The Frontstretch: NASCAR Should Reconsider The Four Car Per Team Rule by Kurt Smith -- Friday May 15, 2009

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NASCAR Should Reconsider The Four Car Per Team Rule

Kurt Smith · Friday May 15, 2009

 

At Darlington this past weekend, three of the top five finishing cars were from Hendrick Motorsports. The other two got their engines from Hendrick. A part time Hendrick team finished seventh, making six out of the top seven either Hendrick or Hendrick-affiliated teams. It was domination from one team that has rarely been seen in a single event.

Looking through the glasses of NASCAR’s never-ending push for parity, it’s easy to look at the Darlington results and conclude that bigger teams have too much of an upper hand in this sport. That’s what glasses do. NASCAR’s well-meaning solution has been to place a limit on how many cars a team can field.

Jack Roush is going to soon have to make a decision about whether to let go of David Ragan or Jamie McMurray, assuming he wants to hold on to Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, which is a safe assumption. As a result, one of those two drivers will be out of a ride and a team will be looking for work in what is not a promising economy. And none of that is going to make Robby Gordon any faster.

When you think about it, Roush Fenway Racing is being punished for putting more money and resources into winning. And that, apparently, is only unacceptable if it works. Michael Waltrip Racing had a pretty expensive first season when one considered the results. NASCAR has denied it, but it’s hard to argue with Jack Roush when he says the rule is directed at him.

The limit on a number of cars was decided on in 2005, after Roush Racing put five cars in a 10-car Chase. At the time, the furor over multi-car teams was far more prevalent than it is today. Back then NASCAR’s most popular driver drove for a two-car outfit. It was believed that this was the reason they couldn’t keep up. This was only partly true. What actually happened in 2005 was that NASCAR made two rule changes with the intention of helping smaller teams: lowering spoiler height to produce more side-by-side racing, and eliminating Saturday practices to save teams money.

Jack Roush will soon have to make a decision on which driver to let go when NASCAR’s four car per team rule is instituted in 2010.

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As a government aiming for the big guy often does, NASCAR ended up hurting the little guy. Teams that had more cars could do more testing in place of practices, and Roush figured out the spoiler height on intermediate tracks before anyone else. Greg Biffle had the best year of his career by far in 2005.

Similarly, in 2007, NASCAR pioneered the new car, another innovation intended to help smaller teams by requiring fewer cars over a season. And Hendrick Motorsports won half of the races that year.

In the continuing effort to help the struggling teams, NASCAR eliminated testing in 2009, another attempt to save smaller companies money. To see how well that has worked, re-read the first paragraph of this article.

I had written, just last week in fact, that acquiring engines and tech support from a larger entity doesn’t guarantee that a lesser team will run well. And I stand by that. Haas/CNC was running with Hendrick equipment last year to 35th and 43rd positions in the standings. But given that Tony Stewart thanked Rick Hendrick on camera following his team’s 3-4 finish at Darlington, I have to imagine that Hendrick’s assistance of the Stewart-Haas team is worth something.

Which leads me to the conclusion that not only is the four-car per team limit not going to help smaller teams, it’s also unenforceable to any effective degree.

What is NASCAR going to do about teams supplying engines to smaller outfits, if Stewart-Haas cars are now considered part of the Hendrick stable? Will they all be considered one team? That would make EGR-Childress an eight car team at the moment, when you add John Andretti in the 34 and David Gilliland in the 71. Roush and Yates/HOF would be a seven car team. Michael Waltrip, Red Bull and even JTG/Dougherty and Robby Gordon all get their engines from Toyota Racing Development, making them effectively a nine car team. Can NASCAR put a limit on support a team can provide for another team? Where would that limit be?

And Hendrick, of course, would be a six car team, as many have already asserted. This wasn’t much of a concern when Haas was barely making races, but now with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman in the top 10 every week, it’s raised some eyebrows. On the surface, it seems to bear out the need for some restriction on competition.

