Friday, June 12, 2009

Sponsorship woes, or something else?

Earlier, this week, Red Horse Racing announced that due to lack of sponsorship, 2008 champion Johnny Benson's number 1 Toyota Tundra team was 'regrettably' ceasing operations. With the cost of running 2 successful and competitive team primarily out of their own pockets adding up quickly after just 8 of the series 25 races, and no sponsorship-relief in sight, team owners Tom Deloach and Jeff Hammond pulled the plug on Benson's hopes of a repeat championship run, and unfortunately , his opportunity to shine in front of his home-state supporters this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
With partial backing, TJ Bell's 11 team was left unscathed.
After last weekend's WinStar World Casino 400at Texas Motor Speedway, Benson sat 7th in points, just 155 markers back from leader Matt Crafton, Bell 20th, 335 outside the top spot.

Benson's predicament surprised and disappointed many fans, as the veteran is a fan favorite, evidenced by his back-to-back Most Popular Driver awards in 2006-2007. But if they thought this was the most surprising announcement to come from the Red Horse stables this week, they were wrong.

That came when the team announced that Timothy Peters, driver of the 17 Toyota, was slated to fill the void filled by Benson in the team's roster. Peters currently sits 19th in the standings, 46 points head of his new teammates, with 2 top 10 finishes while driving for Premier Racing, a team he has particial ownership of. Throughout his career, Peters has shown he can make good use of less than stellar equiptment, but most importantly for the Red Horse Racing executives, he's garnered support for the remainder of the season from That financially backing most likely had a much larger impact on their decision than his on-track performance.

Noone can blame Peters or the RHR team for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them, but it does bring into new light a serious problem facing the CWTS.

Touting by many (myself included) as the most competitive and enjoyable of the three upper NASCAR divisions, the truck series has attracted fans for years because of the close racing, competitive spirit, and fan accessibility. But the lack of sponsorship dollars has always plagued the series, leading many team owners to run their teams out of their pockets, putting every bit of the team's winnings back into the organization.

To put into perspective the prize money awarded to the truck teams, points leader Matt Crafton's 88 team has won $156,680, the result of 7 top 10 finishes. Todd Bodine, having won the two highest paying races so far this season (Daytona and TMS), has collected $286,875. In the Nationwide Series, Jeff Burton has won $154,115 for the 7 of 14 events he's competed in, and currently sits 26th in points, with 5 top 10s. Morgan Shepherd, 24th in points brought home $319,998. And in the Sprint Cup Series, after making his first points paying race of the season at Pocono Raceway, Dexter Bean's season earnings are $93,425.

It was announced this weekend that GM has pulled their factory support of all of their Nationwide and Camping World Series teams, puttign an even larger financial stress on their Chevy-dedicated team owners.

Obviously, the economy has hit NASCAR as hard as the rest of us, and the results can just be attested to 'a sign of the times.' But with rumblings amongst those in the garage that Benson's release wasn't completely due to the financial well having run dry, you have to wonder where the truth lies.
Peters isn't the first driver to use his sponsor's checkbook to find a ride, and he surely won't be the last, but for the integrity and well-being of the sport, we should all hope this isn't a sign of things to come for the beloved series.

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