TOP STORY NO. 4: THE ECONOMY STINKS

The only thing that had a worse 2009 than Tiger Woods was the global economy. I don’t want to bore you with the details of why things tanked, but I do want to explain how the economy turned motorsports upside down in 2009, enough to be our No. 4 story of the year.

What happened?

Many race teams felt like the dude from Monopoly after landing on Boardwalk with a hotel. For the sake of making this column shorter than Avatar, here’s a synopsis: Robert Yates Racing started with three teams. Travis Kvapil lost his ride before the summer because of sponsorship issues. David Gilliland lost his ride for the same reason later in the year. Bobby Labonte lost his ride for six races because some dude named  Erik Darnell had a sponsor. The team merged with Richard Petty Motorsports (which lost a team in the merge with Gillette Evernham Motorsports) to form an operation that will now result in two fewer teams.

For every team contracted, drivers, crews, engineers, marketing gurus and countless others lose jobs. Hundreds found themselves adding to our nation’s unemployment numbers, many of whom didn’t have a driver’s petty cash fund to make ends meet.

Where are we now?

Brian France says things are OK. Almost everyone else not paid by Brian France says changes have to be made. As a great writer mentioned earlier this week, TV ratings have taken a tumble, which limits one of the sport’s most lucrative revenue streams. Daytona will start a full 43 cars. But we’re nearing a point when a Sprint Cup Race won’t have 43 cars to start, where the track might resemble the stands at some tracks.

Why should you care?

Your favorite driver might have a new boss next year. Guys like Kasey Kahne flipped out when Dodge had delayed payments as it was dealing with bankruptcy. Free agent drivers will value financial stability as much as horsepower. Since those with financial stability often have horsepower that means the rich might get richer. And popular names on good teams might unexpectedly need to look for other opportunities.

There’s also a logjam of good drivers who don’t have a ride. Casey Mears, Travis Kvapil, David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson, Dave Stremme and others may end up in the Nationwide Series. So with those veterans on the second series, where does the young blood NASCAR is looking for find a chance to develop? There’s a clogged artery to the top, and outside forces impact how top-notch NASCAR is in the sports pantheon.

Some might argue all of this is good for the purity of racing the way it used to be. Others would say this is cause for grave concern. We can all agree these economic issues are worth watching, even if we don’t want to.

Related links:

Top story No. 5: NASCAR ratings down
Top story No.6: Talladega turns into the Bermuda Triangle
Top story No. 7: Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets clobbered
Top story No. 8: Tony Stewart has a Whopper of a season
Top story No. 9: RCR gets loopy
Top story No. 10: The return of Mark Martin
Top story No. 11: Kyle Busch sucks, rocks
Top story No. 12: NASCAR Hall of Fame
Top story No. 13: David Poole’s death
Top story No. 14: Double-file restarts
Top story No. 15: As the Danica turns