such as Roush Racing, which doesn't know if up-and-coming drivers Jon Wood and Carl Edwards will be able to continue this season. Unable to find sponsors at the truck level, Roush is expected to move Wood and Edwards to the Busch Series.

NASCAR needs to find a way to help these future Cup stars stay on the track. While the top level of racing gets stronger, the feeder leagues are losing drivers on a regular basis. The training grounds must be funded if NASCAR wants to keep the most popular form of racing in America at the Cup level.

STEWART STAYING PUT? Tony Stewart reportedly was looking to switch NASCAR teams midseason, from Joe Gibbs Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing. His contract with Gibbs is up after next season, so a move would require a hefty buyout. But Stewart put an end to the debate by telling NASCAR Radio that he expects to re-sign with Gibbs soon.

NEXTEL SAYS NO: Nextel is not going to allow AT&T to remain a sponsor of the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge next season. NASCAR gave Nextel, the title sponsor of the Cup series beginning next season, the choice of allowing the rival company to sponsor the car, and Nextel nixed the deal. But Cingular Wireless and Alltel will continue to sponsor cars.

Apparently, Nextel might have allowed AT&T to continue its sponsorship, but without the company's logo on the car.



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