The Frontstretch: Spread Too Thin: Do Other Interests Slow Drivers' Cup Efforts? by Amy Henderson -- Friday October 30, 2009

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Spread Too Thin: Do Other Interests Slow Drivers' Cup Efforts?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday October 30, 2009


Every day, you see it—race fans and media alike wondering about the lackluster performance of a few drivers who, by rights, should be at the top of their games. They drive great stuff, they have the talent, they have a record of past success and certainly aren’t over the hill. So people wonder—is it the crew chief? Is it the cars? Is it the water?

The Martinsville hot dogs?

I don’t think it’s any of those.

There are a variety of reasons that can add up, of course—the test ban, the cars, organizational changes—but for four drivers in particular, you have to wonder if it’s a case of burning the candle at both ends while standing in the middle. In the cases of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards it certainly gives pause—are these drivers simply spreading themselves too thin, losing focus in one area as they hone in on another?

For Earnhardt and Harvick, are business interests encroaching on race day? Both own successful race teams; Earnhardt owns a bar as well, and while he leaves management of that enterprise to someone else, he does spend some time there and he does have the business’s bottom line in mind. For Harvick, the race team he owns with his wife Delana is clearly a labor of love, and it’s been a success—Ron Hornaday won the Camping World Truck Series title in 2007 and is a near lock to do it again this year. Harvick also has five wins as an owner in the Nationwide Series—two driving his own car, two with Tony Stewart, and one with Bobby Labonte behind the wheel. He is likely to expand his operation to the Cup garage eventually.

Harvick has all but said that 2010 will be his last season with Richard Childress Racing, and whether he will race for himself or someone else remains to be seen. Wherever he lands, Harvick’s performance has declined over the last three years since his five-win season in 2006, which coincidently is when his own teams have really started to perform. Harvick made the Chase in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but missed miserably this year, where he sits 21st in driver points—the worst among the four Childress-owned teams. Is team ownership a contributor?

Kevin Harvick owns successful Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series teams and moonlights behind the wheel in both divisions as well, but are his outside interests to blame for his lackluster performance in the Cup Series this season?

Earnhardt, as well, has begun to have success as a car owner. Brad Keselowski sits third in Nationwide Series points, best of any Nationwide-only driver. Next year, Keselowski will move on, but Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports has already signed Kelly Bires as a replacement and is looking for sponsorship and a driver for a second car. As an owner, Earnhardt has the world by the tail, with full support from Hendrick Motorsports. His Whisky River nightclub in Charlotte is flourishing. He enjoys the things his career has afforded him, as well he should. But maybe, just maybe, his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt had a point when she told the media that Earnhardt needed to decide between being a racecar driver or a celebrity.

Perhaps the impossible expectations of Earnhardt have taken their toll—maybe JR Motorsports and Whisky River are simply more fun for Earnhardt, more of a place to focus on as the intensity of the public eye never blinks. Maybe, as some have suggested, Earnhardt is eyeing a pullback from full-time Cup racing in the not-so-distant future.

Busch and Edwards eat, sleep, and breathe racing. In fact, the two of them, and Busch in particular, race so much that they can barely find the time to eat, sleep, or breathe. But how much racing is too much?

After spectacular Sprint Cup seasons in 2008 in which both drivers also mounted successful Nationside Series campaigns (Edwards won the championship and Busch finished sixth in the standings after running only 30 of 35 races) and Busch competed in 18 of 25 Camping World Truck Series races as well, both drivers chose to pursue the Nationwide Series championship this year, along with being heavily favored to contend for the Sprint Cup title.

And for both drivers, 2009 has been a disappointment. Busch, while leading the Nationwide points handily, failed to make the Chase despite four wins and has mustered just a dozen top 10 finishes in the Cup cars. Edwards has no wins this year after a spectacular nine-win season in 2008 that fell just short of the Cup title. He made the Chase on a lackluster 13 top 10 finishes, but has made no noise at all, and could be mathematically eliminated from contention within the next two weeks, sitting in 10th place, 413 points out of the lead.

Is it these drivers’ extracurricular activities that hamper their Cup series success? Probably not entirely, but you have to wonder if they don’t play a significant role. Is there such as thing as racing too much, so much that it spreads a driver’s concentration too thin on Sunday? Does having a “feel’ for another type of car make it harder to feel the CoT? It’s worth a second look by these drivers and their car owners—they can and should be winning races, but maybe they all need to refocus on that ultimate goal.

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10/30/2009 07:35 AM

I think it’s interesting that you left Tony Stewart out of this article…he has more outside interests than perhaps any driver in Cup from 3 dirt tracks (one a premier in the country), to a PR company, to a remote control car company. Oh, and there’s that little thing he owns also…his own Cup team. And all of these are successful enterprises.
I think that it makes more sense to look at individuals and not group all drivers under one umbrella.

10/30/2009 07:52 AM

I don’t doubt that racing requires a lot of focus at this level, but sometimes drivers benefit from running in other series as well…maybe not so much with the new car being what it is, but drivers can get a feel for a racetrack too.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch both ran full seasons in Nationwide last year and had 16 Cup wins between them. I think the testing ban hurt these two guys more than anything else.

