Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ford, BKR Announce New Driver Development Program

Chase Briscoe to BKR
Ford Performance announced last week that it is formally initiating a multi-tiered NASCAR driver development program.

The first stage of that program will be a formal relationship with Brad Keselowski Racing and its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series effort, where Ford has signed Chase Briscoe as one of the drivers for BKR for the 2017 season.

"We're making a commitment to win long-term in NASCAR," said Dave Pericak, global director of Ford Performance. "We have been increasing our engineering support and our technological development at the team level, and now we're looking to work with our teams to find the best available drivers coming up in the sport."

The BKR effort, as well as other to-be-announced driver development efforts at different levels, will develop talent for all Ford teams in NASCAR. Current teams will be consulted as part of the selection process, but drivers in the program will have contractual obligations to Ford. In addition to their role within the NCWTS race program and related marketing efforts, drivers in the new Ford program will also assist the company as test drivers within the Ford product development program.

"Starting this program with BKR makes sense since it has made a significant investment in its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series operation and it is reflected in its success on the track," said Pericak. "As we at Ford look to develop new winning drivers for, ultimately, our Cup Series teams, the BKR model is a proven step in that ladder. We are enthusiastic about the role BKR will play in our efforts and we look forward to working very closely with the team in driver selection, engineering, and other mission critical areas."

"This is a big day in the history of BKR," said Keselowski. "To be recognized as a true partner to Ford and Ford Performance and what they are trying to do speaks directly to the hard work our team has put in over the last several years. It is an honor, frankly, and it is really what BKR is all about - providing young, talented drivers with championship-caliber equipment to continue to hone their craft and showcase their talents. We have been fortunate to have had a lot of success together with Ford across the three major NASCAR touring series and to now elevate that relationship in an official capacity is a testament to what we set out to do."  

Briscoe, 22, is an Indiana native who is coming off a 2016 championship in the ARCA stock car racing series, where he captured six wins. He has been racing since 2001 in a variety of series, including quarter midgets, sprint cars, Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge and K&N Pro Series West.

Sadler, Baldwin Team For Daytona 500 Run

Tommy Baldwin Racing will compete in the 59th running of the Daytona 500 with Elliott Sadler behind the wheel of the No.7 Golden Corral Chevrolet.

Sadler, a 16-year veteran of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, will do double-duty in NASCAR's opening weekend, competing in both the Cup and Xfinity Series. The Emporia, VA native and Baldwin have a relationship dating back to their days at Robert Yates Racing when Baldwin served as crew chief for Sadler.

"This is a great opportunity for me and everyone affiliated with Tommy Baldwin Racing," said Sadler. "I love the Daytona 500 and to have Tommy and Golden Corral offer me this opportunity is awesome. Tommy and I have known each other a long time. We actually won a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 together back in 2006. We're going to rekindle some of that magic and work our tails off to get our car in the race. I know Tommy is putting a lot of effort into this and we're going to go out and get the best result we possibly can for him and TBR's partners."

Golden Corral returns for their seventh season together and will bring back their popular 'Top 10 Kids Eat Free' promotion. If Elliott Sadler finishes in the top-10 at Daytona, kids 10 and under will eat free at Golden Corral restaurants nationwide on Monday, February 27th.

"We are excited to be working with Tommy Baldwin Racing for the seventh season," said Shelley Wolford, Vice President of National Marketing and Media at Golden Corral. "We will be cheering Elliott on to qualify at Daytona and then race for a Top 10 Kids Eat Free finish."

"We look forward to having Elliott join TBR and Golden Corral for the upcoming Daytona 500," said team owner Tommy Baldwin. "Elliott has always been a strong restrictor plate racer which makes this a great opportunity for everyone involved. We know our fans look forward to the 'Top10 Kids Eat Free' promotion every year so we want to capitalize on that and finish the Daytona 500 strong." 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

COMMENTARY: Edwards' Decision Makes Perfect Sense

Carl Edwards walked away today, calling a halt to his 13-year run as an elite competitor at the very highest level of the sport.

“I’m stepping away from full-time driving in the Cup Series,” he said. “I don’t have any intention of going back to full-time racing. I want to spend time outside the sport on things that are important for me.

