|Goodbye Home Depot, thanks for the ride|
First, count the number of cars in Saturday night’s Kentucky race. That’s right, only 42. For the first time since the last race of the 2001 season, a Sprint Cup race will not have a full field of 43 vehicles. And even that was an anomaly; the race being run on Thanksgiving weekend after 9/11 had interrupted the season and one team having already disbanded. Prior to that it was 1997 at Talladega, when the 43rd spot was reserved for former champions and wasn’t needed. The last time a Cup race started without a full field was Dover in 1996, 18 years ago.
The situation is partly the result of Randy Humphrey Racing taking a break, it says to improve team performance. After finishing last at Pocono, Humphrey decided not to go to Sonoma and probably won’t be at Daytona next week. It was masked last week by the entries of several road race ringers at Sonoma and Daytona typically attracts a few extra cars, so it might be a short term situation. Humphrey says it’s not a matter a finances, but more a matter of getting the right people in the right places. He hopes to return for the Brickyard 400, where several other teams will field additional cars and pretty much assures a field of 43.
NASCAR says “the current 43-car field in the Sprint Cup Series has evolved over the years, yet it’s not necessarily a magic number." I guess I’d rather see a smaller field than a couple start-and-park fillers. Still, it’s not a good sign for the series.
Then there were the indications this week that longtime Cup sponsor Home Depot will leave the sport at the end of the year. The orange Home Depot car has been a fixture at Joe Gibbs Racing for 15 years and was the primary sponsor of the No. 20 car for virtually every race as recently as 2011. But that sponsorship has been winding down in recent years, while Dollar General has increased its support.
The move hardly comes as a surprise to JGR and shouldn’t interrupt efforts by the team to put Carl Edwards into a fourth Toyota next season. It probably says more about the changing national economic landscape when Dollar General replaces Home Depot as the primary sponsor, but again, it doesn’t look good for the sport to lose another big brand name. Or maybe Home Depot just got tired of losing to Lowes every year.
Finally, ESPN announced that NASCAR Now, recently kicked off the airwaves by World Cup Soccer coverage, has been cancelled altogether. ESPN promises “to present the race telecasts at the same high level fans expect from ESPN for the remainder of our final season,” but it seems strange the show that has aired for eight years would be cancelled just as the network gets ready to pick up its portion of the season.
When ESPN lost out in the bidding war last year to the Fox and NBC sports cable networks, many wondered what impact it would have on future NASCAR coverage. Despite the denials, this is just the first step. Don’t expect to see the next Sprint Cup champion hosting SportsCenter anytime soon.
Not all the news is bad this week, however. Caterpillar, another longtime brand name sponsor, announced it is re-upping with Ryan Newman and Richard Childress Racing. Newman and Caterpillar are a good fit and the move should help solidify things at RCR, which has struggled much of this season.
And TNT actually showed a slight increase in viewership of last week’s Sonoma Cup race while going up against ESPN’s World Cup coverage, although it fell in the ratings.
But hey, more eyeballs are more eyeballs.