The Frontstretch: Are NASCAR's Cost Cuts Helping or Just Another Smokescreen? by Amy Henderson -- Friday April 10, 2009

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Are NASCAR's Cost Cuts Helping or Just Another Smokescreen?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday April 10, 2009

 

NASCAR recently announced that the sanctioning body would now conduct postrace engine teardowns at their Concord facility, the latest in a series of measures designed to cut costs. I’m not really sure how this one saves teams any money, unless NASCAR is planning on delivering the inspected engines to the teams they were taken from. It might save teams and officials a little time at the track, but the cost savings can’t be much. NASCAR has implemented several rules designed to cut costs, from banning testing at sanctioned tracks to the current car itself.

But do any of them really work?

NASCAR tinkered with cost cutting a few years back when the one-engine rule first rolled around. Instead of separate engines for qualifying and practice, teams now run a single engine all weekend with a starting position penalty for changing one. In theory, it has probably saved teams money, most notably those who use leased engines. But if the powers that be hoped for a leveling of the playing field, they failed—as they did with the Car of Tomorrow. The teams who had money were able to redirect it into finding more ways to outrun the competition, and the ones who didn’t, well, they still didn’t have the money to truly improve. If anything, having to build a fleet of new cars—albeit ones that could be raced at a variety of tracks—put further strain on them.

NASCAR will now conduct postrace engine teardowns at their Concord facility, but is this latest cost-cutting measure really saving any money?

This year’s test ban shows much of the same results. The teams with more resources are simply channeling the money into other areas to overcome the lack of testing, while the rest…still don’t have the money.

On the surface, it seems like a simple matter—money buys wins, wins buy points, and points buy championships. The owner point standings back the theory up. While there are a few surprises near the top, there aren’t any really small teams in the top dozen. David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip racing are surprising in that they have had little success before this year, they aren’t exactly strapped for cash, with Toyota backing and well-to-do sponsors. The same goes for Kasey Kahne, whose team has more sponsorship dollars than teammate A.J. Allmendinger’s. Allmendinger’s team, with limited sponsorship and probably limited in-house resources compared to Kahne’s, is overachieving because the driver is carrying the team. Even Juan Pablo Montoya’s standing isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches tale-Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has Target to pay his bills.

The highest truly smaller team in the standings is the No. 96 of Bobby Labonte in 26th, and the lowest of the really wealthy teams is the No. 20 of Joey Logano in 35th, and Logano is a very raw rookie. That in itself is telling—the haves do have the occasional dud—Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, and Earnhardt-Ganassi have cars in 22nd, 23rd, and 24th respectively, but the have-nots have little, if any presence in rarified air, with perhaps Allmendinger as the lone exception.

It’s more complicated than simply having the money for more and better equipment. The big teams have the luxury of being choosier with personnel. Not only can they hire the most talented pit crew members away form smaller teams with larger salaries, but they attract—and keep—the best engineers, crew chiefs, and drivers. It isn’t only about the salaries, of course. Drivers want to drive for winning teams, and rarely leave them once there. So it becomes a vicious cycle, the richest teams buy better cars, attract better divers and crews, and win more, thereby attracting more top drivers and crewmen, and so on while the others struggle to keep up in a NASCAR where it’s no longer about simply building a fast car and putting a fearless driver behind the wheel.

And so far, NASCAR hasn’t found a way to curb the problem. In the Sprint Cup Series, it becomes more difficult with each passing year for an underdog team to win a race, let alone make the Chase or contend for the title. That’s too bad, because everyone loves an underdog.

The bottom line is, NASCAR’s cost cutting measures have cut costs, but the problem lies in the fact that the big teams are just able to funnel that money saved elsewhere, while the small teams just cover costs more easily. In the end, the competition suffers, because the parity NASCAR was aiming for never quite materializes, and the racing itself begins to suffer on the heels of test bans and crew reductions.

Parity in today’s NASCAR is a problem with a thousand failed solutions, with a real solution no closer than it was a decade ago, and all the while the gap grows wider. It’s time for NASCAR to stop kidding themselves and institute real measures to bring parity, or to let the survival of the fittest claim the teams who can’t keep up. Any way you slice it, it isn’t about simple speed anymore, nor even talent—it’s about the money, because money buys both speed and talent-and desire and hunger might buy hard work, but they don’t pay the piper.

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Bobb
04/10/2009 02:21 AM
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I cannot recall NASCAR making parity a goal.

The commonality of all top-notch racing series is that it takes a supreme effort in every aspect… this ain’ a soccer league where we don’t keep score.

This is exactly where to apply, “stay on the porch if you can’t run with the big dogs”.

MJR in Springfield VA
04/10/2009 07:03 AM
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I don’t want parity… I want racing, good, hard, fast paced racing. If I wanted parity then I would have watched the IROC series. And the only true way NA$CAR can create parity is to build identical cars, give them to the teams, and tell the crews they can’t muck with them. And then penalize them heavily if they do. Do you really want that? I don’t think so.

