Professional baseball is known for the “Hot Stove League” when team leaders meet during the offseason to discuss possible deals, free agent signings and other matters.
Auto racing isn’t all that different, as most of the industry and most of the big players converge on Lucas Oil Stadium every December for the Performance and Racing Industry (PRI) Show.
It’s always interesting in the days and weeks after the show to hear and read some of the things to expect to come. Two topics, although one was almost two weeks after the show, that came up were quite interesting.
First, on Monday evening, the Mars Corporation, which makes products such as Pedigree Dog Food, M & M’s candies, Skittles among many others and which has long supported NASCAR, announced after the 2022 season that it would not be no more returns with Joe Gibbs Racing. and driver Kyle Busch.
The announcement indicated that Mars was taking a different approach in its business model and that it was not going to be a sponsor of NASCAR in the immediate future. Similar to what NAPA Auto Parts said when they split from Michael Waltrip Racing in the wake of the ‘spingate’ scandal years ago when the Waltrip team were fined for the one of his pilots who turned on purpose, supposedly, to warn and aid Martin Truex Jr. in his playoff push that year.
Although NAPA left Waltrip, he later appeared with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Junior Motorsports Xfinity Series team. Driver Chase Elliott wore the popular blue and gold colors in both the Gander Outdoors Truck series as well as the Xfinity team. When Elliott took the next step in the Cup Series, NAPA arrived and is now anchored in the Hendrick Motorsports team.
Which begs the question, does Mars quit NASCAR altogether or is enough of Busch’s antics and tantrums and resurfaces in a season or two with another driver with less drama?
When Mars joined Derrick Cope in the 1990s, then Ernie Irvan and Kenny Schrader before landing with Gibbs, NASCAR was at its peak in popularity. However, the company chose to help the Gibbs team to the tune of $ 20-25 million per year, or roughly $ 1 million per race of which they were the car’s primary sponsor.
Busch is by far one of NASCAR’s most polarizing figures and his antics in 2021 may have been enough to push a sponsor who was on the fence about continuing to partner with him in an attempt to distance himself completely.
Last year, Busch continued to run in the race car while protesting that series officials did not report a race in a downpour. Then, after contact with the wall, Busch was penalized for crossing the pit area in a dangerous manner that drew the wrath of NASCAR’s watchful eye.
This is by no means a piece to denigrate Busch. The dude is arguably one of the most talented drivers currently competing in the Cup Series and will go on to become one of the sport’s all-time greats – but that doesn’t give him the green light to speak to journalists posing questions and to members of his team. Much of the blame can just as easily be blamed on Gibbs’ feet.
The Super Bowl-winning coach knows he is one of the most loyal and god-fearing owners in sports. for.
When Gibbs was starting out with Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte as the main drivers, it’s hard to imagine what he would have done if either driver had done what Denny Hamlin did at Martinsville this fall. If either driver had used the tone with their respective team managers and teams that is heard every week by all of their drivers on the race scanners, there would have been repercussions.
Gibbs and the organization seem to be turning a blind eye to what’s going on before them as there has been success in recent years with all the successes from Busch, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards.
With Mars taking away his $ 20 million allowance, maybe all those years of looking the other way come back to haunt the team. Whether it is or not, NASCAR and all of its teams cannot afford to continue to see big sponsors walk away.
The next time
In the next post, I will talk about a new series announced at the PRI Show that may or may not be useful for sprint and midget car racing in the future.