By Mike Mulhern
The cell phone company that signed a 10-year, $70 million a year sponsorship contract with NASCAR four years ago, replacing R. J. Reynolds’ Winston brand, the primary Cup tour marketing agent for 33 years?
Well, things aren’t going so well for the company, Sprint, that, in effect, bought Nextel two years ago.
When Sprint and Nextel merged, each was valued at about $33 billion. But with this week’s report of a fourth-quarter loss of nearly $30 billion – essentially writing off its Nextel venture—the company’s market capitalization is only about $25 billion….and the business world is rift with speculation that either AT&T or Verizon (the U.S.’ two biggest telecom providers) may move to buy Sprint in a takeover. Sprint stock has lost half its value just since December. Some have even raised a question about possible bankruptcy, though company executives dismiss such talk.
NASCAR this season just renamed its top series the Sprint Cup, abandoning Nextel Cup.
NASCAR’s TV bosses have reportedly sent out a memo to the sport’s television announcers warning them not to talk on the air about either faltering ticket sales or TV ratings. TV announcers here declined to discuss the situation.
Kasey Kahne has a new commercial coming out this weekend, and it’s weird. “It’s a lot different,” Kahne says. “You won’t expect to see me doing the stuff I’m doing. I didn’t think I could do it. I don’t dance very often. We had a choreographer and some dancers, and I was working with them, a one-day deal, a lot of fun.
“I saw the tape. It’s different. It’s pretty funny.”
Eddie Gossage, who runs Texas Motor Speedway for Bruton Smith, threw out an interesting promotional gimmick Friday, offering $15,000 to the favorite charity of any driver throwing his helmet at another driver. Gossage said his offer was made in the vein of NASCAR’s new campaign to let drivers show more of their personalities.
If Jimmie Johnson makes it four-in-a-row here, he’ll do it from the back of the pack, after a weak qualifying run.
“The conditions out there are much different than we had in the test session, and guys are struggling with grip,” Johnson says. “The test session wasn’t totally useless, but the heat of the day here makes it much, much different.
“It’s been a good challenge for us. The car had been really loose; we had a bunch of cautions off turn four. The sun is sitting on that side of the speedway, and getting those two corners really hot.
“At the test we could drive really, really hard, and the guys came out (Friday), including me, and had a couple of big moments. Fortunately I didn’t hit anything.
“I just had an idea of what I could run, how hard I could run, braking points, where I should be back in the gas…but the pace is much, much different than I expected. What we got away with in the test session just isn’t working right now.”
NASCAR inspectors were extremely tight with body templates during Friday inspection, and a number of drivers, including Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., lost practice while crews had to make repairs.
“It was probably 15 to 20 minutes we missed,” Johnson said. One of the ‘hard points,’ which I assume was on the nose, was off by one-sixteenth of an inch. NASCAR is really cracking down on everything in the tech line. But it is hard to believe one-sixteenth would keep you from getting on track. But it’s the way it is.”
Teammate Jeff Gordon, on the other hand, was fourth quickest in qualifying. “You can’t drive this car the way you could drive the old car,” Gordon said. “And when you look at the engineering that goes into it, it’s very scientific. It’s very difficult to get it just right.
“If we didn’t have our seven-post (computer simulation machine) at the shop, and so many people working on it day and night, I don’t know if we would have hit it as fast as we did.”
Montreal’s Patrick Carpentier finally made a field, just barely. Not in the top-35 he has to qualify on speed. “We’re finally starting the season….and it’s fantastic,” Carpentier says. “After the last three weeks, I’ll finally be able to sleep.”