- Marty Smith, NASCAR
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NASCAR is on an island in New York. And it's not Staten Island.
NASCAR's New York initiative, though not dead, could use a shot from the defibrillator paddles. Life support is an overstatement, though not an outlandish one.
The goal remains intact: construct a track within a 20- to 30-mile radius of Manhattan, and persistence from Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy could ultimately prevail.
But it'll be awhile. And it'll be costly.
Staten Island was doomed from the outset, given the staunch political push-back locally and numerous infrastructural obstacles. Goodbye $150 million, spent up front at the realization that the land would only increase in cost the longer they waited. Hello square one. On they trudge.
Michael Printup, lead dog in the New York sled for International Speedway Corp., remains optimistic, saying Tuesday that ISC would soon get a market analysis of its 676-acre parcel in Bloomington, N.Y., before determining its next move.
ISC is confident it will sell and has no interest in unloading it in the name of liquidation. The company will hold it until a suitable offer comes along. The Port Authority of New York, Printup said, has expressed interest in purchasing the land.
He also said ISC has been inundated with calls from potential new sites. One is across the bridge in New Jersey, another up near Stewart International Airport. Yonkers, Queens and the Bronx have all called claiming they have suitable property on which to build, Printup said.
He and his team plan to start NYC 2.0 in a week or two.
What about the New Jersey Meadowlands?
"I haven't gotten any calls from the Meadowlands, yet," Printup said. "I figured I would have by now, but haven't."
Printup said the pending defections from the Meadowlands' Continental Arena by the NBA's New Jersey Nets (to Brooklyn) and the NHL's New Jersey Devils (to Newark, N.J.) could provide NASCAR an opportunity to swoop in and replace critical lost revenue.
That's not the case, according to Bernard Spigner, a spokesman for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA), which owns and operates the Meadowlands complex.
"It's hard for me to speak for the [Meadowlands] CEO. I haven't even spoken with him about NASCAR, but it's apples and oranges. The Nets' and Devils' departure will make our arena profitable. Arenas don't make money as homes of basketball and hockey teams. It's concerts and family shows -- non-sporting events.
"Arenas are more profitable once teams vacate. With that said, though, we know NASCAR is a jewel among American sports and cuts across many demographics. So if Mr. France picked up the phone and called Mr. Zoffinger [NJSEA CEO George Zoffinger], they'd meet. I'm sure of that."
Printup might just do that.
"Maybe it's time I picked up the phone and gave the Meadowlands a whirl again," Printup said. "I think we have a really good chance of surviving up here."
The Meadowlands is buzzing with growth. The NJSEA in December approved a ground lease for a new football stadium, a $1 billion project scheduled to open in August 2010. There is also Xanadu, a retail and entertainment complex on the Meadowlands property that is slated to open next year.
"The image that was prevalent for NASCAR 25 years ago is not the image now," Spigner said. "Anybody would relish an association with them."
Well, almost anybody.
On to some mail...
What do you think Dale Jr. is going to need to win this year, and what seemed to be the problems they kept having with his car this past year? He only won one race last year, but in many respects he seemed to outdrive the field. I say that because he was usually in the top 10, even when he didn't have a top-10 or even a top-15 car.
-- Hank, Houston
Honestly, Hank, I disagree with your assessment of Earnhardt's equipment. It was among the best he's driven in his Nextel Cup career. The intermediate cars that crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and the DEI staff put under Dale Jr. in 2006 were quite superior, both aerodynamically and from a horsepower standpoint, to those he's fielded in recent history.
His restrictor-plate cars and short-track cars were consistently competitive, but his intermediate program was mediocre, especially in 2005. In 2006, it was all but parallel with Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. Of the 10 top-five runs he posted in 2006, six came on high-speed, high-downforce tracks.
Compare that to his best season-to-date statistically, 2004, when just three of 16 top-five finishes came on 1.5- or 2-mile racetracks.
I have a serious dilemma approaching -- I've been a lifelong Mark Martin and Ford fan. I gave your buddy (and mine), Porkchop, heck when he left Ford to follow his boy Jeff Burton to Chevy. Well, I guess you see where I'm going with this. What do you suggest?
-- Party Boy, Blacksburg, Va.
Background on Party Boy: He and I go way back -- a decade at least. He is among the funniest people I know -- several bricks shy of a load and zero inhibition. He knows no embarrassment, prances around the Martinsville Speedway grounds twice a year in tattered cut-off blue jean shorts and a blinking Virginia Tech tiara, pitching horseshoes, slamming beers, butchering Hank Jr.'s "Family Tradition" and rubbing a blindingly white beer gut with Al Bundy-like confidence. He is awesome.
And he loves Mark Martin. He has a T-shirt that's more hole than shirt. It's the No. 6 Valvoline Ford with the old-school 6, not the swirly starburst 6 it carried in the later years or the new-age font it carried when Viagra came on board. This thing has to be 10 years old. It should have been a dust rag six years ago. It's heinous, but he wears it like an 11th-grader wears his first prom tux.
