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It’s about the economy, for NASCAR too

The financial downturn that has hit this country over the past year or so has not left the sports world untouched. All major sports have felt the impact of the tightening of the typical American family’s pocketbook, but NASCAR has felt the blow more than most.

NASCAR’s success is determined by two things: corporate sponsorship decals on cars and fans’ behinds in the seats at each racetrack.

In a week in which you and I and every other taxpayer in this country bought our way into the insurance business with the federal government’s buyout of giant insurer AIG, race teams are trying to find ways to keep afloat. And it’s tough.

Recently, there has been a huge influx of “outside” cash into NASCAR from either investors trying to turn a quick dollar, or successful owners in other professional sports trying to make it work in the cup series.

Jack Roush, Richard Childress, Richard Petty, Ray Evernham, and Michael Waltrip are all examples of “racers” who took on equal partners who brought cash and marketing expertise to the table. Roush and Evernham took on successful owners in other sports, while the others took the cash from investors. No longer can guys get by and succeed by building the fastest car. Business acumen and corporate connections are now prerequisites to success.

The only major players immune to the “equal partner flu” have been Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendrick. And who knows how long they will be able to hold on. When will it stop? I don’t think it ever will, in fact, I think costs of entry into the sport along with operational costs will continue to rise.

I bet the one guy that hates the chase more than anyone right now is Kyle Busch. Going into the race at Richmond a couple of weeks ago, Busch held a 207-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards.

After that race, he held a 30-point lead over Edwards, thanks to the reset of points going into the chase. After last week’s race at New Hampshire, Busch is in eighth place, 74 points out of the lead. That’s a 281-point swing in three races. And now those eight wins during the regular season don’t mean a whole lot.

But, hey, who am I kidding? Busch will still be a major contender to win the championship.

Greg Biffle picked a good time to break his 2008 season winless streak with picking up the checkers last week. In a week when 10 of the 12 chase drivers changed points positions, Biffle jumped from ninth to third. This type of movement at the top of the standings will continue weekly until we crown a champion at Miami in November.

The Monster Mile at Dover is next on the schedule. The only chase drivers who have not won a race at Dover are Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer. That string will continue this week as Jeff Gordon, who sits on the pole, wins at Dover Sunday afternoon.