With two weeks remaining until the season-opening Daytona 500, talk in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series remains focused on the same issue that all of us are dealing with as the cold winter continues -- the struggling economy.

How will it affect racing?

The Associated Press reported last week that four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who has earned more than $100 million racing in NASCAR, has taken steps of his own to save money.

I'm sure that might seem laughable to some, but Gordon is serious. He is so serious, in fact, that instead of using his private jet for travel during the offseason, Gordon flew commercial, just like the rest of us. Even better, he booked coach fares, but admitted that his flights were upgraded to first class. I'd guess that was more for the convenience of the flight attendants than for Gordon, so that curious fans could be controlled.

Matt Kenseth, the only driver who has qualified for every Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, is concerned about the economic situation, too.

"You turn the news on and it's depressing," he said. "I'm like, 'Gosh, I can't wait to get back to the race track so everybody can start talking about racing and the competition and who is winning and doing all that, instead of all the rest of the stuff we've had to listen to the last two or three months, but, yeah, it's been a different offseason."
NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France weighed in on the subject of helping teams manage costs.


"In tough times like these, strong people tighten their belts, put a little extra zip in their step and focus on the things they do best," France said. "In our sport, that's racing -- and no one does it better than our drivers and teams.

"One of the key areas we're zeroing in on is helping our teams develop new business models to fit today's ever-changing economy," he added. "We're working with our media partners to explore additional ways to take our product to our fans. And we're meeting with our tracks to brainstorm new promotions for ticket opportunities."

"When we talk about working with the teams on the business models, that's not really something that's new at NASCAR," said NASCAR President Mike Helton. "That's what has perpetuated NASCAR for 60 years."

While that's fine for the teams, what about the fans? It's true that some tracks have announced cuts in ticket prices, but the cost to attend a race involves more than that. With hotel rates typically doubled during race weekends and uncertain gas prices, planning to attend a race is something fans may decide to skip in 2009.

Has the economy had an impact on your plans to follow NASCAR this year? Let me hear from you and perhaps share your views in a future column.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at esiska@yorkdispatch.com.