Couple years ago I gave him a Mark Martin snow globe. You'd have thought I handed him Ms. Winston's phone number. Every time I see him he gushes about that thing. Hondo says it's on the mantelpiece. He probably even shakes it up on race day.
Anyway, Party, here's the story: You have two choices. Either (a) pick another Roush driver for which to cheer, or (b) find a jacket to go with that Bowtie.
I know it's difficult, but I say start anew. This is different than Chop's situation. His driver defected to a new team but remained a full-time driver. He made the right choice. For you, I say jump on the Kenseth train. He's Martin's protégé, after all.
I just read your article about how many careers are being shortened by the long schedule and all of the commitments required of the drivers. Even as a fan, I think 38 races [editor's note: it's actually 36] is just too much to ask.
While I highly doubt that NASCAR is even thinking of cutting races, maybe they should listen to Kyle Busch's idea (I never thought I'd be saying that) of taking some second dates away from tracks. In return, couldn't they rotate what tracks get second dates to where they could get one every couple of years?
It might make such a move a bit more acceptable to the track owners. Plus, I do think that ratings and race attendance would improve with such a move, especially at places like Fontana.
-- Mike, Phoenix, Ariz.
The Nextel Cup schedule is indeed too long, Mike, and in turn the product is a bit diluted. I thought about that Sunday while watching the NFL season finale. Seventeen weeks. That's less than half of our competitive schedule. No wonder there's such an insatiable desire for football. The NFL leaves you wanting more.
In the story about shorter driving careers, Earnhardt commented that 30 races is the perfect schedule.
What about 28, plus two non-points shows? There are currently 22 tracks on the Nextel Cup tour. Go to each of those once and award second dates to the venues that truly deserve them: Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega, Bristol, Texas and Richmond. Start the year with the Budweiser Shootout and throw the All-Star race in the middle. That cuts the season by two months, and ends the season just as one of NASCAR's biggest obstacles -- football -- is ramping up.
It's a heckuva lot easier said than done, obviously, what with the politics and all. But for the greater good of the sport I believe it to be worth debating. You have to think the Cup Series is headed to Canada in the coming years, and if New York and Seattle ever get off the ground, there, too.
And speaking of the All-Star race...
I think one thing they could do to shorten the season is get rid of the All-Star race. I mean, it's the same teams and drivers you see the other 37 weekends. All-Star matchups are to see players play together who don't normally do so or to compare leagues or conferences.
Having one for NASCAR, unless the drivers were to switch teams somehow (Yeah! Right!) is just silly and a waste of resources.
-- John, Arlington, Va.
Same drivers, yes, though with completely different dynamics, John. Ninety laps and no tomorrow. No points racing. Just mat it. I love the All-Star race. It's exactly what we were discussing earlier -- short and to the point. Get there now.
Good article the other day on how the demanding Cup schedule could mean shorter careers for Nextel Cup drivers. If only we all were so lucky to work 41 weeks a year for 13 years, be able to retire by the time we're 40 with no financial worries in the world. My heart goes out to those guys, truly.
One issue that I thought you might bring up, though, was regarding the extra demand placed on the "Buschwhackers." Doubling up most weekends, along with the added PR stress, has to be a factor limiting drivers' shelf life.
In my opinion, if NASCAR would stagger locations between the Busch and Nextel Cup series more frequently you might kill two birds with one stone.
Logic says you'd limit the amount of "Buschwhacking" that's going on and give the Cup drivers a little more free time to do as they wish. I won't hold my breath, but was curious about your thoughts.
-- Ryan, Atlanta, Ga.
Never said I felt sorry for them, Ryan. I'm with you. It's hard to feel sorry for a guy who makes millions doing what he loves. They aren't digging ditches for a living.
But I have seen firsthand the considerable demands on their time and wouldn't blame any of them, especially marquee drivers, for choosing to walk away at a young age. Again, they're financially stable quickly and have other interests. They have families.
They fell in love with racing, not with photo shoots or sponsor meet-and-greets. It's part of the job, sure, but it's not the fundamental passion.
As for Buschwhacking, there will be less this year, at least on a full-time basis. It is no easy task to run both full schedules. But splitting the Cup and Busch schedules isn't the answer. Revenue would suffer.
It's quite a task to sell out a Cup race, much less a stand-alone Busch race. In fact, according to NASCAR, of the seven stand-alone dates in 2006, only Memphis and Kentucky sold out. Kentucky has sold out every year since its inception in 2001.
Here we go, folks. A new year has dawned, and with it comes one the most anticipated seasons in NASCAR history. There is Juan Pablo. There is Toyota. There is ESPN and Sirius and DirecTV. There is COT. There is Canada. And a new second series sponsor is on the horizon. And those are just the known variables.
Happy New Year, everyone. May each of you be blessed.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.
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