NASCAR

Transition tears at fabric of the sport

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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Everybody walks around the garage like they are a macho man, acting like everything is cool. They're all tough guys, but a lot of people are worried about their jobs next year. If they're honest, they would tell you, but a lot of guys are trying to keep up that brave front. We just don't know how some things are going to play out. What is Team Red Bull going to do? Are they going to make any changes at all? Are they going to switch manufacturers? If a team like Joe Gibbs Racing does switch manufacturers, do they swap around personnel for experienced Toyota mechanics? What's Ward Burton going to do? Is he going to be able to stay with the No. 4 team? What about the recently displaced Jeff Green? There are people who have worked for years at Robert Yates Racing, and they're going to have to resubmit job applications now that Doug Yates has taken over. Michael Waltrip is a little bit relieved to have a financial partner, but there's still a lot of anxiety in the garage area. There are still a lot of guys that want to know what they're doing in 2008 because so much is still up in the air.

Watching the Joe Torre saga play out last week, who would have thought that he would leave like he did? Now, will reliever Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada stay? Leadership changes have an impact on teams. Dale Earnhardt Inc. competition director Steve Hmiel had been with that organization for nine years. We saw Tony Eury Sr. and Tony Eury Jr. leave DEI. Who else is going to leave? Those departures have a trickle down effect — not just from the driver's seat — but with your lead mechanics, engineers and team leaders. Randy Pemberton of SPEED and DirecTV HotPass noted the dynamics of the sport are changing as Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd retire. There's so much emphasis on the young guys, but aside from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and those guys, do the young drivers resonate like a Jarrett who has been a part of the fabric of the sport for over 20 years? It's a time of transition for the sport. There's been talk of nobody stepping up and taking over the leadership role in the garage vacated by the late Dale Earnhardt, but Jeff Gordon and other drivers are respectfully confident about voicing their concerns in a constructive way to NASCAR President Mike Helton, Nextel Cup competition director John Darby and NASCAR Vice President of competition Robin Pemberton. While there are several leaders that play an integral part in the sport, NASCAR is losing veteran drivers that fans have supported for years and years.

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At 36 years of age, Gordon won't be racing until he's 50. These guys are gone so much and do so much off the track. Our season starts before Valentine's Day and ends at Thanksgiving. At the recent Bank of America Race Festival in Charlotte, Carolina Panthers lineman Jordan Gross said, "Your season is so long. I don't know if my wife would like it if I worked in NASCAR." I'm all for new blood like Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya and the young breed of drivers like David Ragan, who will be successful. But we're losing guys who have been part of the fabric of the sport.


NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeremy Mayfield, Ricky Rudd, David Ragan, Michael Waltrip, Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchitti, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Ward Burton, Dale Jarrett

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