Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TRYING TO TURN CORNER; Several Teams Need a Great Start to the Season to Keep Going

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TRYING TO TURN CORNER; Several Teams Need a Great Start to the Season to Keep Going

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

DAYTONA BEACH -- According to NASCAR, there could be as many as 55 entries for next month's Daytona 500. But for many, the race will be a desperate attempt to craft a miracle against impossible odds.

Of that group, only half have full-time sponsorship deals in place for the 2009 season. A handful of other teams have partial funding, but a significant number -- at least 15 -- are headed to Daytona without any financial backing.

Daytona offers a pot of gold like no other race. Teams that make the starting lineup are guaranteed at least $250,000. For an operation with no sponsorship, that's enough cash to keep the doors open for another month.

While NASCAR continues to steer attention to the action on the track, it admits it's impossible to completely ignore the economic problems that tower over the sport.

The sanctioning body said it's working with everyone inside the sport to construct better business models. Some have led to massive industry-wide layoffs, mergers and liquidations. More than 700 shop employees are unemployed, and six teams have joined forces to become three teams. Bill Davis Racing, which won the 2002 Daytona 500 with driver Ward Burton, has closed its doors.

But the sport races forward.

"This is a work in progress," NASCAR president Mike Helton said. "It starts with listening. It starts with listening to tracks. It starts with listening to teams. And what gives us hope and confidence in a trying time is that working model that we have to listen to teams and react.

"But when we talk about working with the teams, we do the same thing with racetracks on models that make sense. We offer up what we know to teams to help them make decisions, but the independent businesses that make up NASCAR -- the team owners, the track owners -- they make their own business decisions at the end of the day."

The problems facing the sport apparently are going to get worse before they get better. On Monday, four major players in NASCAR -- title sponsor Sprint Nextel, Caterpillar, General Motors and The Home Depot -- all announced that thousands of their workers will be laid off. …

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