Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red Bull's Exit from NASCAR: A Call for Reform

What does Red Bull leaving NASCAR mean?

This does not bode well for NASCAR. Upon Toyota’s entry into Sprint Cup, much was made that Red Bull was investing in two Sprint Cup rides. Given their success in other series, they made it look like Toyota was going to create a huge splash. With deep pockets and a passion for winning, the whole balance of power in NASCAR would be upset. Starting in 2006 with Dodges to get a feel for how to run a NASCAR team as Toyota secured NASCAR sanctioning, they were seen to soon rival the big boys like Hendricks, Gibbs, Childress, and Roush.

They never gained that dominance, and with Joe Gibbs Racing switching to Toyota in 2008, it was clear who the top Toyota team would be.

Centered on the hopes of up and coming young driver, Brian Vickers, they worked their way up to become a respectable team, but Vickers’ medical problems in 2010 stopped their growth cold. Having discarded Scott Speed as their second driver and signing a one year deal with Casey Kahne as he bides his time before his Hendrick deal kicks in for 2011, Red Bull NASCAR racing looked suddenly lacking commitment. However, the notion floated that having an established winning driver and crew chief could help them learn how to write their own blueprint for success.

Sum it all up, after five years in Sprint Cup Racing, the Red Bull Team can still only at best be called a “work in progress” with one win and seven polls. Their highest final standing was good enough to make the chase but finish 12th in 2009. Red Bull with Casey Kahne and Brian Vickers has to be a team that fans could say could win a race but not good enough to say they should win a race.

Speculation has begun what will happen to the team. Might there be potential buyers and to what level could new ownership take the operation? Whether it’s real or imagined, Mark Martin’s name comes up since his contract expires with Hendricks and he has worked for Jay Frye before. Also to be considered is where driver, Brian Vickers, might wind up.

The impact on the big picture does not look promising. The field of qualified owners is shrinking while the sham of “start and park” operations is rapidly becoming a NASCAR institution. Consider this, Evernham’s operation is gone. Robert Yates Racing is gone. What’s left of them is part of Richard Petty Motor Sports, which was a two car operation then and is a two car operation now. DEI was a three car operation; only the #1 car remains. Chip Ganassi was a four car operation; only the #42 car survives. Frye racing which was where Mark Martin went part time after retiring from Roush was acquired by DEI, but nothing from that team survives. NASCAR forced Roush racing to reduce from five to four teams. The spun off team is struggling to survive. Hall of Fame racing is gone. Michael Waltrip Racing has reduced from three to two cars. Penske has reduced from three to two cars. The only new competitive operation is Stewart Haas racing; however, that operation took over a marginal two car team. Front Row racing formed in part from the ashes of the Yates operation. They provide two cars which currently struggle to qualify against the marginal teams. JTG racing holds on working the Michael Waltrip. The Wood Brothers have run part time the past two years.

With more than half of the 2011 season left, here’s what the 2012 field looks like.

Hendrick Motor Sports, 4 cars
-Jimmie Johnson
-Jeff Gordon
-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
-Casey Kahne

Roush/Fenway, 4 cars
-Carl Edwards?
-Matt Kenseth
-Greg Biffle
-David Ragan?

Richard Childress, 4 cars
-Kevin Harvick
-Clint Bowyer
-Jeff Burton
-Paul Menard

Joe Gibbs, 3 cars
-Denny Hamlin
-Kyle Busch
-Joey Logano

Earnhardt/Ganassi, 2 cars
-Jamie McMurray
-Juan Pablo Montoya

Penske, 2 cars
-Brad Keselowski
-Kurt Busch

Stewart/Haas Racing, 2 cars
-Tony Stewart
-Ryan Newman

Richard Petty, 2 cars
-A.J, Allmendinger
-Marcos Ambrose

Michael Waltrip, 2 cars
-David Reutimann
-Martin Truex, Jr.

JTG Racing, 1 car
-Bobby Labonte

Furniture Row Racing, 1 car
-Regan Smith

Some variety of the 27 rides above will be in play, with the Wood Brothers speculating going full-time. Chances look good that Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Baynes could be competing as rookies on the senior level next year. Of the teams not listed above, perhaps Front Row Racing, owned by Bob Jenkins and TRG Racing look like reasonably sure teams that will participate as competitors in 2012.

What Does This Mean?

The current practice of having 35 teams locked in guaranteed a starting position is no longer plausible. Likewise, the starting field of 43 cars is way too many to have a truly competitive field. Rightminded Fellow has reported with regularity the millions of dollars awarded teams entering NASCAR races with no intention to compete. Fans have a right to expect that NASCAR is a pay for play event. On older and shorter tracks, pit road is crowded causing regular problems with cars running into each other or gear in the way. It cheapens competition when a car is loused up on pit road.

NASCAR should reduce the locked in field based on owner’s points to perhaps no more than 27 cars. The starting field should be reduced to no more than 33 cars. If a sufficient number of cars with full sponsorship are entered by registration deadline, NASCAR in consultation with the track management can elect to expand the field provided all teams enter demonstrate that they are equipped and staffed fully invested to complete the entire distance of a race. All cars which pull off the track before the race becomes official, shall be subject to a strip down inspection, and cars found to be mechanically safe will result in forfeiture of all earnings and points accrued for that event. The car, owner, and driver will be suspended from participation for the entire next week of competition for all cars entered in the three major touring series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Trucks. Only if the reason for withdrawing from a race in progress is the health of driver as confirmed by NASCAR sanctioned physicians and no qualified substitute driver is available shall these previsions be waived.

NASCAR MUST reward the teams that are fully invested in participating as season long competitors while providing room for new teams and part-time entries can be involved. Considering the relatively similar earnings for cars in the bottom quarter of the field and the hundreds of thousand of dollars awarded each week to non-competitors, providing more incentive for competitors to remain in the sport must be explored. That the most legendary name in NASCAR, Richard Petty, associated with Richard Petty Motorsports, struggled to make races last year at the end of the season and the extent to which the field has shrunk in the past five years, the time for action is now!


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