But when NASCAR lowers the boom with the four car rule, Hendrick Motorsports, the team that put five cars in the top five last week through ownership or tech support, will not be affected at all. What Hendrick is doing now for its success falls well within the limit soon to be imposed.

And if NASCAR decides to disallow engine support of smaller teams, since it seems to make a team a six car operation in effect, who would that hurt? Not the bigger teams. So that is not likely to happen. And so, once the four car rule is implemented, Roush Fenway can simply move the equipment for the 26 team into a Yates complex. Which would basically make the rule a big waste of time and money for teams. Kind of like restrictor plates.

The most baffling thing about the four car rule is wondering what NASCAR is trying to do to the current level of competition. Even if such a rule could be enforced, do fans really want to see half a field of backmarkers and start-and-parkers in the name of lessening larger teams’ dominance?

Speaking for myself, I’d rather see four good teams field 36 good cars than see three-quarters of the field be at least two laps down at the end of every race. I’ve gone into more detail in other articles about this subject, but the short version of the point is this: multi-car teams have brought more parity to this sport than any rule change ever will, except for possibly using restrictor plates at every race. There are now as many as 20-25 drivers that can win on a given week. That should be encouraged, not discouraged.

This isn’t even considering the employment factor. Without a four car limit, we wouldn’t likely be questioning where Brad Keselowski is going to wind up now that Mark Martin is sticking around another year. And Keselowski, with his performance at Darlington, has made a statement. He isn’t going to languish in the Nationwide Series for much longer. If Rick Hendrick wants to start another team and employ dozens of engineers, mechanics and crew members to give a great young driver a competitive ride, why stop him, especially in times like these? Why put a rule in place that HMS will likely try to find a way to skirt anyhow that may result in Keselowski driving a car that doesn’t match his ability?

Lifting this rule might also help what ails the Nationwide Series. If Roush Fenway could put a sixth car on the track, he’d have a reason to put someone besides Kenseth or Edwards in his Nationwide cars. That could be another up-and-coming driver in a series that currently does not have enough of them. As it is now, he might as well not bother. What would be the point of developing a driver to ultimately drive for someone else?

I don’t doubt NASCAR’s sincerity in wanting to level the playing field. Heaven knows they’ve done some crazy things trying to accomplish that. But some teams will spend more money than others. Multi-car teams are not to blame for that.

More likely, the problem is that success is attributed only to wealth, rather than a team spending it wisely to hire the right people and get the best equipment. Stewart-Haas is demonstrating right now what a difference that makes. Just using Hendrick equipment certainly wasn’t enough last year.

Fans appreciate excellence in sports. NASCAR should resist the urge to place limits on it. Let the other competitors find a way to knock down the dynasty. The history of every sport shows that they will.

Kurt’s Shorts

— First note concerning Jeremy Mayfield: I’m not convicting Mayfield without hearing all of the evidence, but Kevin Grubb’s story notwithstanding, denials from a public figure after testing positive for drugs are usually PR responses to anticipated fan backlash. I can’t think of one athlete who was ultimately telling the truth about being falsely tested. But then again, the Tim Richmond mess may be a reason for doubt.

— Second note on Mayfield: as one of my favorite commenters (thanks Gordon82Wins) pointed out, several crew members have been suspended without much fanfare, but when it is a driver—who would be far more dangerous than a crew member while hallucinating—there seems to be more concern about the validity of the drug testing and so forth. I don’t mind questioning the accuracy of drug tests, but I would hope no driver gets preferential treatment simply because his name is better known.

NASCAR announced this week that they are looking into why ratings are down, including checking into timing of commercials, track spacing (?), and even whether the rain-shortened Daytona 500 left a residual effect. I don’t mean to be so testy, but why not try just watching? Ask yourself, am I annoyed by this gopher that has absolutely nothing to do with racing?

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Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
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Bill B
05/15/2009 07:46 AM
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“do fans really want to see half a field of backmarkers and start-and-parkers in the name of lessening larger teams’ dominance”

I wonder this too Kurt. I have come to realize that there is a sizeable portion of NASCAR fans that would like the winner to be a crapshoot each week. I don’t understand it. Whether the guy that dominates is one of my favorites or not, I like to see a couple of guys be clearly head and shoulders above the rest and battle for the championship. I will be interested in seeing what kind of comments get posted by other fans.

