The Frontstretch: Desperate Times Call "4" Desperate Measures: The 4-Car Rule Needs To Go by Garrett Horton -- Tuesday October 5, 2010

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When NASCAR announced in 2005 that it was setting a limit on the number of cars a team could own, its goal was to prevent powerhouse organizations from dominating over the lower-funded, single-car underdogs. The move was a popular decision at the time, as it appeared multi-car team owners were beginning to wield too much power and influence within the sport. After all, Jack Roush’s fleet occupied half of all Chasers in ’05 (there were only 10 cars in the Chase at the time) and combined with fellow giant Hendrick Motorsports, they won 25 of the 36 events. It was time to keep the little guys in the game, and NASCAR was positive this move would work.

Yet here we are, five years later, and the big players like Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs, and Childress are still the ones winning races and competing for championships. Part of it can be blamed on the economy, but the larger teams have maintained that advantage NASCAR was trying hard to take away. With money being tighter than ever, single-car teams are struggling to find sponsorship and simply can’t run the full season anymore. Now, we see teams running 30 laps before they decide to start and park, fighting for garage space instead of even a spot in the top 25 each week. Gone are single-car owners Bill Davis, Morgan McClure, and Cal Wells, along with several less historic, longshot efforts that never exactly panned out. One of the most notable single-car teams of all time, the Wood Brothers, continue to race, but we aren’t seeing them every weekend like we used to just a few years ago.

Where is new talent supposed to drive when all four spots are filled in most of the major stables?

Clearly, it appears the four-car limit isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.

We now have three single-car teams, one of which (Robby Gordon Motorsports) has resorted to start and parking on weekends when they can’t afford to race. JTG-Daugherty, another single-car effort driven by Marcos Ambrose, works closely with Michael Waltrip Racing and can hardly be considered a legitimate single-car team. That leaves Furniture Row Racing driven by Regan Smith as the only true “loner” operation remaining that’s running every race the full distance.

Of course, the four-car limit is not the sole reason for this problem. However, it is a clear indication that the ban has become pointless. If owners like Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush have the money to own more than four cars, then they should be allowed to. With uncertainty that we will even have a full 43-car field next year, it is important to let the strong teams field as many cars as they want. Otherwise, the start and parks will continue to increase and the integrity of our sport will take a hit.

Within the past week, rising Nationwide stars Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, and Brian Scott were either released or were allowed to look elsewhere to drive. Fortunately for Bayne, he quickly picked up a ride at Roush Fenway Racing for the rest of the season as well as 2011. With Bayne now on board and the sudden turnaround performance of 23-year-old Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Jack Roush has two young drivers in his farm system that he has no place for in Cup because he already fields four cars. One could argue that current Cup driver David Ragan is on the hot seat, but with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards all making the Chase yet again, Roush already has a pretty solid fleet of drivers.

Scott, who found a ride at Kansas with RAB Racing, has been rumored to be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in some capacity next year. Gibbs, who has been cautious in adding an extra team on the Cup side, would most likely have Scott run in some select Nationwide races with the possibility of a few Cup events. JGR could add a rookie (or any driver for that matter) to Cup given the right amount of sponsorship, but because of the four-car rule, it seems pointless to further develop any others for competition.

Allgaier is perhaps most affected by the four-car rule. Remember last year when Hendrick had to let Brad Keselowski walk because he couldn’t field a fifth car for him? Because of the limitations, Keselowski ended up going to Roger Penske, where he is a teammate to Allgaier in the Nationwide Series. With Keselowski and Kurt Busch occupying Penske’s two Cup cars next year, it leaves Justin with no place within the organization unless sponsorship can be found. He is now out of work for 2011 when he could be competing for Rookie of the Year without Keselowski’s presence.

Richard Childress is one team everyone should keep an eye on in the next few years. They just signed Paul Menard and his family-owned home improvement chain as a sponsor, giving RCR four teams for 2011. But Childress also has his two grandchildren, Austin and Ty Dillon, beginning to make a name for themselves. Austin has won two races in the Camping World Truck Series as a rookie this season and currently sits fourth in the series standings. His younger brother, Ty, recently picked up his first win in the K&N Pro Series East, which is becoming an excellent development division for younger drivers. For both Dillons, the fact they both drive a black No. 3 car and that they are related to a significant car owner makes them marketable, easily able to attract major sponsorship. Both will be in the Cup Series one day, but who would they replace at Childress?

Of course, some teams such as Penske couldn’t run more than four cars even if they wanted to. Would they fall victim to teams that could? It is impossible to know for sure, but in Penske’s case, considering that they are backed by Dodge and the amount of money Roger puts into his current operation, it seems unlikely that they would lose their competitive edge. Other two-car teams such as Stewart-Haas and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing also put a lot of time and money into their efforts. Along with Penske, they all have a “brand name” and will continue to be involved in the sport for a long time.

As the 2010 season winds down, we are looking at a surplus of talent with a shortage of rides available to them. By my count, it looks like we will have 29 cars from multi-car teams that will race for wins next year. So it is time for NASCAR to lift this ban and let car owners field as many entries as they want. The worst thing that could happen is that the bigger teams win all the races and run off the smaller ones. Oh wait, that’s already happened; so why keep living our lives in denial?

Contact Garrett Horton

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
5 Points to Ponder: The Franchise Gets Rowdy, The Rookie Kiss Of Death, and Start The Damned Race at Noon
No Bull: What Constitutes Bad NASCAR Attendance? How Capacity Changes Perception
Talking NASCAR TV: Did ESPN Recover At Kansas? And VERSUS’ On-Air Implosion
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Kansas-Fontana Edition

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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10/05/2010 08:29 AM

Garrett, I will have to disagree with you. NA$CAR doesn’t need to allow owners more than four teams. NA$CAR needs to ENFORCE it’s four team rule. Hendrick has his four, plus Stewart’s two, and Kahne/Red Bull’s one (for 2011). That’s SEVEN of his allotted FOUR teams. And right now he is providing chassis, engines, pit crew assistance, and tires for many of the start and parkers.
I guess you must be relatively new to NA$CAR’s extended family. You must have been adopted sometime after the current field size was expanded to 43 cars. NASCAR (not to be confused with NA$CAR) has a history of expanding and contracting the guaranteed number of starters as the economic times allow.
Wouldn’t it make better sense to tell the teams that lease equipment (rather than build it) that they must get their chassis from one source, their engines from a second source, and their pit crews from a third? That way some semblance of integrity could be maintained.
As for the start and parkers, just decrease the field size. Even if it was decreased to 30 cars, would you actually know it? Since the top 10 and Jr. are the only drivers the weekly parade follows, the average viewer wouldn’t even notice a difference.
The simple fact is, NA$CAR is not a cheap sport. There are people and corporations with deep enough pockets to be competitive. These are not the economic times to attract them. And NA$CAR’s current business model designed to chase fans away as fast as possible only further alienates those deep pocketed people and corporations. As for the people that can’t afford to run the sport, then don’t bother just trying to make some quick money.

Remember the old adage, “What’s the fastest way to make a small fortune in racing? Start with a big one.”

10/05/2010 10:14 AM

I’ve never bought that owners lose money in racing. If they did, there wouldn’t be any start-and-parks.

Jacob’s right in the sense that NASCAR needs to enforce the rule, but that is exactly why the rule shouldn’t exist—it’s not enforceable.

Remember that Haas was barely in the top 35 before Tony came along, and they were leasing Hendrick engines then too. Is NASCAR going to tell all of the struggling teams not to get their engines from Hendrick? What would be the point of that?

Roush Racing put five drivers in the Chase in 2005 because NASCAR mandated a new spoiler height and eliminated post-qualifying practice. Combine those two and you give the multi-car team a huge advantage, because they can test with more cars. Greg Biffle had the year of his life that season.

It was unpopular because Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t driving for him and he missed the Chase that year. Have you noticed that no one’s screaming for teams to be knocked down to three cars now that Junior drives for Hendrick?

10/05/2010 10:19 AM

Garrett, as promised, I am here to clarify my earlier comment.

I did NOT mean to imply that you are a new, uninformed, or casual fan with my comment on the field size.
I was simply trying to allude to the fact that in the 1980’s the field size was expanded to it’s current 43.
I felt that your fan status probably came after that point. But I certainly wasn’t trying to call you a rookie, or say that you are uninformed.
If I made it seem so, please accept my apologies.

10/05/2010 10:41 AM

The four car rule came in to screw Roush who had five cars and help Hendrick. It’s still all about helping Hendrick.

Doug in Washington (State)
10/05/2010 02:22 PM

Allow the owners to have as many as they want, but only allow 3 to be “locked in” the field every week, and the additional cars not eligible for the past champion provisional either.

Furniture Row is hardly Lone Wolf either- look who the listed owner of the 78 is… Richard Childress.

10/05/2010 02:41 PM

Get rid of the top 35 rule. These are supposed to be the best drivers in the world so let them prove it each time they have to qualify. Go back to two chances to qualify in case there’s a problem on the first try.

If there’s a rainout go to the practice times. If there’s no practice go back to the mail-in date of the entry form, like it used to be.

If there was a legitimate equal chance to qualify, maybe there would be more entrants.

Carl D.
10/05/2010 04:20 PM

I could write a book on this topic, but I’ll say two things:

1. The problem with mega-owners dominating the series is bigger and more complex than just the four-car rule.

2. There will always be the haves and the have-nots.

10/05/2010 05:24 PM

Carl D: Yup!

DoninAjax: I agree, that the top-35 rule sucks. I think the fastest 30, 35, 40, 43 (whatever is realistic) that can pass post qualifying inspection should line up to race. If that means Jimmie, Jeff, Jr, or another popular driver goes home early, let THEM explain it to their fans, teams, and sponsors.

10/05/2010 09:47 PM

I wish it were capped at two cars. The multi car teams hurt rivalries. Denny and Rowdy would hate eachother. Jeff vs. Jimmie would have been even better. Kenseth vs. Edwards could have gotten good. I don’t like the buddy buddy team mate crap. When people talk about the good ole days I think they are remembering the rivalries, because the racing has never been better. Just my 2 cents.

10/06/2010 09:19 AM

I totally disagree with the point of this article. I am not saying it would be easy, but Nascar needs to find a way to lower the number of cars that an owner can enter into a race (my vote would be 2) not drop the rule.

10/06/2010 02:39 PM

I have said the same thing, when I first heard they were elimating the four car deal. If you got the dough and want to race build as many cars as you want. Another thing that bothers me is the qualifying system. Shoud be no guaranteed starters, fastest qualifier races! period. If they (Nascar) changed that, they might see more racing and less parking.

10/06/2010 02:51 PM

Jacob, I cannot agree with you. Each team that has the capabilities to build their own frames and engines should be fine. If a smaller team can purchase a frame for one of those larger teams should be allowed to do so. Hendrick does not own any part of Stewart-Hass Racing. S-H purchase the cars from Hendrick. As RPM purchase from RFR. TThe four car limit is stupid. and should be dropped. If you have the money, spend it. By the way the quickest way for a new comer or smaller team to succeed is buy a car from the upper tier.