Commentary

In the grand (paint) scheme, less is more

Updated: May 7, 2009, 12:00 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Kyle BuschAP Photo/Steve HelberGreen, orange, yellow, brown -- no matter what color is on the No. 18 Toyota, Kyle Busch finds a way to get it to Victory Lane.

You know what I'm up to the gills with? And wonder if you're sick of it too?

Paint schemes.

Kyle Busch won Saturday night at Richmond in his Combos paint scheme, not to be confused with his M&M's paint scheme, not to be confused with his Interstate paint scheme, not to be confused with his Pedigree paint scheme, not to be confused with his Snickers paint scheme.

This has gotten completely out of hand with most of the cars in the Cup Series.

I think it's the underlying reason so many fans growl that Cup racing is more boring than ever.

I'm not so sure some of these races are any less monotonous than ever. But I do think they're more confusing than ever.

Medical studies indicate that through mental exercise, individuals may postpone, lessen or even ward off the effects of dementia during aging, even Alzheimer's.

Recommended exercises include playing chess and reading books. I would add watching NASCAR races. That is, figuring out who's running what colors, in which combinations, for which sponsors that want you to buy which line of which product, in any given race.

One of the reasons Indy car racing has a hard time drawing crowds and TV audiences is that it's so hard to tell who's passing whom.

NASCAR is headed that way in a hurry, for a very different reason. Indy cars are just too small. NASCAR just draws too much sponsorship, and the cars change too much, race to race.

NASCAR now is largely an advertising forum with just enough sport left in it to hold an audience. Of the big five pro sports leagues in America, NASCAR is the only one where commercial messages are being delivered in avalanches, every millisecond of every event.

There's even a company that measures the TV camera time given to each car in every race, to advise companies as to how many millions of dollars of straight-up TV commercials that car exposure equals.

[+] EnlargeRichard Petty
AP Photo/Terry RennaIs there a more recognizable driver-number-color combination in all of motorsports? Richard Petty fans don't think so.

The commercialism, the ever-changing kaleidoscope of paint schemes, is interfering more and more with the spectator's ability to follow the event.

It's not just that NASCAR wants your entertainment dollars, but that all the various corporate sponsors combine to seek just about every dollar you've got.

I understand teams' need for sponsorship, to a point. But that point has long been passed.

Time was when you could tell where a driver was on the track at any time, just by looking for his colors -- the same way you know the New York Giants from the Green Bay Packers, or the Los Angeles Dodgers from the St. Louis Cardinals. It was that obvious.

Richard Petty was in the red-and-blue STP car and David Pearson was in the white-and-red Purolator car … And then Dale Earnhardt was in the black Goodwrench car and Jeff Gordon was in the rainbow DuPont car.

Now you have to look for the number. And good luck doing that, crowded out and overwhelmed and color-varied as the numbers are by the various products and promotions.

Seems to me there are more people trying to sell more things on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car, on any given weekend, than there used to be in an entire Daytona 500.

Even Junior Nation has its limits. In the ESPN Conversation last week, a confirmed Junior loyalist wrote, "Who the hell designed the paint scheme the 88 team's going to run this Saturday night? Jeez. It looks terrible."

That was the "Drive the Guard" scheme in which the National Guard was promoting truck-driver training. On Saturday night at Darlington comes the Mountain Dew throwback scheme, a glaring green carried by Darrell Waltrip in his day.

If they'd just leave the numbers the same color, that would help. But nooooo …

Ever since Earnhardt Sr. set in motion this kaleidoscopic marketing with his Wheaties paint scheme for the All-Star race of 1997, you could at least count on the Day-Glo numbers on the Hendrick Motorsports cars to pick them out of a pack.

Then Jeff Gordon shows up at Talladega last month in a yellow car with red numbers, a throwback, again, to a Darrell Waltrip Pepsi paint scheme.

Gordon wrecked out in the yellow car, just seven laps into the race -- so much for Pepsi's three-hour-long TV commercial -- just as Waltrip had wrecked the yellow car in its debut, at Daytona in 1983.

The beer companies give us some relief. Most of the time, Kurt Busch is in the Miller Lite "Blue Deuce" and Kasey Kahne is in the red Budweiser No. 9.

But even the clean-car-minded Roger Penske, Kurt Busch's car owner, yields sometimes to a yellow Penske Trucking car for Sam Hornish Jr., instead of a dark blue Mobil 1 car.

So nobody is immune.

Will Jeff Burton be in the Caterpillar car, or the Prilosec car? (This may be the broadest swing of sponsorship in NASCAR, from bulldozers to acid reflux pills and back.)

Humpy Wheeler, the former president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., who still has a more accurate finger on the pulse of NASCAR fans than most, envisions a future racing world owned by big entertainment companies.

A key rule in Humpy's scenario would be that every car must carry the same dominant color all season, regardless of sponsorship changes, one-race promotions or whatever.

That's because Humpy understands, as big entertainment companies would, that if the audience can't follow the event, they'll stop watching. Then you won't get any of their money, let alone a lot of it.

This week, PepsiCo is unveiling a new line of Dale Earnhardt Jr. "Tradin' Paint" Amp flavors.

How fitting, in a NASCAR marketing frenzy that has given a whole new meaning to "tradin' paint."

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.