“I believe it’s the right thing. It’s a personal thing.”

Edwards’ decision caught virtually everyone by surprise. Just weeks after a late-race crash ended his bid for the 2016 Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead Miami Speedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver appeared set for one of the most competitive seasons of his career. He had the talent, equipment, sponsorship and manufacturer support in place to finally grab NASCAR’s brass ring, but instead chose to not even make the attempt.

That decision is baffling to some, especially after admitting that he is walking away from the sport without so much as a backup plan.

“I don’t have a life raft I’m jumping onto,” he said. “I’m just jumping.”

For those who don’t know Edwards, that decision seems unfathomable. But for those who have shared space with him in the NASCAR garage, it makes perfect sense.

"I believe it's the right thing."
Edwards listed three major factors in his decision to step away; satisfaction with his career, the opportunity to spend more time with his family and a desire to step away from the sport while still healthy.

“This was such a surprise," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "I was all set for the holidays, to have a little R&R. When he sat down and shared (his plans), I was totally surprised. It was nothing about contracts… it was about something Carl felt was important.

“It was clear in our conversations with Carl that he had given this careful consideration and believes strongly that it is the direction he needs to go,” said Gibbs. “We support him in that. We loved having him be part of our team the past two years and we will miss him. But we hope he is happy in whatever is next for his life."

Gibbs added that he has offered Edwards an opportunity to remain involved with both the organization and the sport, but gave no indication of whether he will elect to do so. Edwards made it clear, however, that there is currently no “next step” on his competitive radar. There is no new race team, no manufacturer offering a lucrative position as either a driver or team owner, no looming television deal.

Just a realization that the time has come to apply the brakes, pull into the garage and go home.

"If I am going to get back in a race car, I'm calling Coach Gibbs first," said Edwards. "There is no better race team."

Edwards said he is satisfied with his NASCAR career, and he should be. His resume lacks nothing other than a Cup Series title, and he is a 28-time winner at the sport’s highest level, with 38 Xfinity Series victories and six more in the Camping World Trucks. Combined with a 2007 Xfinity Series championship, the only driver in the history of the sport to lose a Cup Series crown in a tiebreaker (to Tony Stewart in 2011) is a solid bet for NASCAR Hall Of Fame status one day.

Edwards admitted that a major factor in his decision to walk away was the ability to do so with his health intact. Through 750 starts in NASCAR’s three national series, he never missed a race due to injury. His fanatical devotion to physical fitness made him a cover model for men’s health magazines, but no workout regime guarantees continued good health in a sport that lives at 200 mph.

“The risks are something that I want to minimize," he said. "I need to take the time right now and devote it to people that are important to me.”

Edwards’ career wasn’t always smooth sailing. Stock car racing is an emotional sport, and the Columbia, Missouri, native raced – every day, every lap -- with his heart on his sleeve and a take-no-prisoners game plan; an approach that occasionally left him crossways with competitors and teammates alike.

Edwards and Logano crashed at Homestead
In March of 2010, a year-long feud with Brad Keselowski ended with Keselowski’s car hurtling upside-down into the catch fence at Atlanta Motor Speedway at nearly 190 mph; a horrifying crash exacerbated when television footage showed Edwards’ white-gloved hands turning sharply to the right, and into Keselowski’s rear quarter panel.

Edwards said he never meant to trigger such a horrific crash, and he and Keselowski eventually mended their fences.

It is perhaps fitting that our final memory of Edwards is from the moments immediately following last season’s Homestead Miami crash. After attempting to block a surging Joey Logano on a decisive restart with just 10 laps remaining, Edwards pounded the inside retaining wall, destroying both his Arris Toyota and his championship dream, in one fell swoop.

Most competitors would have reacted angrily, pointing an accusatory finger at Logano and bemoaning an unfair and unwarranted end to their season. Edwards, however, took the opposite approach, climbing from his battered machine and walking toward Logano’s pit as thousands of fans in attendance – and a national television audience numbering in the millions – braced for an epic confrontation.

