Just how far and how fast is the sky really falling?

You may feel a bit like Chicken Little given what we've talked about in the NASCAR world over the last week, and while you also may feel that everything is right in NASCAR, I think we all can agree that we're reaching a critical point in NASCAR's history. What happens over the course of the next few months could shape the sport's future, for better or for worse.

Brant James wrote about NASCAR's slumping attendance and television ratings (By the way, kudos to ESPN for mentioning the vast swaths of empty aluminum bleachers on Sunday at Indianapolis) and it seems that NASCAR and team owners also realize that we're at a very important juncture.

There was a town-hall style meeting at Hendrick Motorsports on Tuesday, where the owners talked about various measures to cut costs and improve the racing industry. (Speaking of NASCAR owners, according to a release, Jack Roush is still in serious but stable condition and was transferred to Mayo Clinic for recovery from surgery for the facial injuries that he received in the plane crash.)

“We’re all stakeholders in this thing, and we all want to know ‘What can we do to make this better? How can we save some money and help the show?”’ team owner Rick Hendrick told The Associated Press on Wednesday, the day after representatives from about 10 race teams gathered at Hendrick Motorsports to discuss ideas.

The meeting was an offshoot of the “town hall” style sessions NASCAR has been holding with competitors since early last season to give drivers and teams an opportunity to discuss the issues facing America’s No. 1 racing series. Unable to shake the slide in both attendance and TV ratings, NASCAR and its participants have been working together to re-energize the sport.

“I really like the new attitude in NASCAR,” Hendrick said. “I really like the way we’re all just kicking around something, talking it out and coming to agreements on how to move this sport forward.”

There's been a lot of talk about the 2011 schedule, and while it is going to stay at 36 races, there's a very good chance -- almost a guarantee -- that there will be some significant changes to next year's slate of races. However, that's by no means a solution to sagging attendance and television ratings.

Many of you didn't take kindly to Jay Hart's suggestion that NASCAR needed to worry about the NFL when it came to the Chase and the fall portion of the schedule. Yes, NASCAR and the NFL have conflicted for a long time. But the NFL has never been more popular, and while NASCAR's in a dip -- or a slide, whatever term you prefer -- they're both fighting for the same eyeballs while near the heights of their respective popularities.

And nothing spoke more to NASCAR's attempt to be big-league than the secret fines of drivers that were revealed by Jenna Fryer on Monday. While many have lauded NASCAR for finally stepping up and doing what other leagues have done in fining key figures for criticisms of the sanctioning body, NASCAR's implementation of the policy has gotten a lot of backlash.

The inability of the sanctioning body to name names was a PR storm that didn't need to happen given all of the other issues swirling in the NASCAR world. Like Jay Busbee said, had NASCAR simply named names, or at least publicly drawn a line, the backlash would have been muted. Instead, it's almost to a point that any press conference or interview needs to be taken with three or four grains of salt, as drivers, crew chiefs and owners may now be afraid to say what's on their minds for fear of getting fined.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. The racing's the best it's ever been, and it looks like we're going to have a heck of a Chase for the Cup on our hands. But there's an elephant, a gorilla and a raging lion in the room, plus a monkey on someone's back. You'd be best to pay attention to them.

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