What happened: 5-hour Energy, one of the main sponsors for Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing, announced it would be leaving the team — and the sport — at the end of this season in what it termed a “business decision.” 5-hour joined Truex’s No. 78 this year after being the full-season sponsor on Erik Jones’ No. 77 last year. Prior to that, 5-hour was linked with Clint Bowyer during his time at Michael Waltrip Racing and HScott Motorsports (2012-16).
What it means: Even winning at a frequent rate doesn’t ensure continued sponsorship anymore. Truex is coming off a championship season and has been one of the “Big Three” drivers with four wins already this year. And yet, for whatever reason, 5-hour decided it was time to spend its marketing dollars somewhere other than NASCAR. That’s a discouraging sign, especially since Monster won’t be the Cup Series title sponsor for much longer and thus would have freed up 5-hour to go wherever it wanted.
News value (scale of 1-10): Seven, for a combination of reasons. Truex is a big-name driver losing a big-name sponsor, for one. But it’s also newsworthy that yet another major sponsor is departing from NASCAR after spending a couple hundred million dollars in the sport over seven seasons at the Cup level. It’s yet another punch in the gut for those hoping NASCAR’s slide will end soon.
Three questions: Can Furniture Row find a replacement, or will team owner Barney Visser have to put his company on the hood again? Does this end the speculation Furniture Row could re-expand to a second car next season? What does it mean for NASCAR when a company stops spending its money altogether instead of just staying involved at a reduced commitment level?
What happened: In a story released on its website, NASCAR revealed it will not use the All-Star aero package for the remainder of the 2018 Cup Series schedule, halting momentum that seemed to be building among series officials and racetracks who hoped to see more pack racing. NASCAR.com’s story cited a lack of time to prepare for the package in more races this season, saying it “would have been a Herculean undertaking and one that could have resulted in a rushed output.”
What it means: A major development in the ongoing battle for NASCAR’s soul, which had sparked a debate over what was more important — pure competition or the quality of the show (you can find a timeline of this story here). While the All-Star package undoubtedly was entertaining, it raised questions about NASCAR becoming a drafting series if those rules were used in points races going forward. Drivers like Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch had begun to speak out against the idea of using the package in more races, but NASCAR and the tracks — particularly the Speedway Motorsports Inc. venues headed by Marcus Smith — seemed intent on giving it a shot. Earlier this month, NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said the package could be used in three more Cup races this season before the playoffs began, and races like Kentucky, Pocono and Michigan seemed like potential candidates. But something must have happened behind the scenes with the various councils NASCAR consults with, because the All-Star package was suddenly snuffed just when its prospects started to burn brighter.
News value (scale of 1-10): Seven, due to the surprise value. No one outside of NASCAR cares about rule packages or even knows what that means, but this had become a pretty important story inside the garage. The fact NASCAR won’t even try the package again in Cup until at least 2019 is a significant and puzzling development (albeit a good one for those who rejected the idea of seeing a restrictor-plate type race every week).
Three questions: What changed? Whose voice or voices in this conversation were able to overrule the other side? Will fans applaud this move to hold off on a major change and keep the racing relatively pure or complain that NASCAR isn’t doing enough to entertain them?
What happened: According to a report by the Reuters wire service, the France family is exploring a sale of NASCAR. Reuters said investment bank Goldman Sachs is working with NASCAR to find a potential buyer. NASCAR declined comment when I asked about this story and I have not been able to confirm it independently — but Reuters is a highly respected outlet and there’s no reason to believe this is a false report.
What it means: This is the first development in what could ultimately become one of the most important stories in NASCAR history. That the founding France family is even considering selling the sport and cashing out is a massive development that could have significant repercussions. And if the sale actually happens? NASCAR as we know it is likely to change forever, perhaps undergoing a transformation that could be similar to Formula One’s makeover. F1 was sold two years ago for $4.4 billion to Liberty Media.
News value (scale of 1-10): Like an earthquake too large to be accurately measured by a seismograph, this one is off the charts. Depending on what happens and who buys it and what their intentions are, this could turn out to be the biggest NASCAR story ever.
Three questions: With the potential of a sale now becoming public, what kind of immediate impact could this have on the sport? What entity has both the interest and billion dollars (at least) it would take to purchase and run the most popular form of racing in America? Would a new owner be able to save NASCAR from its decade-long slump, or would such a change only accelerate the decline?
What happened: After months of speculation, NASCAR and Monster Energy announced a one-year extension of the Cup Series title sponsorship. Monster’s deal was up at the end of this season, but it will now run through 2019.