With NASCAR officials in hot pursuit, Edwards climbed atop Logano’s pit box and shook hands with crew chief Todd Gordon, acknowledging one of the great, checkers-or-wreckers moments in the history of the sport with a smile and an unlikely wish of good luck.

It was one last act sportsmanship, a farewell salute from a driver that has bettered his sport; both on and off the race track.

That was the Carl Edwards we will miss. The Edwards who took time to interact – one on one – with little children, the elderly and the infirm. The Edwards who took his sunglasses off for television interviews, preferring to look straight into the camera when addressing his fans. The Edwards who media members knew as one of the most eloquent, insightful and honest interviews in the NASCAR garage.

Keselowski commented on Edwards’ withdrawal yesterday, saying via Twitter that he was, “blown away that this is happening.”

Penske Racing driver Joey Logano said, “Carl has always been one of the most fair and hard-racing drivers. I’ve learned as much from his character on the track as off.”

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France issued a statement saying that Edwards “has made an indelible mark on NASCAR. His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport. Carl's passion and personality will greatly be missed -- as will the signature backflips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories. We wish Carl nothing but the best as he enters this next phase in life."
That level of esteem – even more than the wins and championships – defines Edwards’ career.
Edward’s decision makes perfect sense, and is based on the only thing that really matters. He is going home – healthy, happy and undamaged – to spend the rest of his life with his wife and children.

It’s not complicated, convoluted or complex. Today’s announcement is the result of  a simple man, refocusing on what is most important in his life.

“Life’s short,” he said. “You’ve got to do what your gut tells you. I don’t regret one bit of it. It’s been a blast.”

Yes it has, Carl.

Thank you.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Stewart Friesen To Race Camping World Trucks In 2017; Tommy Baldwin Will Manage New Team

Friesen To Trucks In 2017
Chris Larsen and Stewart Friesen have announced the formation of Halmar Friesen Racing, which will run the full 2017 season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with Friesen as driver. Halmar International will serve as primary sponsor on the No. 52 Chevrolet Silverado.

Managing the day-to-day operations of HFR will be NASCAR veteran Tommy Baldwin Jr.

Friesen, a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, is a well decorated Modified and Sprint Car competitor. Making his NCWTS debut in 2016 at Eldora Speedway, Friesen ran a six-race schedule with a best finish of 13th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I'm super excited to be part of the Halmar Friesen Racing team,"said Friesen. "We did a bit of racing last year to get our feet wet on asphalt, and we were pleased with our success. Everything we have going on with Tommy is exciting. It's great to have his experience guiding our team so we can hit the ground running in Daytona."

Friesen's crew chief will be Trip Bruce, who most recently worked with Baldwin in the K&N Pro Series East. Throughout his career, Bruce has ten wins in the Truck Series.

Larsen, owner of Halmar International, said of the new venture with Friesen, "We got our feet wet at Eldora last season mostly because we wanted to have some fun. After that, we ran several more races to get a sense of where we were. When an opportunity came to work with Tommy and it was a no brainer for us. Because of the relationship with Tommy we have committed to running the whole season. We know we will be prepared, we have good equipment and a great driver."

Friday, January 06, 2017

Texas Motor Speedway Set For Complete Resurfacing

Texas Motor Speedway will begin a major capital improvement project last week, consisting of a complete repave, construction of an extensive drainage system and a re-profiling of the 1.5-mile oval. 

The renovation will add a new layer of asphalt over the existing pavement, an expansive French drainage system on the frontstretch and backstretch, and reduce the banking in Turns 1 and 2 by four degrees. Barring extensive weather delays, the project is expected to be completed by early to mid-March in anticipation of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader scheduled for April 7-9. 

The repaving and drainage system come as a result of issues the facility was incurring in attempting to dry the racing surface, in particular this past year when both NASCAR race weekends and the INDYCAR race were affected by weather-related delays. 

"The fans are why we are doing this," said Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage. "The old pavement no longer dried as quickly because through the years of use and weather, the asphalt became porous, kind of like a sponge. Even if we only had a brief shower it was taking us far too long to get the track dried in order to get on to the racing. We owe it to the fans to present the best possible race track so they will be assured of seeing NASCAR and INDYCAR races even if we face some brief inclement weather. This will accomplish that goal." 

