Summer Bedgood · Thursday August 1, 2013
Move out of the way, Danica Patrick! It appears that there is another driver looking to pull another motorsports switch-a-roo sometime this season, though it will be slightly different than what Patrick did.
According to Motor Racing Network, Furniture Row Racing’s Kurt Busch is planning on running the IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway this October in preparation for the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Busch would become the first driver since Robby Gordon in 2004 to attempt running the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.
Even though Busch says that this isn’t an attempt try and switch to the IndyCar Series full-time, I find this dynamic of racecar drivers fascinating. You don’t see football players trying to switch to baseball, or basketball players deciding to give hockey a try. Yet you have NASCAR drivers wanting to run IndyCar’s biggest race and, more often, IndyCar drivers attempting to switch to NASCAR—most often unsuccessfully.
I understand that this is something that is unique to racing because a large part of the sport is machine and not necessarily just driver. It’s understandable that racecar drivers might find other racing series a possibility whereas more mainstream athletes don’t try and participate in other more mainstream sports. The differences are so vast, an entire book could be written describing them. It’s barely even worth comparing.
Still, it’s a fascinating phenomenon, and not one that is recent. It’s been a staple of racing since the second motorsports series ever invented came about. Drivers from the latter wanted to try out the former and vice versa. Success is limited and rarely can one successful driver from one series have a successful transition to another series. Just ask Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, and other drivers who have attempted similar career paths how difficult driving a stock car is, despite their impressive resumes in open wheel. Even Sam Hornish, Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya, two open wheel transfers that have been around the longest of any other open wheel driver, have a hard time succeeding at NASCAR’s highest level.
And yet drivers still try. They still believe that they can break the cycle and solidify their stance as some of the best all around racecar drivers.
Or, perhaps, they just want to race. They know no different and any opportunity to get behind the wheel of a racecar is an opportunity that they jump on.
So if Busch is able to get the funding together to compete in two IndyCar races over the next year, I won’t expect him to succeed. But I’m sure he’ll have a great time…
Now on to your questions:
“My question for you is, why do certain teams come out every race day to just drive around the track, flag to flag, not gaining any position on most days? But then, you see where the last place drivers usually earn more than the ones who drive to their best abilities to win race. It just doesn’t seem right for one garage who puts out money for a car, a driver, a dozen or so tires, gallons of fuel, plus the crew that keeps the car on track doesn’t earn as much.
Are the points that more important than the money per race?
Thanks to you and all of your fellow experts who enlighten and educate your readers who love NASCAR.” Jean
Jean, I’m finding your question slightly confusing, but I’ll try and answer it as best as I can.
The only teams I can think about that genuinely come to the racetrack and simply ride around are start and park teams. They make no attempt to pass or be competitive at all, and are simply out there to collect a paycheck.
However, start and park teams very rarely ever race “flag to flag”. They’ll normally drive around for about 5-25 laps (depending on the team, the amount of tires they have, funding, etc.), pull it to the garage, make some sorry excuse as to why they can’t race any longer, and pull over.
The only alternative to your claim I can think of is underfunded teams who just don’t have the resources to compete with the other teams, so they play it safe on the track. They don’t have the manpower or money to rebuild their cars every weekend. They’re already strapped enough just to show up at the track with one car each week.
If a driver decides to get stupid and race for position on lap 10 of a 400 lap race and crashes the car, that comes out of their own pocket. That’s hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that could go towards paying the crew members, paying for tires, or improving the competitiveness of the equipment.
Otherwise, I don’t know of any teams that ride around with no intent to gain positions.
In terms of the purse money at the end of the race being distributed rather unevenly, it has more to do with the fact that the system is rather complicated. Between contingency awards, performance of the driver, network television rights, and the like, it isn’t completely unlikely that the driver finishing last makes more than a driver who finishes in the top 10 or 15. The way the prize money is distributed doesn’t generally even out this way, but it certainly can.
It might not seem fair, but I wouldn’t argue that drivers aren’t trying as hard because of it. Despite the fact that millions of dollars are at stake in NASCAR, the goal is the same whether you’re watching your local racing series or the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers: winning.
