NASCAR change: assign drivers permanent numbers

21 02 2010

Even more dizzying than watching 43 cars do 250 laps at nearly 200 mph is trying to keep up with the off-season number changes in NASCAR.

There sure is a lot of movement within the NASCAR ranks during the 3-month off-season, considering there are only about 40 legitimate players each year. And you thought Major League Baseball recycled players past their prime instead of bringing in fresh talent to give them a shot. The same bad drivers just move from one low budget team to another. Give a hot young gun a chance instead of the same old tired names showing up in the bottom third of the field every week.

How do some of these guys still have a job? Joe Nemechek? Michael Waltrip? Elliott Sadler?  But that’s a conversation for a different day.

For a sport that prides itself on “driver loyalty,” NASCAR sure is showing its green underbelly lately. NASCAR is more about sponsors and revenue, and less about driving and the only people that truly keep it in business – the fans. And NASCAR is no less greedy than any other sport.

Ever wonder why some teams change their jerseys every season or so? It’s so the fans will buy new jerseys every few years to keep the revenue flow steady. NASCAR is just the same.

But NASCAR also wants to continue to draw new fans to the sport, while at the same time bringing in new talent like Joey Lagano and Danica Patrick. But how can you keep new fans interested in the sport  by confusing them each year by shuffling the field like a deck of cards? Just when you get used to Martin Truex Jr in the #1 Bass Pro Shops car, he switches to the #56 NAPA car and Jamie McMurray is in the #1 Bass Pro Shops car, and Boris Said was in McMurray’s old #26 car. And what the hell is AJ Allemdinger doing in the #43 car?

Next you’re going to tell me some no-name punk prospect is going to running around the Sprint Cup circuit in a #3 black Chevrolet.

I get the whole marketing and team ownership thing, so we’ll just skip the Economics 101 lesson. So let’s skip to a reasonable compromise.

When a driver is promoted to a full-time NASCAR ride for the first time, he is assigned a number. There are 100 numbers to choose from, for Pete’s sake. It’s not rocket science. There are enough to go around. And the number stays with the driver until he retires or is otherwise out of the sport for at least three years. And if the number is not retired, like #3 and #43 should be, then it is eligible for reassignment.

This allows the drivers to maintain a certain identity for the entirety of their careers, because we know colors, sponsors or even car makes are not etched in stone. Hell, Tony Stewart changed his number, sponsors and color schemes, as well as from Chevy to Toyota all in one single move. I promise you that didn’t sit well with all the Tony Stewart fans with closets full of #20 Tony Stewart Home Depot gear, who were all scratching their heads asking themselves about this 18-year-old Lagano kid. So now, every Tony Stewart fan has to go buy new #14 Old Spice or Office Depot gear. I’m sure Tony’s pocket book didn’t object, but I am sure the hard-working middle class fans’ pocket books did. I’m not even going to touch the Dale Jr switch from the red Bud #8 to the green/white Amp Energy #88. Mind boggling.

The owners still have the sponsors and branding schemes to claim for their cars, but the numbers should be sacred to the drivers. What would happen if Brett Favre wore another number other than 4? Everyone laughed when Michael Jordan wore 45. Hell, Lebron James – King Lebron James – offered to forfeit his 23 jersey in order to have the NBA retire 23 league-wide. The NBA (unfortunately) passed, but it proves the number is just as linked to the player as any other identifying color or emblem.

Let the drivers keep their numbers no matter what team or sponsor they drive for. Keep it simple, keep it logical. NASCAR is a simple sport; pedal to the floor, turn left, keep it full of gas and avoid the other cars. Why is trying to figure out the lineup card each week more complicated than the sport itself? Give the fans a break. Make it more fan-friendly … before I have to watch Jeff Gordon riding in a #69 Prolixis car when he retires.

Mr Pressbox Out!!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s