Lane Construction Corp., of Justin, Texas, will handle the repaving project, after resurfacing several other speedways since 2003 including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. 

The repave will feature an asphalt mix similar to the surfaces at SMI sister tracks, Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The mix used in conjunction with the construction method will aid in the track's properties of an "aged" track.

NASCAR Hall Of Fame Debuts Glory Road: ICONS

Davey Allison's iconic #28 Havoline Ford
The NASCAR Hall of Fame has unveiled a third complete transformation of one of its signature exhibits, “Glory Road,” with a new theme—ICONS. The next generation of this exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, featuring a lineup of new vehicles that represent some of NASCAR's most recognizable race cars and drivers throughout the history of NASCAR.

Encircling the Great Hall, Glory Road has served as one of the Hall’s most prominent focal points since opening in 2010, featuring 18 historic race cars from the beginning of NASCAR through present day. Current and historic speedways from across the country are illustrated here as well, where guests can touch the texture of various tracks and feel the intense banking that drivers face week-to-week.

Darrell Waltrip's No. 88 Gatorade Chevy
In preparation, the Hall closed its doors from Jan. 2 to 6 for installation of the exhibit. The changeover required extensive crane and rigging equipment to mount the cars on the surface of Glory Road, which gradually builds to the extreme 33-degree banking found at Talladega Superspeedway.

“Since the first Glory Road installation opened in the Hall in 2010, we've always strived to live up to the challenge to continue to show iconic cars from NASCAR's history," says NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley. “I believe our exhibits team has again risen to that challenge with this third iteration – Glory Road: ICONS.”

The complete lineup of the new cars installed on Glory Road includes…
  • 1952 Hudson Hornet driven by Marshall Teague
  • 1957 Ford Fairlane driven by Fireball Roberts
  • 1964 Plymouth Belvedere driven by Richard Petty
  • 1966 Ford Galaxie driven by Wendell Scott
  • 1966 Dodge Charger driven by David Pearson
  • 1939 Chevrolet Coupe driven by Richie Evans (driven from 1970-1971)
  • 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Darrell Waltrip
  • 1978 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bobby Allison
  • 1982 Oldsmobile Omega driven by Sam Ard
  • 1987 Ford Thunderbird driven by Davey Allison
  • 1989 Ford Thunderbird driven by Neil Bonnett
  • 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Harry Gant
  • 1992 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bill Elliott
  • 1995 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Mike Skinner
  • 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Dale Earnhardt
  • 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jeff Gordon
  • 2013 Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson
  • 2015 Toyota Camry driven by Kyle Busch
Sam Ard's #00 Olds Omega
Also in January, the NASCAR Hall of Fame will continue its limited-time special exhibit, “Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart,” celebrating the end of an era when NASCAR driver Tony Stewart concluded his momentous career at the end of the 2016 season. The exhibit is located in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Great Hall and runs until Feb. 24, 2017, featuring 10 vehicles from different eras and racing disciplines narrating Stewart’s rise to NASCAR.

Updated exhibits coming in January include:
  • Memorable Moments: This exhibit highlights history-making moments from the 2016 season.
  • Hall of Honor: The Class of 2017 inductees as well as the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR recipient will be enshrined.
  • Race Week: The Champions Case honors the champions from NASCAR's top three touring divisions from the previous year. The Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence recipient will be added to the media exhibit.
  • Whelen Hall of Champions: The Whelen Everyday Champion exhibit celebrates a first responder who went above and beyond to protect and serve during the previous year.

General admission tickets to the NASCAR Hall of Fame can be purchased by calling 877-231-2010 or at nascarhall.com. Admission is $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors and military, $12.95 for children 5-12 and free for children younger than 5. Memberships are available starting at $125. For more details, visit nascarhall.com. Updates are available at facebook.com/nascarhall or by following @NASCARHall on Twitter.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Harvick, SHR, Hunt Bros. Team For 2017 Xfinity Slate

Hunt Brothers Pizza will expand its partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing to include a four-race sponsorship of Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. 

