Commentary

We know times are tough; we don't know what NASCAR is doing about it

We know times are tough, but we don't know what NASCAR plans to do about its likely economic woes. Chairman Brian France could change that, but he said nothing of substance for the second time in three days, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: November 18, 2008, 11:24 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

NASCAR chairman Brian France has held news conferences twice in the past three days. That alone tells you how concerned he is about things to come.

Conversing regularly with the media is not part of France's leadership style. But this is a serious time in the sport, so France feels the need to open up and calm the waters of the economic storm.

The problem is he hasn't been specific. He says NASCAR cares. He says the sanctioning body will be more aggressive and work with the teams to cut costs.

But what is actually being done?

NASCAR teams are hurting, as are many businesses right now. Some teams are in danger of folding. Many are lacking sponsorship. Some are looking to merge to try to survive.

But the specifics on how to improve those things are missing, at least for the moment. And some major suggestions are off the table.

Will NASCAR shorten its 38-event Sprint Cup schedule?

"That's not a consideration," France said on a Tuesday conference call. "It's not practical because we have contracts in place."

Will NASCAR shorten the length of some races, to reduce fuel consumption?

"Shortening events in our view more is symbolic than saving any real money," France said.

Will NASCAR eliminate testing?

"We need to react to that very quickly," France said. "Budgets are being set for every team. Obviously it's very difficult across our whole industry."

Will all four auto manufacturers -- General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota -- remain in the sport?

"We have every intention of them being a big part of the sport in the future," France said. "We will do everything we can to help them get through a very difficult business cycle."

Tell us something we don't know. And for goodness' sake, tell us something of substance.

France also spoke to the media Sunday at Phoenix, but didn't offer any specific actions.

Since he also made himself available for the weekly Tuesday conference call, some people thought he might list a few meaningful changes to help weather the economic crises.

That didn't happen.

Maybe France and NASCAR just want to get through the season finale this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway before announcing specific plans.

This is the time to celebrate Jimmie Johnson's remarkable achievement of a probable third consecutive Cup championship.

NASCAR also has a dramatic two-man battle for the Craftsman Truck Series title between Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr., who are separated by only three points heading into the final race Friday night.

But holding news conferences to say you know times are tough doesn't cut it unless something specific is done to try to make things better.

Quick math for Fast Jack
Jack Beckman goes into the NHRA season finale this weekend only 64 points behind Funny Car leader Cruz Pedregon.

But three other drivers -- Tim Wilkerson in second, Robert Hight in third and Tony Pedregon in fourth -- stand between Beckman and his first Funny Car championship.

No problem. Beckman has his plan all lined out.

"We have a very realistic shot," Beckman said. "I figure we'll beat Cruz first round, Wilkerson second round, Hight in the semis and Tony in the finals and the points will take care of themselves. Piece of cake, huh?"

Going smokeless in Kansas
Smoke 'em if you've got 'em at Kansas Speedway next year, because you won't have that chance in 2010.

Track officials announced the implementation of a smoking ban in 2010 for the grandstands and all the enclosed areas. Kansas Speedway is giving its fans a year to adjust.

Interesting that the change will coincide with Kansas' receiving a second Cup date in 2010 when a new casino and resort hotel opens at the track.

But the speedway ban will not apply to the casino. Does that mean speedways officials are encouraging all the smokers to go gamble?

No, chimney breath. The group that's building the casino is lobbying to exclude casino floors from a government smoking ban in public places.

Aussie race off the IndyCar schedule
As expected, the IndyCar Series confirmed Tuesday that it won't return to Australia next season, making it another Champ Car event that becomes a casualty of the merger.

The Surfers Paradise event was one of Champ Car's most successful races, dating back to 1991. The IndyCar Series ran a postseason exhibition race there two weeks ago, and Ryan Briscoe won.

But officials couldn't work out the details to change the date of the event, and the IndyCar Series wasn't going to end the season overseas.

Hendrick motor gurus all wound up
Even with one of its motors going to Victory Lane on Sunday at Phoenix, the Hendrick Motorsports engine brain trust was not a happy group back in the garage.

Jimmie Johnson won for the seventh time this season, but the engine tuners were kicking themselves about the engine failure for teammate Jeff Gordon.

"We had three or four engines guys back there during the race," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "They knew one of their cars probably was going to win the race, but their heads were down. They don't want to see a failure."

Taking a pass
The 1-mile Phoenix oval usually supplies some exciting action at the front of the pack. But Sunday's 313-lap Sprint Cup race didn't have a green-flag pass for the lead on the track until Lap 81 when Jimmie Johnson moved ahead of Kurt Busch in Turn 2.

And the only pass for the lead in the last 203 laps came on a restart when Johnson scooted by Jamie McMurray on Lap 219.

Dry humor
Matt Kenseth is not the most colorful person you'll ever meet, but he is honest. Kenseth was MRN radio's in-car reporter during the race Sunday at Phoenix.

During a caution midway through the race, Kenseth was running 25th and was asked about his up-and-down day.

"Uh, I don't know about 'up-and-down day,'" Kenseth said. "I don't think I've seen up yet."

The upswing came later. Kenseth got back on the lead lap and finished 15th.

For the veterans
The NHRA deserves praise for giving a little back to the troops. The season finale this weekend at Pomona, Calif., is a big seller, but in honor of Veteran's Day, the NHRA is offering free tickets Friday to all active and retired military personnel.

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

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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