Carl D.
10/30/2009 08:21 AM

Maybe the reason Tony Stewart isn’t suffering the same effects from being spread too thin is because he’s fielding two Hendrick cars with Stewart-Hass decals. I don’t mean to belittle the hard work and focus that goes into creating a successful cup-level operation, but you have to admit that having Hendrick equipment has to cut down on the stress level to some degree.

And stress is what seems to be the big issue with Junior and Shrub. Junior has the stress of living up to the expectations generated by his name, his team, and his huge fanbase; and Shrub has the stress of living up to the success he had last year.

10/30/2009 10:55 AM

While it’s a valid question, how you get to your assumptions is way off.

Kevin Harvick WINS in his own equipment. But can’t run up front in RCR equipment. So either he’s rolling over on Richard or the cars aren’t good enough.

Once again alot of cars that were good last year aren’t so good this year. Why, I believe it all has to do with the testing ban and crew chiefs still trying to find the next .10 of a second that the car is in constant change wiht out the ability to test the changes.

One driver you fail to mention in this article which exactly the same assumptions can be used is Kenny Wallace. Since Kenny Wallace has worked for Speed his results have tumbled on the track. Now Kenny is great for the fans but seems a little ADD like and if anyone needs to slow down and focus on raceday my votes for Kenny.

10/30/2009 10:59 AM

no doubt in Earnhardt Jrs case he is distracted. He had success early but as his outside endeavours have increased his production at the racetrack has suffered. That’s why his Dad limited those same distractions. Not everyone can be Tony Stewart.

10/30/2009 12:04 PM

Even before Smoke owned half of SHR he had more stuff going on than all 4 of those guys you talked about. The guy owns 3 race tracks, has open wheel teams, a PR company, a trucking company and before he owned a Cup team he was racing at a dirt track almost every week. Granted not everyone can be a Tony Stewart but it isn’t like those 4 guys are the only ones who have alot of things going on besides being a Cup driver.

10/30/2009 12:52 PM

Hi everyone! Intersting comments today-thanks! While it’s true that Tony Stewart does a ton, he has, and trusts, management for his other enterprises, which I think makes a difference. Not everyone is going to react to stress in the same way, either. Kevin Harvick’s Cup numbers have declined steadily since his own teams took off, and I wouldn’t say he’s winning consistently in his own stuff, either. He has two wins in his Nationwide cars this year, but that is his total as an owner-driver in that series. While there has been some decline at RCR, this is not just this year, and there is a lot of outside influence on Harvick. I never said it was the only factor-but if you look at the numbers it certainly looks as though it could be a factor. And while it is true that Edwards ran the full Nationwide schedule last year (Busch did not, as noted above), I just think the stress on the driver has to catch up eventually. I work more than one job, and some weeks are pretty tough to be 100% at all of my commitments.

Doug-While you make a valid point about Kenny Wallace’s TV schedule, I can promise you that a change of focus is not the issue with his numbers. I know Kenny well, and can say with complete conviction that his television has not changed his focus on racing one bit. His performance over the last couple of years can be attributed to the equipment he is racing-his current team is running on less than a quarter of the budget of the bigger Nationwide teams. They do not have a large fleet of racecars or a large staff. Actually, their results are very good considering what they have to work with. In Kenny’s case, it’s not a lack of focus, it’s equipment. I can’t say for sure that it’s not lack of funds with the four I emntion, but I can say it IS the main culprit in this case.

Kevin in SoCal
10/30/2009 01:22 PM

Remind me where was Bobby Labonte’s win in the Nationwide series this year? I remember his winning Talledega last year but I’m stumped on this year.

10/30/2009 01:56 PM

Hey Kevin-Labonte’s win was not this year-the numbers I gave were KHI’s Nationwide win total for its existence, not 2009. Sorry for any confusion.

Bad Wolf
10/30/2009 02:09 PM

It comes down to over88ted drivers pushed by the powers that be as they draw in the 12-35 year old girls to the sport, not outside interists.

There is nothing wrong with Busch and Edwards that can’t be cured by getting rid of the chase, COT and letting them test.

10/30/2009 05:03 PM

hey sharon i think you missed the point of this article entirely were talking about drivers whose cup season is suffering because of outside influences not drivers like stewart who is flourishing despite all of his outside business interests… and btw good luck junior this weekend at talladega

Doug In Washington (State)
10/30/2009 07:41 PM

Folks seem to forget that Haas’s cars were Hendrick engines/chassis long before Stewart was in the mix. They’ve run Hendrick equipment since 2003.

It’s not just the equipment that made the difference over there.

10/30/2009 07:48 PM

FS_Amy said: In Kenny’s case, it’s not a lack of focus, it’s equipment.

That’s the point with Kevin Harvick in the RCR equipment. All of RCR is off speed. The only win RCR has all year is Bowyer at Daytona in the NNS.

So you just punched a hole in your own bucket and it doesn’t hold water anymore.

BTW the forums are not up today. Any reason why?


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