SPEECHES AT the NASCAR awards banquet are notoriously light on substance. Usually they're little more than recitations of sponsors and stilted shout-outs to "the guys back in the shop." But last Friday at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the site of the 27th annual awards, several speakers used their time on the dais to address an issue that is threatening the livelihoods of their teams and a large chunk of their fan base: the plight of the auto industry. Chad Knaus, crew chief for three-time champion Jimmie Johnson, said, "Please, don't forget to support our domestic auto manufacturers. Those guys are having a hard time, and they need our support right now." Owner Rick Hendrick implored Congress to "do the same thing for Main Street that we've done for Wall Street."
NASCAR chairman Brian France, who last week sent a letter to several influential congressmen imploring them to support a bailout of the industry, has said that NASCAR could survive a Big Three pullout, but given his sport's already precarious financial state, he'd rather not have to find out if he's right. The global crisis has hit all forms of racing hard. Last week Honda announced it was dropping out of Formula One, and Audi is pulling out of the American Le Mans Series. But the cuts have run especially deep in NASCAR. Keeping existing sponsors, let alone lining up new ones, has been a challenge; more than a quarter of the approximately 42 teams with plans to run a full schedule in 2009 don't currently have enough backing to do so. Virtually every team has laid off employees, and the smaller outfits are facing extinction. Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers gave the sport its best rivalry in the 1970s, when Richard Petty and David Pearson waged weekly battles. Now Petty Enterprises appears to be on the way out—it is in talks to merge with Gillett Evernham—and the Wood Brothers have announced that they will run just 12 races next year.
Even in NASCAR's best-case scenario—the bailout works and the Big Three are able to continue in racing—some 2009 races will likely have fewer than 43 entries, and some of the cars that do show up will likely run without sponsorship. For now, all teams can do is keep down expenses and look for reasons to remain optimistic. "Not every owner will be well-funded," says Richard Childress, who has sponsors for all four of his cars. "But if there's a chance they can go racing without having to worry about qualifying [because of smaller fields], they'll be there. People want to race."
Dances with Cars
TO KEEP FANS coming to races during hard times, NASCAR has turned to Crash himself. Last week Kevin Costner signed to make appearances—including music gigs—at NASCAR events next year. The star of Bull Durham and his band, Modern West, performed at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona last July. Costner met Richard Petty when Petty made a cameo appearance in the 2008 movie Swing Vote, and he has even written a lyric about the King. ("Dodge car is the fastest car NASCAR's ever seen. I'll paint it Petty blue, that's what I'll do, just like 42.") The video for Modern West's song Backyard premieres on NASCAR.com this week.
Consecutive wins for the Cavaliers, all by at least 12 points, which ties an NBA record for the longest such streak.
Consecutive games in which O.J. Mayo of the Grizzlies has scored in double figures, the longest streak to start a career since Magic Johnson in '79.
Score of Harrison Frazar in PGA qualifying school last Saturday, just the second sub-60 round in Q school history.
Canadian coaches in NBA history: Jay Triano, who replaced the fired Sam Mitchell as coach of the Raptors on Dec. 3.
Toronto coaches who have been fired in the past seven months: John Gibbons of the Blue Jays, Paul Maurice of the Maple Leafs and Mitchell.
Points by Greg Oden in Portland's 104--97 win at New York on Dec. 2, the lowest-scoring game by a player taken No. 1 overall in his Madison Square Garden debut in 40 years.
Amount the door to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders' locker room sold for in an auction of Texas Stadium memorabilia.
Record of Washington's football team, the first team in Pac-10 history to lose all 12 games in a season.
CHRIS TROTMAN/GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR (PETTY)
IT'S SO-SO TO BE KING Petty will merge, and the Woods' iconic ride (top) will run only occasionally.
ERIC SCHWEIKARDT (CAR)
[See caption above]
JOHN CORDES/ICON SMI (COSTNER)