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April 18, 2014

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No more Blue Deuce for Kurt Busch…and Jr. wins again

There has been a laundry list of events this week leading up to tonight’s Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony. Teams, sponsors and NASCAR take advantage of the media attention that is focused on the crowning of the champion to introduce new products, sponsors and partnerships in the sport.

One such event was the unveiling of Kurt Busch’s new sponsor, paint scheme and car number for next season. The ceremony was held between the immaculate displays of exotic sports cars at the Penske-Wynn Ferrari dealership at the Wynn. You can’t look at these cars and not fantasize what you would look like behind the wheel. But there wouldn’t be enough time in my life to draw enough cartoons to afford a Ferarri.

Busch’s car is now the No. 22, which ESPN’s Jamie Little quickly christened the Double Deuce. I like the new Shell/Pennzoil paint scheme better than the Miller Lite scheme that covered old No. 2. It’s cleaner, a little retro and isn’t overdone with too many graphics. Some of the Sprint Cup cars look like giant artist’s pallets that are too busy and, frankly, detract from the sponsor’s logos. As you can see from the photo, the wheels are painted red to match the red portions of the car’s paint scheme. This nice touch is what gives the car its retro feel.

It was also announced at the event that Penske’s IZOD IndyCar, driven by Helio Castroneves, will also be sponsored by Shell/Pennzoil.

Jimmie Johnson isn’t the only driver winning consecutive titles. The National Motorsports Press Association held its annual Myers Brothers awards luncheon on Thursday where Dale Earnhardt Jr. was once again crowned the most popular driver in the sport. Earnhardt has won this distinction, which is decided by racing fans, for the eight consecutive years. Earnhardt could never win another race in his life and I bet his fans would remain just as loyal. Imagine if he were winning and competing for championships. Those viewership woes NASCAR is experiencing would be diminished by a significant amount.

I was lucky enough to attend the event and was even more fortunate to be seated at Jeff Gordon’s table. I was impressed with Gordon’s attitude and personality. He’s friendly, talkative and acts as it he has nothing to prove. What I see and know about Gordon comes mostly from seeing him on television, but when you see him in person, he comes across as someone who is comfortable being himself and is down to earth. The boos he has received from fans over the years are highly unwarranted.

Three things from the awards ceremony stuck out in my mind. There was a tribute to the officials of NASCAR who inspect the cars and oversee the action in the pits. As a student of history, I particularly enjoyed the video clips of officials who have been with NASCAR for years as they talked about how they wore short sleeves in the pit in the beginning of their careers. Compare that to the fire suits, helmets and gloves worn today and it seems hard to fathom how sparse the safety considerations used to be.

Second, it was clearly apparent, as crew chiefs and drivers accepted their awards, just how much more is required of a person whose primary goal it is to prepare or race cars. Members of this sport also have to be speech givers, promoters, leaders and good public representatives of their team owners and sponsors. The demands on these people are large. Frankly, if I were a driver I would find all of these things to be a distraction. But it’s a necessary part of participating in a sport that gets its lifeblood from corporate America.

And finally, there was a tribute to NASCAR’s Jim Hunter. Hunter was the Vice President of Corporate Communications at NASCAR who passed away this October. I didn’t know Jim Hunter, but after viewing the testimonials, I wish I had. In addition to being an institution in the sport, he was a person who had tremendous respect from the entire NASCAR community and who was a role model and mentor for drivers and crew chiefs. From what was said at the luncheon, he was one of the classiest people who ever worked in the sport.

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