Ken
05/15/2009 07:59 AM
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The way it is going, we will soon have four teams. It doesn’t matter about the limits on the number of cars one owner can have. There will be team Ford, team Chevy, team Dodge and team Toyota. For each team, the best engine builder will build all of the engines, the best body builder will build all of bodies, and the best suspension suspension men will build all of the suspensions. The name of the owner will have no meaning.

NA$CAR would quickly understand why rating are down if they would lock themselves in a room and watch a complete race without interruption. Drugs or alcohol would not be allowed.

amy anderson
05/15/2009 09:07 AM
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Why I don’t watch racing as much as in the past, in no particular order of importance:

1. The race broadcasts are an insult to my intelligence.
2. One of four drivers will win three races of every four. Brad was an anomaly.
3. The Chase is one of the worst decisions ever made by NASCAR. Two races into the season we start hearing, “If the Chase started today…”
4. NASCAR’s consistent inconsistency. What is legal this week will not be legal next week, depending on the driver doing the wrong.
5. NASCAR’s continuing refusal to admit their decisions are what is wrong with the series. Their arrogance is over the top.

  • just my opinions

John Green
05/15/2009 10:08 AM
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The reason nascar wants to limit one owner from having unlimited teams is that would give a few owners contol of many things like income from the races and the rules
Big Bill knew this and kept the many owners at odds with each other and not working with others but in competion with each other. It is easier to control many small weak teams than a few strong ones

knobcreekfan
05/15/2009 10:10 AM
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The funny thing is that long ago, the NASCAR rule was that no owner could own more than 2 cars. That is why you started seeing Georgetta Roush, Geoff Smith, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, etc… listed as owners. They did not actually buy stock in the team or invest real $$ in the team, they just bought the NASCAR owner license and listed that car number as the team they “own.”

For example, now that Mayfield is prohibited from “owning” his team, do you really think there was a legal transfer of ownership from Jeremy to Shanna this week? It was all in the NASCAR licensing.

So, if they really wanted to stop the 3-4-5-6 car teams, the rule was in place YEARS ago. They just never enforced it. As they say, the horse is out of the barn and NOW they are trying to close the doors.

So that really begs the quesion, WHY did they make this rule? If it was truly cost savings, on a per-car basis, it is cheaper to operate a mega-car team than a 1-2 car operation. It was not to help the little guy, because the top-35 qualifying rule that was put in about the same time is the biggest detriment to the small, upstart team in NASCAR history. It was not for competition as we have seen that the mega team outperform the smaller operations. Despite what another posted said, I do think the vast majority of fans want to watch a race that the outcome is not pre-determined. The fact that we can narrow down the winner to 5-6 cars before the haulers ever show up at the track may have something to do with the drop in viewership.

So, my thinking it was all about power. As teams got larger and larger, they could gain more and more clout and power. At one point there were 3 owners that owned or had significant influence over almost half the field. If they decided to up & leave a la CART in the late 70’s, NASCAR has a huge problem. If those owners were all allowed to add another 2-3 cars each, they would have had even that much more power.

KenKars
05/15/2009 10:32 AM
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Have you ever wondered why all the NA$CAR announcers are required to wear suits and ties? How many people do you see at the races in suit and tie? Watched the Indy Car qualifying last weekend and their announcers looked like they belonged at a race track in their sport shirts! Just doesn’t make much sense to me. Just an opinion. Also agree that they should lock the execs in a room and make them actually watch at race on TV !!!

