Commentary

Rumors building as NASCAR yet to announce 2008 schedule

No big changes are expected, but the longer NASCAR goes without announcing a 2008 schedule, the more speculation builds that real changes are coming, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: September 18, 2007, 5:54 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

It's the middle of September and the 2008 Sprint Cup schedule hasn't been announced. The waiting has caused some people to wonder if NASCAR will spring a big surprise on us with a major change.

Sounds like wishful thinking by a few track owners. NASCAR officials say the 2008 schedule won't have any significant changes from 2007.

One of the few tweaks will be moving the early-season open weekend to later in the year. Officials now feel it's better to keep continuity at the start of the year rather than schedule an open date.

For the past two seasons, NASCAR left an open Cup date on the weekend of the Mexico City Busch Series event.

NASCAR wanted the Mexico race to receive plenty of attention and media coverage without splitting things with a Cup race. It also was a chance to get more Cup drivers to participate in the Mexico City event.

But most of the big names used the free weekend to stay home or take a mini-vacation. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson didn't compete in the first two Mexico road races.

A few sanctioning agreements still need to be signed, but the new Cup schedule probably will come out next week. NASCAR officials would like to announce the Cup and Busch schedules on the same day.

That may be a problem. The Busch series will have a new name next year, or maybe no name. Anheuser Busch is leaving after 26 years as the title sponsor.

NASCAR wanted around $30 million for a new title sponsor, but few companies have wanted to pony up at that price.

That leaves two options: Take less money or run the series without a title sponsor for a year while continuing to negotiate with other companies.

NASCAR may have added a selling point for the future. Officials are seriously considering a move to sports cars -- Mustangs, Camaros, etc. -- for the feeder series in 2009.

McLaren madness
If you thought Teresa Earnhardt was having a rough year as a team owner, it's nothing compared to Ron Dennis.

It just keeps getting worse for the boss of the McLaren Mercedes team in Formula One.

NASCAR fines are pocket change compared to the $100 million McLaren was told to pay last week in the spying scandal.

Heck, spying in the NFL only cost New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick half a million bucks, plus $250,000 more docked to the team.

But Dennis' immediate problem is the bitter hatred between his two drivers: rookie Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton was furious last weekend when he said Alonso "deliberately" ran him off the track in the Belgian Grand Prix.

McLaren is banned from winning the constructors' title, but Hamilton and Alonso still can win the drivers' crown. Hamilton has a two-point lead over Alonso with three races remaining. Clearly, these two aren't going to play nice down the stretch.

Everyone knows Alonso is leaving at the end of the year, so McLaren is bound to give Hamilton every advantage. And Alonso is sure to do all he can to take that advantage away.

Now that's a championship battle worth watching. Who needs a Chase when you have a top team in turmoil and a little bad blood in the mix?

Bud prepared
You have to hand it to the Budweiser folks. They know how to promote their product.

Bud officials already have Budweiser bottles with Kasey Kahne's No. 9 on the label, which was part of the announcement Wednesday of Kahne as the new Bud man in Cup.

And Bud played it up big by having Kahne make a grand entrance riding in the wagon pulled by the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.

Let the sales of the new little cars, caps and T-shirts begin. Cha-ching.

Rating the rookies?
When Juan Pablo Montoya won the road race at Sonoma in June, a Rookie of the Year title seemed certain.

Not so fast, muffler breath. Montoya is only 13 points ahead of David Ragan in the rookie Nextel Cup standings.

The rookie standings are different from the regular-season standings. Montoya ranks 20th in the full-season standings, 63 points ahead of Ragan in 21st position.

But the rookie title is based on a driver's top 17 finishes in his rookie year, including bonus points for top-10s. And it isn't just points. A panel of voters also is part of the process to select the Raybestos Rookie of the Year.

The five-man panel includes defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and four NASCAR executives: John Darby (Nextel Cup director), Robin Pemberton (vice president of competition), Steve O'Donnell (vice president of racing operations) and Jim Hunter (vice president of corporate communications).

The panel considers several criteria, including conduct with officials and conduct on the racetrack. Just a guess, but Ragan might have an advantage there.

The voting is done in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the winner is announced during the Ford 400 season finale weekend.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter