The Frontstretch: What Should Be Done About Multi-Car Teams? by Kurt Smith -- Friday October 3, 2008

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What Should Be Done About Multi-Car Teams?

Kurt Smith · Friday October 3, 2008


In Kansas this last weekend, the top five finishing cars drove for Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. Those two teams also produced three more drivers in the Top 15, for a total of eight drivers from two teams. Of the remaining seven, five were from Richard Childress and Red Bull.

One week before at Dover, the top three drivers all drove for Roush. Three of the Top 10 drove for Childress. Three of the Top 15 drove for Hendrick.

Note one other thing: in both races, all of the Top 15 cars finished on the lead lap. By comparison, 20 years ago in the Dover fall race in 1988—remember, this is a one mile, relatively short track—only the Top 5 finishers were on the lead lap.

When some of us are critical of current day NASCAR and nostalgic for the way things once were, sometimes we are rebuked by folks who remind us that back in the 70s and 80s, winners often won by more than one lap. They have a point. Let me go on record saying that the prominence of multi-car operations in NASCAR today isn’t one of the things with which I have a beef.

The furor over the dominance of multi-car teams reached its peak in 2005, when half of the Chase field consisted of Jack Roush machines. Especially in a season where the immensely popular Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driving for a much smaller operation, failed to make the Chase, it seemed unfair to many fans that two powerhouses with twice the ability to practice, test, and learn seemed to dominate the circuit. And so, responding to these complaints, NASCAR announced they would be knocking down the multi-car operations, starting with Jack Roush.

Roush’s five teams had a huge advantage in 2005, but what is less recognized is NASCAR’s own role in handing them that edge. Before the start of the 2005 season, NASCAR, in their never ending effort to induce more side-by-side, competitive racing, mandated a lower spoiler height on the car. That same year, the impound rule was implemented, eliminating the two practices following qualifying at most tracks. Both moves were intended to help smaller teams have a chance, but the combination of the two backfired.

With twice the practice and testing time of most of their competitors, Jack Roush’s five Cup teams had a huge advantage in 2005.

The lower spoiler height had the biggest impact on the 1.5 – 2 mile speedways where the aero setup is critical. Because teams did not have the extra practices to get the setup right—and two practices every week is a lot of opportunities—the advantage fell to the teams who were able to test more during the week and collect more information. As a result, Roush Racing dominated on the intermediate tracks, winning eight of 14 races. Greg Biffle had the year of his life, winning six races, four of them at the intermediates. He finished second that season, after never having finished higher than 17th. He has not finished better than 10th since, although he may this year.

Jack Roush rightly complained that the subsequent rule change to limit the number of cars on a team was directed at him. NASCAR insisted it was not, but that insistence was difficult to defend when Roush was initially the only team affected by the rule change. One couldn’t blame Roush for gaining an advantage from a new set of rules in 2005—an advantage, by the way, that was mostly gone just one year later. Roush placed just two drivers in the Chase in 2006…and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made it driving for a team that had caught up on setups.

It is difficult to see smaller operations struggling and sometimes closing their doors, especially the teams that have a rich tradition. Few NASCAR fans, especially the core fans, aren’t rooting for Petty Enterprises to be winning races and challenging for titles again.

But that is not for NASCAR to legislate. NASCAR’s goals with the current car—safety, lowered costs, uniform design, improved racing—may have been noble in nature whether they have achieved those goals or not. To look at the results, it hasn’t helped the smaller teams very much. So what can NASCAR do?

A better question is why do they need to do anything. Because of the proliferation of multi-car teams, we have seen an increase in race winners every season, which, if I’m not mistaken, is something NASCAR can point to in their efforts to provide “parity” to the sport.

In 1975, long before Rick Hendrick’s experiment, eight drivers won races in a 30-race schedule. Two of them—Dave Marcis and Benny Parsons—won only one race. Darrell Waltrip won just two. Granted, that was a dominant season for Richard Petty, but in 1976, there were also only eight race winners, and in 1977, there were seven. In 1997, there were 11 different race winners, even with Jeff Gordon taking the checkered flag 10 times in 32 events. In 2003, the year whose championship outcome NASCAR decided was no longer acceptable, there were 17 winners. Nine teams won races in 2003…more than the total number of drivers that won in most seasons in the 1970s. In 2007, a year in which Jimmie Johnson won 10 races, Jeff Gordon won six, and Hendrick Motorsports won half of the events on the circuit, there were still 16 different race winners.

More drivers winning equals more drivers’ fans being happy and continuing to watch, and more drivers for new fans to root for. This has helped to grow the sport immensely. The biggest factor in making races more competitive with more potential winners, more than any custom-car legislation from NASCAR, has been the rise to prominence of multi-car teams. For that we have Rick Hendrick to thank, like him or not. He wasn’t the first to try it, but he was the first to make it work. That is how a sport evolves. It’s like the premium that became attached to relief pitching.

It’s a misguided idea for NASCAR to limit the number of cars an owner is allowed to run on the racetrack, however good their intentions. Suppose we get down to that level of three per team as NASCAR has promised. Who will replace the extra Hendrick and Roush cars? Will Morgan-McClure return? Or PPI? Doubtful. What is more likely is that the big guys will run the increasingly popular “satellite” operations, giving engines and chassis to a “different” team. And not only won’t the essential problem have been solved, but the quality of the racing will suffer. Satellite teams generally don’t keep up with the big boys.

The new car design may have helped bring the cars in the field closer together, and we can laud or dispute the merits of that. I still think the new car is an eyesore. But the best teams are still the best teams, and the only real way to make them all completely equal is to put restrictor plates in the cars at every race, IROC style. You can imagine what that will make NASCAR look like. And even then, the best aero package will win, not the best driver.

Multi-car teams may have put a hurting on Petty Enterprises, Wood Brothers, and Bill Davis, which is lamentable, but they have also put many more competitive cars on the track, which overall is worth the trade-off. The sport gains more fans and bigger purses for all. Without having a real solution yet, maybe the sport should leave it be for now.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Wow, I never thought the idea of Paul Menard leaving DEI would send a ripple of racing news waves proclaiming it to be the organization’s death knell, including from some at my own stomping ground. I know Menard carries a sponsor with him and all, but come on people, the guy’s had one Top 10 in 68 Cup starts. Any CEO of a potential sponsor probably has a relative who could match that.
  • The idea of Rusty Wallace possibly driving a DEI car, even if it turned out to be BS, was of course too juicy for anyone to ignore. My only question was: who would Brad Dougherty argue with in the studio without Rusty there?
  • It’s impossible to pick a favorite at a restrictor plate track, especially the way the new car has affected things starting last year. I haven’t seen too many races as weird as the one we saw this spring, with two cars hooking up and zooming to the front every three laps or so. It’s going to be a while before they get the car right here. Until then, no predictions. Except a big wreck maybe.
  • Everything that could have been said about Paul Newman has pretty much been said this week, so the only thing I’ll add is that I thought The Color of Money was a great, underrated movie, and it was great entirely because of Paul Newman. Oh, and my mom loved him. Had a picture of him smoking a cigar over her washer and dryer for years. So long, Eddie.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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10/03/2008 07:30 AM

It is indeed amazing that as the “dream” team of NASCAR under the auspices of one Mr. Rick Hendricks, were sailing along towards stardom last year, no one seemed concerned with the “dream teams” multi-car status. But, alas, the dastardly Fords under Jack Roush were rejuvenated and all of a sudden the multi-car teams are the next Bubonic Plague. Perhaps, as is usually the case, perspective is entirely dependent upon which team and/or driver for whom you root….perhaps? And when…WHEN, in the history of NASCAR, was there ever a rule written to the detriment of JUST ONE owner….namely, the limit on cars being reduced from five to four cars….affecting ONLY the Roush-Fenway team….how slanted can the rule making become?

Bill B
10/03/2008 08:01 AM

Your statement…
Note one other thing: in both races, all of the Top 15 cars finished on the lead lap. By comparison, 20 years ago in the Dover fall race in 1988—remember, this is a one mile, relatively short track—only the Top 5 finishers were on the lead lap. a very bad example for the point you are trying to make. There were only 6 cars on the lead lap at the Dover race last sping.

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
10/03/2008 09:16 AM

Perhaps, Bill, but the Dover race last spring was marked by very long caution-free periods, which is the exception especially at Dover. If you take the average race in 2008 compared to the average race in 1978, I’m willing to bet that there is a much greater average of cars finishing on the lead lap. You aren’t wrong, but I don’t think one race nullifies the general point.