Ken
05/15/2009 02:19 PM
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At the risk of receiving backlash from this Mike characture, I seem to remember last year when NASCAR announced they were going to closely monitor the “working relationship” between Roush and Yates Racing. I do not recall anything being said about monitoring the “working relationship” between Stewart-Haas and Hendrick. Now, am I suggesting that NASCAR turns a blind eye to anything Hendrick does? I have always thought there was too cushy of a relationship between the France/Helton Group and Hendrick ever since I watched the bunch of them during that broadcast of the announcement for the Hall Of fame location. Why was Hendrick the chosen call owner? And while we’re at it, after Talladega, there was so much negative commenting about Edwards comments and the assumption that when he and roush were “summoned” to Daytona that Edwards was told to shut up, or better yet, as this Mike dude said, maybe told to count his days in NASCAR as they were about to come to an end. So if what edwrads said was so bad, why is NASCAR consulting with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson? Am I suggesting that maybe Hendrick has too much say in making the rules. I’ve always felt that!!

As for NASCAR reneging on the five-car rule, I began to wonder that with Mark saying that he will run full time in 2010 and Hendrick needs another car for Keselowski. And I’m not the only one who said to watch NASCAR change their minds! Whatever Hendrick wants, Hendrick gets!

M.B. Voelker
05/15/2009 02:28 PM
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I agree that punishing success and rewarding failure is stupid. Punishing Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs, RCR, etc. for being good at what they do while rewarding those who enter Cup underfunded and over their heads for their incompetence is the very definition of injustice.

You don’t improve competition by adding to the back of the field.

Bill B
05/15/2009 07:03 PM
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“You don’t improve competition by adding to the back of the field.”

Good one! Someone in the media should use that.

big alice
05/15/2009 10:22 PM
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NASCAR screwed up years ago by not strongly enforcing the 2 car limit. No team should be allowed to field more than 2.

But lets take a look at what NASCAR has inadvertently done this year. The no testing rule seems to have taken a bit away from the larger teams advantages. Roush hasn’t been all that. Hendrick has Jeff and Jimmie now Mark…all hard to beat no matter who they drove for. If the bigger is better theory is right, then why Jr not running good?

As for all the media guys and fans who keep saying Stewart/Haas is a Hendrick team…I beg to differ. Anyone that wants to give Hendrick the credit for Stewart/Haas success explain to us WHY did Haas racing stuggle to stay near 35th for YEARS while they got Hendrick parts??? You didn’t blame Hendrick for all those years of bad finishes, so now they finish good why does everyone give Hendrick the credit?

mike
05/16/2009 07:58 AM
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“Let the other competitors find a way to knock down the dynasty. The history of every sport shows that they will.”

Well, so far I don’t see this in nascar. One would think that the other teams would pick up on what the Hendrick teams do. Mostly the 48 team. But the results so far don’t show it.

I predicted the no testing policy would hurt the small teams and help the big teams. I don’t know if that’s the reason but the results speak for themselves.

mike
05/16/2009 08:03 AM
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NASCAR announced this week that they are looking into why ratings are down…. why not try just watching?”

And try listening to the fans for a change. Nascar say they listen but it doesn’t seem like it.

Frankly, I’m glad ratings are down because just MAYBE nascar will make some much-needed changes. Unfortunately, I don’t trust the current leadership of making the RIGHT changes.

Carl in PA
05/16/2009 10:50 AM
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WHY did Haas racing stuggle to stay near 35th for YEARS while they got Hendrick parts???

But NOW they get access to the Hendrick team notes. Straight from Tony Stewart’s pie hole.

Make no mistake about it, it says Stewart-Haas on the door, but inside, it’s all Hendrick.

mike
05/16/2009 01:29 PM
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“But NOW they get access to the Hendrick team notes. Straight from Tony Stewart’s pie hole.”

Which makes the Jr. issue even MORE confusing.

Carl in PA
05/16/2009 07:11 PM
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No confusion, Junior sucks. Driver Jr or Crew Chief Jr. Take your pick.

Fred Sanford.
05/19/2009 12:29 PM
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I agree with you Carl in Pa. Jr & Jr suck.Why doesn’t Jr.E take all the $$$ he has and take a long long much needed vacation from racing. What about the racing complex he was building near Mobile Al? He should sell that back to the locals real cheap. Then the Jr nation could find someone else to pull for. I quit being a Jr fan when he moved to HMS.

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