And on that note, tell me what other sport has this great parity that you are searching for? The reason the Cowboys or the Steelers are who they are and not the Lions, is because of money (lots of it). The best way to get parity into NA$CAR is to make the rules the same for every team, and then enforce them the same…FOR EVERY TEAM! And please, don’t tell me they do, we have already seen that in one form or another. The NA$CAR rules are virtually written on an etch-a-sketch and used for the “best fit” of the day.

Gordon82Wins
04/10/2009 07:31 AM
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Let’s assume that NASCAR manages to completely eliminate the influence of money in this sport. Then everyone would be equal. The racing would be just great then wouldn’t it? After all, what would stop any hot rodder on the street from getting into NASCAR?

Socialism doesn’t work, it never has worked, in society or in sports, yet people keep insisting that governing bodies in both keep trying it.

I know the situation isn’t ideal Amy, but the only sure-fire alternative is to run plate races every week.

Annie Mack
04/10/2009 08:28 AM
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Unfortunately the horse is already out of the barn. You can’t go back to the years they were racing on the beach again. This has been an evolution that took years and years to pique and just like every bubble in the economy, this one will break, too. Some very talented drivers are without rides because the sponsorships for the cars is so expensive that corporations can only justify giving them to teams that can promise their logo be shown up front for marketing’s sake. This is a sport that has lined the pockets of the top 20 drivers with so much money that they don’t even know there’s a recession, or near depression, going on. Don’t these drivers have family and friends with regular jobs who are laid off or struggling?

Look, the only way to make a Nascar race more affordable is to cut the purses. That measure will lower the ticket prices. If you keep having total purses of millions of dollars where even someone who runs one lap makes $50,000, there’s just nothing you can do to cut costs. The tickets and concessions have to pay the purses and I doubt the drivers are going to be willing to take a pay cut. So, bottom line, same old same old is still going to be the mantra and Nascar will continue to report losses to their bottom lines. And, unfortunately, the undersponsored teams are going to suffer because nobody will sponsor someone who doesn’t run up front every week. It’s a vicious cycle that only Nascar can break. I guarantee you they won’t.

Ken
04/10/2009 08:35 AM
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Money buys success in most sports, even individual ones. Tiger Woods is not the greatest golfer based only on his talent. His family had the resources to develop his talent from birth. The Yankees have bought many championships. There is no way to legislate the impact of money out of sports. The success of NA$CAR drivers is a result of money. Jeff Gordon and most of the current group of drivers are from backgrounds that could afford to start their race training at a very early age and in good equipment. There are many young people in the world that have the raw talent to be great drivers but will never be one because they won’t have the opportunity of proper training and equipment due to money issues.

M.B. Voelker
04/10/2009 09:21 AM
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The obvious cost-saving of taking the engines back to Charlotte for inspection is that Nascar no longer has to pay the engine-tear-down specialists’ at track expenses.

Other than that, the things you’re complaining about are not problems — unless you’re bent on a socialist equality of results rather than the equality of opportunity that gives free people the ability to succeed or fail on their own merits.

I’m not going to bother to google it, but it you’ve ever complained about the COTs being all alike then you owe someone an apology — either for that or for this.

Because the only “cure” for the non-problem you’re griping about is to have Nascar own and prepare all the cars before each race, to have a lottery to put each driver into a random car, have another lottery to pair him with a random crew chief, and have yet another lottery to add a crew.

And if you think there’s a big market for a series with those rules there is nothing whatsoever stopping you from raising the necessary money to get such a series started since, even in a down economy, ideas that are likely to turn a profit will find backers.

Chris
04/10/2009 10:45 AM
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If you manufacture too much parity, you actually lose the underdog aspect of racing entirely. The definition of “underdog” assumes someone winning against talent much better than him. If everyone is equal, then a Paul Menard is no longer an underdog to Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, etc.

The restrictor plate races are fun, but because there are only four of them. If every race ran like Talledega, NASCAR would be as interesting as a demolition derby- which gets boring after awhile.

FS_Amy
04/10/2009 11:15 AM
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I don’t think we need complete parity in NASCAR-that was IROC’s gig. However, NASCAR seems to want at least the illusion thereof. I was simply commenting that the measures they have taken aren’t going to produce that.

I will say that a smaller gap between the haves and have-nots would be a good thing. One thing I really liked about racing in the 1990’s was that it seemed like there was an underdog team or two each week that could run up front and perhaps even contend for the win. That was fun to watch. Now, the top ten is very predictable most of the time, unless someone uses pit strategy to run up front for a few laps midrace. It was a lot more fun when you thought your guy at least had an outside shot. It’s really not fun pulling for a guy not in top equipment anymore, because you know there’s no chance. So, while the gap is never going to go away, and that’s the nature of the beast, it would be nice to see it narrow a bit, so it would be fun for the fans of those smaller teams to at least be able to smile and say, “maybe.”

