Reality check for NASCAR

DEAN MCNULTY

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

The notion that all is not sunshine, lollipops and roses in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series has cropped up again as the multi-billion dollar France family circus sets up its tent in Dallas/Ft. Worth for Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

This week BAM Racing notified NASCAR it was withdrawing the No. 49 Toyota from the next two Cup races -- Texas and Phoenix -- and that was on the heels of Bill Davis Racing suspending the operation of its No. 27 Toyota team after trying Jacques Villeneuve, Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson without any luck in attracting a sponsor.

Then there is Petty Enterprises and Wood Brothers Racing -- the two longest standing teams in Sprint Cup -- both reeling with performance and sponsorship problems this 2008 season.

There are other more subtle signs that NASCAR -- in its top three divisions -- may be getting to the point where it has begun to price itself out of the marketplace.

Where just two seasons ago in an interview mega-team owner Jack Roush said that he was proud to say that NASCAR was the only top level racing sanctioning body where results still determined who got jobs, unlike open-wheel racing where drivers had to come to the table with chequebooks open to buy rides.

VACANCIES

Well just two short years later there are plenty of teams in both the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series who have a "For Rent" sign on their race cars and transporters, available to anyone with a licence and a wad of cash.

And at the Sprint Cup level, where it takes a minimum of $20 million US to back a team for the 36-race season, companies no longer are lining up to sign on the dotted line.

At Petty, for example, its longtime association with General Mills ends this season after the company gave notice it's moving to the more successful and higher profile Richard Childress Racing in 2009.

It figures it has to sell an awful lot of Cheerios to pay the price of sponsoring an also-ran team, even one with the Petty nameplate on it, so it wants to at least have a shot at Victory Lane and all the promotion that goes with it.

Now there are rumours that Bobby Labonte, who drives the No. 43 Petty Dodge, is regretting moving from Joe Gibbs Racing.

All of this comes in an era when even top teams once run by single owners like Roush, Ray Evernham and Richard Petty are entering into partnerships with investments firms and conglomerates to keep up with the rising costs of racing.

How soon will those mostly faceless entities start demanding that driver contracts come with sponsor dollars?

NASCAR has to know that that kind of business plan eventually drives a wedge between the fans and the series -- just like it did in open-wheel -- and we all know how that worked out.

JACQUES STILL IN DEMAND

The aforementioned Villeneuve may be out of sight on the NASCAR circuit but he'll be racing full-bodied cars this weekend at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula One world champion, has been offered a ride in the Speedcar series, a support race for the F-1 event in the desert nation.

"Speedcar series looks like a great event and I have heard that it is a lot of fun," he said. "It's a series still in its infancy and will build up but I think it's a great idea. On a personal level, Speedcar will give me more road racing experience with this kind of car which will be useful in future NASCAR road courses events."

Villeneuve obviously hasn't given up on NASCAR just yet and according to BDR general manger Mike Brown, talks still are going on between the team and agent Barry Green to get him back in the No. 27 Toyota.

NOT A GOOD SPECTATOR

Why Paul Tracy won't be on the starting grid Saturday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersberg may never be really known.

Conjecture, of course, is that Tracy and former Champ Car World Series team owner Gerald Forsythe are in a legal battle over his contract status.

But the Thrill from West Hill isn't far from the minds of fans and media at the South Florida event.

In yesterday's Tampa Tribune, Tony Fabrizio lamented Tracy wouldn't be there to try to defend the win he got there when CART ran the circuit.

"The 2003 CART champion said by phone he's trying to negotiate a settlement in his contract that would allow him to race this season, but he won't attend the (St. Petersberg) grand prix even to watch," Fabrizio wrote.

"I'm not a good spectator," Tracy said.


Videos

Photos