A Voice for the Fans ~ Silly Season Is Only Silly for Some
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and to our assigned reader… be you human or computer this week… we do hope you enjoy your time with us. This week your scribe didn’t even try on Monday, so it’s circa Noon on Tuesday as I pull up to the well-worn keyboard through which I communicate with all of the race fans… and whoever might be listening these days at NASCAR.
Just in case you’ve somehow missed the several thousand articles all geared around it, we have now officially reached that time of year known as “Silly Season.” Years back, that would surface sometime in September and run through the end of the racing season. This is July, and it’s been working its way through the year since maybe April or May. Heck, maybe even January, if we take a look back. Carl Edwards gave it a major boost by walking away, totally unexpectedly, thereby opening one of the best rides in NASCAR.
JGR had two great rookies, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, but with all four seats filled (Edwards, Kenseth, Hamlin and Kyle Busch) Jones had already been placed in the tender loving care of Barney Visser as teammate to Martin Truex Jr., with a sponsor (5-Hour Energy) that had already pledged to Clint Bowyer in the #14, replacing Tony Stewart at SHR. So… when Edwards waved bye-bye, it was Suarez that inherited his #19 ride and sponsors.
Yep, I guess Silly Season has become a year-round sport now, and with Dale Earnhardt Jr. announcing that he won’t be back in the #88 for HMS next year, the incessant yammering and offering of possible replacements has almost reached crescendo pitch. Enter Matt Kenseth, who “announced” what he said he’s known for at least a month… that he is odd-man-out at JGR for 2018.
Ah, the possibilities are endless, and all over the automotive Internet, journalists, racing pundits and several idiots have been busy making guesses as to who wins or loses at the game of NASCAR musical chairs. Then of course, we have those jolly good folks that just love to send up trial balloons to see who might bite. Darn, I miss Mike Mulhern! He was just fantastic at doing that, then sitting back to see how many writers he could get to believe him and have their hard cards lifted for the effort. No, he never got this one. In my case, his fame in that field preceded him and I always recognized the “safe words” inserted within the articles. “It seems”, “Rumor has it”, “According to sources”, “The garage is abuzz”, “Overheard at the water cooler”… ad infinitum. Each innocent phrase removes the need for absolute truth. It’s a trick older than either Mike or I am, and I too know how to stay “safe”, but I find I prefer truth to “cute.”
Watch for those phrases, or ones similar to them as you read about the possibility of Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski or Kyle Larson filling the seat of that #88. Of course, when Matt Kenseth made his announcement, it was taken by some as an automatic… Matt will drive the #88 next year. Why? Reasoning says that Matt will keep the seat warm for young William Byron, who is under the tender loving care of JR Motorsports until such time as he is ready to move up to HMS. Byron just graduated high school and needs more time in Xfinity, they say.
Hmm… seems to this scribe that if Matt doesn’t want to retire on Gibbs’ schedule, he might be looking for more than just a single year deal. Besides, Hendrick already has a built-in seat that will come available in 2019, when Kasey Kahne runs out of contract to catch him up with having run out of talent. Further speculation has it that Kahne might just be out anyway, as sponsors Farmers’ Insurance and Great Clips have both announced they will not be returning next year. We’re down to a 40-car field, which most weeks goes unfilled, and even the better teams are losing sponsors. That doesn’t leave much hope for those young and undeveloped teams that finish 30th and back almost every week.
That right there, gentle readers, isn’t one bit funny. The “Charter System” has put a stranglehold on the entire sport. I’ve no idea what one of those things costs these days, but I’d wager it’s nowhere near the $Millions predicted by one Brian Z. France. Sincerely… what good is a Charter if sponsorship can’t be found? That is no longer a problem that just affects the back markers. It’s a problem for some of the biggest teams on the circuit. Seven-time Champion Jimmie Johnson just resigned with Hendrick for another three years. Lowe’s, which might be the only total primary sponsor left, (They sponsor all 38 events) signed for one year. That’s never happened before, but remember, their biggest competitor, Home Depot, bailed out several years back.
They call it “Silly Season”, but I’d suggest that for some, it’s not all that Silly; it’s downright painful. Do I have all the answers? Not on your life! I do have a large supply of logic and common sense on hand, and the handwriting on that wall is getting easier to read by the day. Over the past 14 or so years, I’ve offered logical suggestions and thoughts, all of which have been ignored because my name isn’t France, so this year I choose to sit back and watch as others play the game. At the end of the year, some will be happy and a few will be left out in the cold to fend for themselves over the long, cold winter, without hope of returning in February. This scribe doesn’t find that one bit Silly. Instead, I find it sad.
Almost as a PS to this piece, ISC announced today the third of the renovations planned for tracks under their control. This time, the recipient will be Richmond… formerly known as Richmond International Raceway and before that Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway. The project is being dubbed “Richmond Raceway Reimagined” and involves a major overhaul of the infield as seen here. One can’t help but notice that these renovations are getting smaller in scale, almost in proportion to the attendance and ratings of the races. “Daytona Rising” cost $400 Million, Phoenix cost $178 Million and little Richmond gets a paltry (by comparison) $30 Million. Even with TV money still coming to the tracks in large dollar amounts, ISC announced a 2nd quarter loss of 6% a week or so ago. I’d say that just about all the signs are there that we might soon learn no enterprise is too big to fail. That won’t be Silly either, though some might just find it funny… and deserved.
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and this week, instead of the wonderful shows from the 1950s, I want to share something touching and lovely that a friend recently shared with me. If you visit our Fan Forum, you may have already watched it, as I had it there for a full week. This is “My Beautiful America” as offered by the Charlie Daniels Band. This presentation is perhaps the most beautiful video ever made. Please enjoy…
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!