NASCAR’s Silly Season: The Buzz Off the Track
About midway through the NASCAR season, a high-profile driver makes an announcement. Next year, he’ll drive for someone else, likely taking on a new number, a new make and a new primary sponsor. But for the rest of this season, he’ll stay put and contend for the championship.
Welcome to NASCAR’s “Silly Season,” a time when loyalties are tested, rumors abound and back-office executives can create as many headlines as their star drivers.
“Silly Season traditionally describes the second half of a racing season when drivers, crew chiefs and sponsors change teams,” said Jay Adamczyk, founder of popular NASCAR news and rumors site jayski.com. He first heard the term in the 1970s to describe the wheeling and dealing happening behind-the-scenes in the IndyCar series. Although IndyCar’s Silly Season happened toward the end of the regular season, “Silly Season seems to have expanded into a yearlong unending event in NASCAR,” Jay said.
Every professional sport has its rumor mills. Baseball has its “Hot Stove League” in the offseason, and football and basketball rumors heat up as soon as the championship trophy is awarded. But NASCAR operates differently.
“This is a sport where all the drivers are independent contractors,” said Bob Pockrass, NASCAR reporter for sportingnews.com with 10 years covering the sport. “You don’t have scheduled free agency like with other sports. One guy can be with one team one week and with another team by the next week.”
Video: Bob Pockrass on NASCAR’s Silly Season.
Larger teams, such as Joe Gibbs Racing, often sign drivers to multi-year contracts. But drivers can sign those contracts months in advance, so they may have a new one lined up long before the old one is set to expire.
When that happens, a driver can send shockwaves through a fan base known for intense loyalty to sponsors and manufacturers. For example, he may drive a Ford this season but announce that he’s switching to a Toyota team the next year.
“You want to know how silly it is? There’s a guy who signed a deal in April 2010 saying where he’d drive in 2012,” Bob said. That driver was with a Ford team at the time, and his new team would be with Chevrolet. But because he had no deal for 2011, he had to sign a one-year contract with a third team to avoid missing a season. And that team drove Toyotas.
With all the moving parts, it’s no surprise that Jayski.com, which launched in 1996, found a such a large audience.
“Team members, friends, family and even some sponsors sometimes let the cat out of the bag and leak information” before they make an official announcement, Jay said, although teams have made more of an effort in recent years to keep a lid on such information.
“Fans want to know if they need to buy new hats, die-cast cars and clothes that represent their drivers,” Jay said. “A player leaving a football team doesn’t have the same effect.”
- Kyle Busch Dodges Last-Lap Melee to Finish 3rd at Talladega (blogbattery.com)
- JGR Signs Matt Kenseth (joegibbsracing.com)
- Regular Season Wrap-Up (joegibbsracing.com)