10/03/2008 10:54 AM

Back in the 80’s more drivers showed up each week with a chance at winning that doesn’t apply now a days with the haves and have nots and there isn’t complete parity on the teams. HMS always has a car that is weaker then the others in the organization

Carl D.
10/03/2008 11:05 AM

While I agree with you that the increased competition provided by multi-car teams is a pretty good thing, I’m not quite ready to agree that if it “put(s) a hurting on Petty Enterprises, Wood Brothers, and Bill Davis… (it’s) worth the trade-off”. I don’t blame Nascar for Davis’, Petty’s, and Wood’s situation, but wouldn’t it be a great story to see some of those teams in victory lane?

10/03/2008 11:53 AM

Carl Kiekhaefer, not Hendrick, was the first owner to make multi-car teams work. Petty Enterprises occasionally ran multiple cars successfully, as did Junior Johnson. Occasionally, there were teams like Holman-Moody that ran multiple cars sometimes, and Holman-Moody claimed 1-2 in the Daytona 500 with Mario Andretti and Fred Lorenzen, so I wouldn’t say that Hendrick was the first owner to make it work. He was the first owner to maintain a multi-car team for an extended period of time though on the order of a decade or more.

Doug Scholl
10/03/2008 12:25 PM

Not an easy topic to solve. And it all boils down to money. Even in the “old days” the owners with money did measurably better than struggling owners.

Because NASCAR is a single entity every owner is looking how to get around that single entity. Wether to find grey areas or create huge loopholes.

Look at what the 4 car rule has brought. Roush racing looked for a way to diversify and infuse cash into it’s organization and they brought on the fenway group. The next move was to “allow” the organizations gerneral manger to perform a lateral move to a struggling Yates Racing. The ties between the two teams are obvious and gives RFR today a psuedo 7 car race team with technology and funding going between both organizations.

Another new “organization” is rearing it’s head with “Satelite Teams”

Hendrick and Stewart Haas, RCR and DEI and MWR and JTG/Daugherty.

It’s been brought up that franchising is an option. That would bring owners and NASCAR close together but also brings the top level of auto racing to an elite group with a glass ceiling so high that only the mega rich need apply. Now this could be a boon to the Nationwide serieswhich is struggling with it’s own identity.

Another option, like the NFL, a cap. Not a salary cap but a budgetary cap. NASCAR’s failures have all had one common theme to reduce the amount it costs to be comptetive in it’s series. Well just cap how much the teams can spend in an annual period.

So what the answer? I don’t know, but I do know that as long as NASCAR stands alone and weilds power like a dictator they’re will be people trying to get around it at every oppertunity.

Bill B
10/03/2008 12:28 PM

I agree I just thought it was funny. The only reason I remember so well is because I was there.

10/03/2008 01:16 PM

One advantage of mulit teams is one of the cars can be doing testing “during” a race. Just talk to some of the drivers that have raced for multi teams before and they didn’t get the same equipment as others. I’ve heard of drivers asking for this or that and were told to “just drive the car”.

10/03/2008 04:55 PM

Multi-car teams have been one of the things, maybe one of the larger things at that, that has sucked the life out of this sport to me. Say what you will about ye’ old days where there would only be so many cars left on the lead lap but at least there was 43+ teams and not the corporations that come to the track’s now. Now with multi-car teams having satellite teams as can this possibly be good for the sport? Make it simple..heck, NASCAR has already given us the top-35 rule, why not just have 43 drivers show up and hop in the IROC cars and go racing. Pretty much there now…

10/03/2008 05:00 PM

I don’t know if you follow F1 racing at all, but they have gone thru the growing pains that NASCAR is experiencing right now. While I don’t think all F1 regulations are relevent, they do have some interesting ideas.

For instance, if a team wants two cars in its stable, both have to have the same sponsor and color schemes. This would surely spread the wealth of companies to more than just two super teams.

Before you say F1 is boring, which NASCAR is too except for a few races, this year of F1 has been the most competative I can ever remember.

The “golden years” of 1980 – 1998 NASCAR will never return, but it would be nice to see more than 3 teams dominate the telecasts.

Another interesting rule is only a certain amount of engine changes per year. Interesting.

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