The sun set on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the service provider ending the partnership after 13 years. Their relationship brought copious amounts of success on and off the track; in addition to the on-track product evolving over the years, Sprint differentiated itself as a sponsor by implementing unique programs like Miss Sprint Cup.
When Sprint announced their 2016 departure at the end of the 2014 season, NASCAR knew finding a company to fill their shoes would be difficult. However, they most likely didn’t expect to struggle this much; the season ended over a week ago, and there was nothing confirmed for 2017 – till now. It was announced on December 1st in Las Vegas that Monster Energy will take over Sprint’s role. No length or cost of the deal was mentioned.
It is no surprise this reveal is coming late in the year, but the sanctioning body was flustered negotiations took longer than expected. That has been their state of mind the entire season – confused.
In the final few months of the 2016 season, NASCAR made a series of mistakes that left a bad taste in the fans’ and drivers’ mouths. From inconsistencies with officiating to simply boneheaded decisions, the sport lost the benefit of the doubt many gave them for years.
The October race at Martinsville Speedway – a Chase event the entire sport circles on their calendars – fell flat when a caution flew in the middle of green flag pit stops. The result was a 29-lap caution period to figure out the running order. A red flag would have halted the racecars and made it easier to decipher who ended up where versus where they were supposed to be. Instead, NASCAR killed an entire afternoon’s worth of momentum in a split second.
NASCAR also can’t ignore their other mistakes, such as inconsistency in penalties. Out of the blue, they started calling drivers out for “pulling up to pit,” which is where the drivers pull ahead of the pace car while on pit road. Martin Truex, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson received that penalty at Phoenix International Raceway, causing both drivers to question the rule’s validity.
That mindset extended into Championship Weekend when a controversial caution flag flew late in the race. The field lined up with 10 laps remaining, creating tension and aggression that cost Carl Edwards another shot at the title. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver – who is usually neutral on various issues in the sport – called out the sanctioning body after his wreck, questioning if the caution needed to come out for Dylan Lupton’s mechanical issues.
These instances happened during the final two months of competition – when the finalists for the sponsorship were chosen. Drivers denouncing the sport and its officiating isn’t conducive in closing deals and most likely impacted negotiations. NASCAR will address the difficulty of finding a company to represent the premier series – but they fail to acknowledge their actions’ effect on that process.
Although the sport made strides while with Sprint, there have been some flops as well. This new entitlement deal is a chance to reframe the series and rebuild their credibility. To do this, though, they have to admit they lost their credibility in the first place.
By the time the sun rises at Daytona International Speedway, they might have it figured out.
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