Hunt Brothers Pizza has been involved with SHR since 2014, serving as an associate sponsor of Harvick and the No. 4 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team while also being the official pizza of SHR.

As SHR expands into the XFINITY Series for the first time in 2017, Hunt Brothers Pizza will be the primary sponsor of Harvick’s No. 41 Ford Mustang April 8 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, May 27 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, July 7 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta and Sept. 2 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Hunt Brothers Pizza will also serve as an associate sponsor of SHR’s No. 00 Ford Mustang driven by XFINITY Series rookie-of-the-year contender, Cole Custer.

“NASCAR has been a strong platform for Hunt Brothers Pizza thanks to the roles Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing have played in representing our brand,” said Keith Solsvig, Vice President of Marketing for Hunt Brothers Pizza. “NASCAR fans love to travel and visit convenience stores. We want to continue to show our appreciation to our store partners and their consumers. Having our own Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang on the racetrack with a partner like Kevin is a great way to showcase how we constantly strive for excellence.”

Prior to winning the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship, Harvick won two XFINITY Series titles in 2001 and 2006. The 41-year-old from Bakersfield, California, has 46 XFINITY Series wins to augment his 35 NASCAR Cup Series victories.

“I’ve always enjoy competing in the XFINITY Series,” Harvick said. “With Stewart-Haas Racing starting a new program, I’m excited to be a part of the building process, because it will make us stronger going forward as a company. I’m proud to continue working with Hunt Brothers Pizza and seeing their colors on my Ford Mustang.”

McDowell, Parrott Return To Leavine Family Racing

Veteran Michael McDowell will return to Leavine Family Racing for the full 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. McDowell will once again pilot the No. 95 Chevrolet SS as the primary driver for LFR in all 36 races, making the team Chase eligible for the first time since its inception in 2011.
 
LFR will also welcome back championship-winning crew chief Todd Parrott this season. Parrott took over the post in October of last season and led the No. 95 to earn six Top-25 finishes in the final seven races of the campaign.

“With both Michael and Todd returning to the team this season, we are looking to maintain the consistency we found toward the end of last year and continue to push forward and build off the positive momentum,” said Jeremy Lange, Vice President of Leavine Family Racing. “We had great performances on the track last year and we’re hoping that continuing in that direction will lead to more sponsorship for the team. We do have some partner renewals that we will be announcing soon and are excited to add more.”

McDowell, who is entering his 10th year competing in NASCAR, earned his first NASCAR national touring series win last year at Road America in the XFINITY Series and recorded 16 Top-25 finishes with LFR in 2016.

“I’m excited to be returning full time with LFR for the 2017 season,” said McDowell. “I look forward to continuing to work with Todd, as well and kicking off our season with a strong start at the Daytona 500 in February.”

Parrott echoed his driver’s thoughts about the upcoming season, saying, “I can’t wait for the 2017 season to get here, and I look forward to having a great year with Michael and the team. I’m appreciative of the opportunity LFR has given me to once again assume the crew chief role for the team, and I am ready to get started on the upcoming season.” 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Atlanta Motor Speedway Will Repave In 2017

Twenty years after it was last resurfaced, Atlanta Motor Speedway’s historic racing surface will be repaved this spring, following the March 3-5 NASCAR Weekend triple-header. Work is scheduled to begin in late March with an expected completion in mid-April.

The current asphalt at AMS is the second-oldest on the entire Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, and officials credit its longevity to a combination of the mild Georgia winters and a meticulous maintenance program over its two-decade lifetime.

Since its last repave in 1997, the track has hosted 31 premier NASCAR series races, 19 NASCAR XFINITY Series races, 15 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, eight ARCA Racing Series races, four IndyCar Series races and countless U.S. Legends and Bandolero car races on its quarter-mile “Thunder Ring.”

Despite the wear and tear of aging in recent years, the track has been a favorite of many competitors who have raved about the challenging nature of the track. Its aged surface, slick driving conditions and multiple racing grooves have produced exciting races and close finishes for fans, as well as a technical challenge for drivers who have battled slick corners, fast straightaways and ample opportunity for passing.