Incidentally, no, I have not complained that the COT’s look alike. I don’t really care what they look like, only what they race like.

jimmccoy22
04/10/2009 11:26 AM
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The problem of the “haves” and “have nots” have run all throughout sports. I, for one, do not favor mandated “parity.” It IS possible for an “underdog” to break through. Florida and Tampa Bay in baseball have been winners beating teams with 5 times their payroll as two examples.
Just ask the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees post-2000: money does not always equal championships.

M.B. Voelker
04/10/2009 12:08 PM
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The only way that you can always have an “underdog” running amongst the Top 10 is for there to be fewer than 10 truly excellent, top teams.

To quote Micheal Waltrip, “the problem in Nascar right now is that there are 25 top 10 teams.”

If there were 8 or 9 truly excellent cars on the track there would HAVE TO be a lesser team in the top 10 every week.

If there were only 10 excellent cars out there then the element of luck would see to it that lesser cars showed up in the top 10 fairly often as bad luck would be likely to visit at least one of those top cars every week or two.

But with MANY really excellent cars — 5 from Roush, 4 from Hendrick, 3 from Gibbs, 3 from RCR, 2 from Stewart-Haas, 3 from Penske, … — bad luck for one excellent team means that another excellent team will fill the slot.

Do you really wish that the Nascar field consisted of only a few really excellent cars and a large number of mediocre ones?

How could that possibly be an improvement? You don’t make a building taller by chopping floors off the top and digging the basement deeper.

mike
04/10/2009 02:05 PM
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Bring back more short tracks like Richmond and Martinsville.

There’s more chance for an underdog there than the oh-so-boring 1.5 mile tracks.

And maybe if Nascar would stop taking potential sponsorship money away from teams and pocketing it themselves would help.

Bobb
04/10/2009 08:41 PM
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There’re a lot of statements in this article that have to be questioned. To accept them as valid troubles me.

I’m not really sure how this one saves teams any money, unless NASCAR is planning on delivering the inspected engines to the teams they were taken from. As a pivot point statement in an opening thesis, it would be nice to establish the costs involved. The amount is never quantified… could be a dollar, could be more? Be nice to know what we’re talking about.

NASCAR tinkered with cost cutting a few years back when the one-engine rule first rolled around. NASCAR more than “tinkered”, they made a solid rule that teams agree is a huge saving to their weekend race budgets.

In theory, it has probably saved teams money, most notably those who use leased engines. As well as teams with their own integrated engine programs. It’s a savings… more than a tinkering. Many statements have been made by teams supporting the rule from a cost viewpoint.

The teams who had money were able to redirect it into finding more ways to outrun the competition, and the ones who didn’t, well, they still didn’t have the money to truly improve.
This year’s test ban shows much of the same results. The teams with more resources are simply channeling the money into other areas to overcome the lack of testing, while the rest…still don’t have the money. Yup… and it’ll always be this way in every form of racing. You make it sound like money and funding is evil and a problem. Try racing without it!

So it becomes a vicious cycle, the richest teams buy better cars, attract better divers and crews, and win more, thereby attracting more top drivers and crewmen, and so on while the others struggle to keep up in a NASCAR where it’s no longer about simply building a fast car and putting a fearless driver behind the wheel.
It’s a vicious cycle? It’s called success! “Vicious”? What a colored adjective to describe how many sporting ventures and other businesses operate!

The bottom line is, NASCAR’s cost cutting measures have cut costs, but the problem lies in the fact that the big teams are just able to funnel that money saved elsewhere, while the small teams just cover costs more easily. Well, finally you detract from your own “smokescreen” metaphor. There are savings; imagine that! So, what’s your point in the whole column?

In the end, the competition suffers, because the parity NASCAR was aiming for never quite materializes, and the racing itself begins to suffer on the heels of test bans and crew reductions. In an earlier posting, I challenged this statement about parity. Also, who says the racing suffers? Is it quantifyable? Usually, statements like this fly with citations or references to validate matters of fact.

In the follow-up post, I don’t think we need complete parity in NASCAR-that was IROC’s gig. However, NASCAR seems to want at least the illusion thereof. Oh really? When did NASCAR ever say anything about seeking parity?

While we all can agree to disagree, the entire article is rife with comments that I’m not going to accept as “true”; opinions, yes, but lets also agree that there’re a lot of unsubstantiated statements and conclusions.

Bill B
04/13/2009 07:21 AM
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The rich get richer is a truism that has been around forever. It has, is and always will be that way. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t expect this principle to apply to NASCAR as well. I also don’t see how anyone could expect it to change.

 

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