What it means: Monster seemed to have all the leverage after reportedly requesting two extensions on its decision deadline. It already had the Cup Series sponsorship at a steal of a price in the original deal (at least compared to Sprint) and since has spent parts of two seasons as a relatively quiet sponsor. When NASCAR and Monster first announced the deal in December 2016 at a hastily arranged news conference in Las Vegas, there was talk of a culture change and injection of Monster’s youthful, “fun” approach into all things NASCAR. But that hasn’t happened. Today’s NASCAR is the same as it was when Sprint was around, and aside from a Monster display area and Monster girls in victory lane, the sponsor has had little impact on NASCAR itself. Nevertheless, it was crucial for NASCAR to try and extend the deal, because the optics would have been terrible had there been yet another title sponsor change after just two years. At this point, the value of the naming rights themselves seem diminished compared to a decade ago, which could be why NASCAR told reporters it is looking at a different model starting in 2020. It might just be better to try something else than to engage in an annual dance of will-they-or-won’t-they when it comes to signing a new deal, and that seems to be the direction NASCAR may go.
News value: Six. It’s above average because it’s the series title sponsorship, but there’s a lot of fatigue around this story since it dragged on for so long. It would have been much bigger news at this point had Monster decided not to come back, because NASCAR would have been in a real bind.
Three questions: What was the holdup in signing the deal that prevented Monster from meeting the original deadline last December? What other options would NASCAR have had if this deal hadn’t been worked out? Will Monster do anything to increase its role, or will its investment stay relatively the same over the remaining two seasons of its sponsorship?
What happened: NASCAR dropped the 2019 Cup Series schedule out of the blue on Tuesday. It has no changes from this year’s schedule — all tracks are the same, and in the exact same order. Last year, the 2018 schedule was announced May 23, so this is even earlier.
What it means: There was no fanfare for this announcement (in the past, it was even unveiled on a TV show) because there’s nothing notable about next year’s schedule other than it remains the same. The 2018 version had some significant changes (moving Indianapolis to the cutoff race, putting Richmond in the playoffs, giving Las Vegas a second race instead of New Hampshire), and it’s clear NASCAR believes its current order is a good one. Officials have also been putting a priority on getting the schedule out earlier as part of the five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks to help fans plan their future trips. Of course, the downside is there’s no freshness or exciting new venues, like another short track.
News value (scale of 1-10): Two. As reflected in the way NASCAR made its announcement, there’s nothing really special about the news because there are no changes. It’s the same as this year.
Three questions: Will this exact order of the schedule also remain for future years? Is there any chance of NASCAR adding new venues (MORE SHORT TRACKS) once the five-year agreements with tracks end, or are we kidding ourselves? What’s the holdup behind not trying a midweek race during the summer?
2019 NASCAR Schedule
What happened: Brad Keselowski removed himself from the potential free agent market by signing a long-term contract extension with Team Penske, the team announced Tuesday morning. The length of the deal was not released, but the team’s statement said Keselowski would remain driver of the No. 2 car for “well into the future.” In addition, crew chief Paul Wolfe also signed a contract extension.
What it means: Keselowski played coy about his future prospects when asked in April, saying he was happy at Penske but had learned to never say no to the possibility of other opportunities. But as Silly Season developed further, it became clear Keselowski was working on staying at his current home and would not be jumping back to Hendrick Motorsports, which was where he made some early Cup starts. Staying put makes sense, because Keselowski has deep ties to the status quo — not just through his time there building a team with Wolfe, but with Penske’s Michigan connection and Ford’s support for the Brad Keselowski Racing team in the Truck Series.
News value (scale of 1-10): Three. This wasn’t a surprise and had become a long-anticipated announcement. Although it’s a big-name driver, it involves staying with the same team — so it’s along the same lines as the Denny Hamlin contract extension news in February.
Questions: After locking up both Keselowski and Joey Logano to long-term deals, is Penske’s next target creating a third team to bring Ryan Blaney back in house? Will Keselowski avoid the post-extension slump being endured by Logano? Does this mean Keselowski, 33, will ultimately finish his career at Penske?
What happened: Joe Gibbs Racing made a long-speculated move official on Tuesday, announcing Erik Jones will return to the team after a one-year loan to affiliate Furniture Row Racing. Jones, a Cup rookie this season, has been a JGR development driver and will replace former Cup champion Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 car.
What it means: The NASCAR youth movement continues. As Kenseth has said, he does not intend to retire despite being 45 years old. It appears he essentially got pushed out of JGR by the desire to give one of NASCAR’s top young drivers a home with the team.
News value (scale of 1-10): Two. This is not a surprise at all, but it is noteworthy in that it’s a driver change at one of the top teams.
Questions: What happens to the No. 77 team at Furniture Row Racing? Will Kenseth be able to land at another top organization? How quickly can Jones become a regular winner at JGR?