Some of the most notable NASCAR races have taken place on the current surface, including Dale Earnhardt’s 0.010-second margin of victory over Bobby Labonte in 2000, Kevin Harvick’s emotional and record-setting 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon in Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing car the following year, Carl Edwards’ first Cup Series victory in 2005 and subsequent season sweep of both Atlanta races that year and the first-ever Atlanta night race in 2009.

Geoff Bodine’s amazing AMS qualifying record was set at the very first race on the current surface in 1997, when he blazed around the track in 28.074 seconds at an average speed of 197.478 mph. Currently, Bobby Labonte and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson are tied at five for the most Cup Series victories on the surface. Johnson can break the tie in the final race on the surface at the 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 as he attempts his third consecutive victory at Atlanta.

“Many of NASCAR’s greatest moments have occurred on this racing surface, and I have no doubt the world’s best drivers will give it a proper final event before the new surface comes to life,” said AMS president Ed Clark. “Whichever driver can take home the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 trophy in 2017 will mark the end of one era of great racing in AMS history and the beginning of another.”

The repaving project calls for a brand-new asphalt surface to be lain over top of the current surface. AMS’s quad-oval layout and 24-degree banking in the turns will remain unchanged. 

While a smoother surface and blended seams will accompany the new repave, the high speeds and multiple racing grooves unique to Atlanta Motor Speedway are expected to endure and produce the same, thrilling racing experience for both fans and drivers for many years to come.

Drivers who have enjoyed the unique quality of the existing AMS racing surface will have one more opportunity to etch their name in the track record books when NASCAR returns March 3-5. 

NASCAR Cup Series qualifying will kick off the weekend on Friday, March 3 before the only same-day doubleheader will take to the track on Saturday, March 4 with the back-to-back Rinnai 250 XFINITY Series and Active Pest Control 200 Camping World Truck Series races. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race will round out the weekend on Sunday, March 5 with a scheduled 2:30 p.m. green flag.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Commentary: College Football's Bowl Woes Show It's Not Just A NASCAR Problem

Dwindling attendance has long been a cause for concern in NASCAR.

With tickets sales on the downturn, race tracks downsizing and television ratings suffering, some wonder whether the very future of the sport is in jeopardy. A look at other sports, however, reveals the problem to be widespread, and not unique to NASCAR.

Take, for instance, college football.

This season, a total of 40 College Football Bowl games have been played over the last two weeks. With only the National Championship game – No. 1 Alabama versus No. 2 Clemson – still to be contested, less than half of those 40 Bowl contests have sold out – despite being played in stadiums that often seat far fewer fans than the average NASCAR speedway. Most of this year’s CFB Bowl games have been played in half-full (or less) venues, with literally thousands of tickets going unsold, despite being available on the secondary market (StubHub, SeatGeek, VividSeats.com., etc.) for less than $25.

Late last week, a ticket to the Playstation Fiesta Bowl semifinal between No. 2 Ohio State and third-ranked Clemson could be purchased on the secondary market for as little as $25. By comparison, the average price to see any Ohio State home game this season was $289.

33,868 at the Nova Loans Arizona Bowl
For the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl -- pitting No. 9 Washington against Alabama – tickets were available for as little as $6. One week prior to kickoff, tickets to that same contest sold for had a minimum of $191. Late last week, the average price for a Peach Bowl ticket topped out at $288, with the average Fiesta Bowl ticket going for $224.

USA Today reported that prices for both games dropped significantly in the days leading up to the contest, plunging nearly 20% since Dec. 21.

And those are the marquee games on the College Football Bowl calendar. According to statistics compiled by Newsday.com, at least 12 of the Bowl games played to date failed to sell even 50% of their available seats. They include:

·         Cure Bowl: 27,213 (41.9% full)
·         New Orleans Bowl: 35,061 (45.9%)
·         Miami Beach Bowl: 15,262 (44.9%)
·         Poinsettia Bowl: 28,114 (39.8%)
·         Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: 24,975 (68.6%)
·         Hawaii Bowl: 23,175 (46.4%)
·         St. Petersburg Bowl: 15,717 (50%)
·         Quick Lane Bowl: 19,117 (29.4%)
·         Heart of Dallas Bowl: 39,117 (42.5%)
·         Foster Farms Bowl: 27,608 (40.3%)
·         Birmingham Bowl: 31,229 (43.6%)
·         Celebration Bowl 35,528 (47.9%)

Many games with a higher percentage of seats sold were played in smaller stadiums. Fans filled 96.7% of the available seats for the Dec. 17 Camellia Bowl between Appalachian State and Toledo; an impressive effort until you consider that the game was played at the tiny Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, with a seating capacity of just 21,000.