“Why is it most of the time that Gordon, Kahne, and Jr.’s cars are good, then once pit stops begin the cars get worse? No way Chad shares all information with the teams.
And Gordon can be good at times late in the race. Then when there is a green-white-checkered, he can be in the top 5 and ends up 8th-12th. They say his car set up for long runs. Why do that when most of the time there is a green-white-checker? No way he can win.” Mike
Well I won’t pretend to follow the Hendrick Motorsports cars any more closely than any other cars, but let me offer this “wild guess.”
Maybe the car just doesn’t start out to the drivers liking and they adjust to try and fix it. Or, the driver might like the car, but they don’t have the speed to keep up with the leaders. So they try something new but the other teams figure it out faster than they do.
In other words, things happen fast in a race. That doesn’t necessarily make it a conspiracy or somehow Chad Knaus’s fault. If the 88, 24, and 5 can’t keep up with their own teammate, it’s their own fault.
Several of the teams—including Hendrick Motorsports—have a database where they keep all of their information and everyone on the team has access to it. That means that Steve Letarte have access to the same information that Chad Knaus does. That means engineers from the 24 team can plug the same information into their team that the 48 team has. Because of the digitized, data-based laboratory that the NASCAR garage area has become, anyone on the same team as the 48 car has the same access to the information they they’ve come across.
The difference is what they do with that information, and the talent behind the wheel.
Steve Letarte can set up the car exactly the same way as Chad Knaus does. That doesn’t mean Dale Earnhardt Jr. will like it, or be able to pull off the same results. The real magic between a driver and a crew chief is when the driver can take the best information from one team and apply it to their own information, knowledge, and driver ability.
In other words, it’s not that Chad Knaus isn’t sharing their info. It’s that the other teams haven’t yet been able to take it and apply it to their teams in a way that allows them to keep up with others.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other issues at play. Camaraderie plays a significant role within multi-car teams. Could there possibly be tension amongst the other teams? Is the fact that Gordon is arguably past his prime part of the reason they can’t keep up? Is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. only slightly above mediocre as a driver? There is more at issue than blaming Chad Knaus with the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports brigade’s issues. In fact, it has nothing to do with Knaus at all.
“What bigger of a wake-up call does NASCAR need than ESPN and TNT voluntarily dropping out of the sport?” Jordan
Okay, okay, okay….. For those who haven’t heard, ESPN and TNT both dropped NASCAR more than willingly. Both cited dwindling TV ratings as reasoning behind their departure, and ESPN even went so far as to cite an aging fan base and the difficulty of finding advertising for the sport.
However, my answer to your question is, “No.” It wasn’t a real wake-up call insofar as that NASCAR already was well aware that these problems existed. The average age of a NASCAR fan is somewhere in the 40s the last time I checked, and NASCAR’s attempts to gather a younger fan base has generally been considered a colossal failure.
So that’s no wake-up call and it’s not a problem they weren’t already trying to solve.
Additionally, it wasn’t a huge wake-up call because NBC was so eager to jump on board and take over as the leading candidate for the sport. With FOX Sports already acting as such an enthusiastic sponsor despite many of these issues, it looks like NBC will be a similarly happy network in bringing motorsports to its fans. In fact, even though there are still people who can’t stand the FOX coverage, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever heard fans say they prefer ESPN or TNT’s coverage to FOX’s. In other words, their enthusiasm and general knowledge tends to be appreciated by fans, and because NBC seems to share this emotion, it’s looking like a positive connection that might regenerate some enthusiasm from NASCAR’s disenchanted crowd.
So while I’m sure they are working on alleviating some of the issues that have been plaguing the sport for about the last five or six years, I’m sure they are encourage by the fact that a major network like NBC still sees the value in their sport.
Now it’s my turn. My question to you: GoDaddy is sponsoring Tony Stewart in Pocono this week, despite the fact that they already invest a ton of money in his driver and teammate Danica Patrick. If you became a racecar driver, who would be the perfect sponsor for you?
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