The Dec. 26 St. Petersburg Bowl between Mississippi State and Miami of Ohio — two teams with a combined losing record— was played in front of an announced crowd of just 15,717. That’s a number that the Camping World Truck Series – NASCAR’s tertiary series – routinely doubles or triples.

Half-full at the Citrus Bowl
Despite a contest that featured a pair of Top-20 teams, the New Year’s Eve Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando was played before an announced crowd of 46,063; the lowest since 1979 in a stadium that seats 65,000 fans. Photos of the game show virtually no fans in the upper concourse, and the lower bowl only half filled. 

Even the legendary Cotton Bowl Classic is struggling to sell out. Hours before kickoff, today’s matchup between Western Michigan and Wisconsin has approximately $10,000 tickets still available for purchase, with some selling for as little as $18.

Clearly, empty seats at major events are not a problem exclusive to NASCAR.

In fairness, not all of College Football’s Bowl games are struggling. The Rose Bowl remains the priciest of all Bowl tickets, with an average secondary-market price of $655. That is far above face value, affording your friendly neighborhood scalper a rare opportunity to turn a profit. The USC vs. Penn State matchup was far-and-away the priciest Bowl ticket of the season, with average ticket prices 30% above either the Peach or Fiesta Bowls.

How can College Bowl games survive with all those empty seats?

The answer provides an interesting peek into the possible future of professional sports. Fourteen of this year’s 41 College Football Bowl games are owned by ESPN Events; a subsidiary of ESPN. The cable sports giant uses those games to fill holiday season lineups on their expansive family of networks; ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN News, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, the SEC Network and ESPN Radio.

That makes sense for the network, since it pays virtually nothing for the broadcast rights. That allows parent company Disney Corporation to sell enough advertising to turn a reasonable profit, even if ratings for the games are less-than-spectacular.

Bottom line: poorly attended games between mediocre teams still draw enough television viewership to turn a profit. That’s why only two of this season’s 41 Bowl Games will be broadcast on networks other than ESPN or ABC.

The NFL's LA Rams, ready for kickoff
That’s the new business model for the College Football postseason, and arguably for sports in general. As in-person attendance continues to dwindle -- the victim of a microwave society unwilling to invest more than 10 minute of its collective attention to even the most compelling contest – television and radio rights are becoming more and more critical to an event’s survival.

If this trend continues, it won’t be long before all professional sports – NASCAR included – begin to de-emphasize in-person ticket sales, customizing their products for an audience that is no longer willing to leave the comfort of its own home.

A number of Major League baseball teams played before virtually empty stadiums last season. The National Hockey League continues to struggle with franchises on life support. The NBA is no different, and even the mighty National Football League -- the thousand-pound gorilla of professional sports -- fights to sell tickets in many markets.

Here’s some good news for NASCAR. Today’s oversaturated, “More Is Better” slate of College Bowl games has diminished the importance of all but the final three -- semifinal and final -- events. NASCAR has only 10 playoff games, and each one includes every fan’s favorite team, whether they’re playing for the championship or not.

Despite New Limitations, Busch Leaving Major Mark On Camping World Truck Series

Busch is a 46-time NCWTS winner
Kyle Busch will run just five races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season; due in part to new rules designed to limit the involvement of long-tenured Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers.
The so-called “Kyle Busch Rule” may keep Busch on the sidelines for most of the Truck Series campaign, but it will do little to discourage the former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s commitment to developing talented new drivers.
Since its debut in 2010, KBM has provided an astounding number of talented drivers with their initial NASCAR National Series starts. Drivers Tayler Malsam, Brian Ickler, German Quiroga, Josh Richards, Drew Herring, Joey Coulter, Chad Hackenbracht, Erik Jones, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Christopher Bell, Justin Boston, William Byron, Cody Coughlin, Gray Gaulding, Daniel Suarez, Matt Tifft and Noah Gragson all got their first taste of NASCAR National Series competition at the wheel of KBM equipment. And while not all of them were able to parlay those opportunities into full-time rides, few (if any) organizations have done more to bolster the careers of talented young newcomers than KBM.
In 2017, Kyle Busch Motorsports will once again field its familiar No. 51 Tundra in all 23 Truck Series events; with Busch (five races), Todd Gilliland, Harrison Burton and Myatt Snider all seeing time behind the wheel.
Todd Gilliland
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Todd Gilliland will drive KBM’s No. 51 Toyota in four Truck Series events this season, with primary sponsorship from Toyota. Gilliland -- the son of NASCAR veteran David Gilliland and grandson of former Winston West and Truck Series standout Butch Gilliland -- is set to make his Truck Series debut in KBM’s No. 51 Toyota at Gateway Motorsports Park on June 17, with additional starts at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Sept. 3, New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 23 and Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 10.
The 16-year old Gilliland notched a record-tying six victories en route to the K&N Pro Series West title last season, with six poles, 11 Top-5 and 13 Top-10 finishes. He also competed in five K&N Pro Series East events, with one win, one pole, three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes. He also made seven Super Late Model starts for KBM last year.
Harrison Burton
Burton – son of NASCAR veteran-turned television commentator Jeff Burton -- will compete in six races, beginning on April 1 at Martinsville Speedway, with additional starts at Dover International Speedway (June 2), Iowa Speedway (June 23), Eldora Speedway (July 19), Bristol Motor Speedway (Aug. 16) and Martinsville (Oct. 28). The 16-year old Burton also competed full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last season, earning one pole and a seventh-place finish in the championship standings as a rookie competitor. He also claimed three Super Late Model victories last season, along with a third-place finish in his ARCA Racing Series debut at Iowa Speedway.
Myatt Snider will run the remaining eight races, with primary sponsorship from Louisiana Hot Sauce. The son of veteran NBC pit reporter Marty Snider, the 22-year old will make his KBM debut in the 2017 season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 24. He is also scheduled to compete at Texas Motor Speedway (June 9 and Nov. 3), Kentucky Speedway (July 6), Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 15), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 30), Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 14) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 17). The North Carolina native won in his ARCA Racing Series debut at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway last season, adding three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in nine series starts. He also made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut for AM Racing at Phoenix in November, finishing 17th.
All three youngsters point to their new opportunity with KBM as a major turning point in their careers.
Myatt Snider
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to race in the Truck Series for KBM next year,” said Gilliland recently. “Moving up into the top levels of NASCAR is going to be a learning experience, but I know that I’m getting behind the wheel of fast Tundras. With the staff that they have in place at KBM and the knowledge that Kyle can pass along, I’m going to learn a lot and continue to grow as a driver.”
“The chance to race in a Toyota with KBM equipment is something I’ve worked my whole career for,” said Snider. “You can’t do better than KBM in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. I’ve been blessed with great equipment and people. I look forward to doing great things with the people at KBM.”
Burton summed up his feelings succinctly, saying, “I feel like I have hit the jackpot by signing with Kyle Busch Motorsports.”
Busch, meanwhile, will compete in five Camping World Truck Series events in 2017; one more than he contested last season. His No. 51 Tundra will carry primary sponsorship from Textron Aviation on March 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with additional starts at Kansas Speedway (May 12), Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 20), Pocono Raceway (July 29) and Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 12), as he looks to add to his 170 combined NASCAR National Series wins.

Busch’s Truck Series numbers are truly mind-boggling. The Las Vegas native ranks second on the all-time win list with 46 victories, winning a remarkable 34.6 percent of his starts since making his series debut in 2001. He has finished first or second in 52.7% of his starts (70/133).

But as good as he is as a driver, “Rowdy’s” most important contribution to the Truck Series may be as an owner.