Did You Notice? In the wake of the RCR sponsorship announcement on their long-awaited fourth car, the widening gap in NASCAR between the haves and the have nots? Let’s assume for a second that Joey Logano does so well in the Nationwide Series this year, Joe Gibbs Racing chooses to start up their fourth team for the 2009 season. That means you would have no fewer than five organizations at the four-car limit: Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Inc., Roush Fenway Racing (five teams), Gibbs and Childress. Behind them, you’d have another four programs with three cars, at least two of which are also looking to expand in 2009: Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
That’s a total of 37 cars fielded by 10 teams; the other 10 teams racing full-time in Sprint Cup would be fielding a total of 13 cars, and none of them are more than a two-car team. How in the world are they going to compete? The multi-car resources are draining all the money, all the sponsorship, and all the top-level help away from the bottom tier of the racing circuit.
With that in mind, it’s looking more and more like those bottom 10 (BAM, Wood Brothers, Team Red Bull, Hall of Fame Racing, Petty Enterprises, Front Row Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing, Bill Davis Racing, Robby Gordon Motorsports, Yates Racing) are in a race for survival, not success. The few that get investment help – like the Pettys, for example – may expand to three or four cars, increasing the likelihood they’ll stay on tour. But by the end of 2009, don’t be surprised to see five, six or seven of the organizations I put in this paragraph put out to pasture or merged with someone else. It’s just the way the business is leaning these days; and I don’t see any pressure or rules enforcement from NASCAR to make it stop.
What’s even more scary to think about: a 2010 lineup with 11 owners, 44 cars and a franchised system. You think it’s not possible? No one thought the Chase was possible, either.
Did You Notice? That along those same lines, a total of 53 different cars have attempted to make at least one race this season. That’s on track for the lowest total of different “car owners” this decade; the current record is 73, set during the economic downturn of 2001. Need any more signs the Sprint Cup Series may be getting a little too exclusive? Back in 1994, the number of entries that attempted the first Brickyard 400 alone topped 80 cars.
Did You Notice? That while Petty Enterprises was announcing a solid marketing plan involving Bobby Labonte, Labonte himself was quiet? That should tell you all you need to know – although you shouldn’t count out Scott Wimmer for the No. 33 ride just yet. If NASCAR makes tweaks to the past champion’s provisional – and such a change is not out of the question – Wimmer could easily put himself in the running should he pile up some more wins in RCR’s No. 29 Nationwide car.
Did You Notice? What seemed to be Kyle Petty‘s false sense of security that the No. 45 would make the starting field at Martinsville? It’s not like the confidence came out of nowhere; this team hadn’t missed a race since the 2004 season finale, and Petty had survived several brushes of being on the wrong side of the Top 35. But after the way that car has run all year with Petty in the seat, did the veteran really believe that qualifying in Martinsville was a shoe-in? Now, all eyes will be on Chad McCumbee this weekend at Texas; with the Pettys at a crossroads and Kyle’s driving career nearing an end, one good run could lead to the beginning of a big-time opportunity for this youngster. On the bright side, I think this guy can get the job done; he’s had a remarkable start in the Craftsman Truck Series with mid-level equipment and nearly won the CTS race at Texas last fall. In an age where development drivers are at a premium, he’s towards the top of the list.
Did You Notice? That the most telling scuffle coming out of Martinsville wasn’t Michael McDowell – Jeff Burton or the Busch brothers banging each other to pieces; no, it was Matt Kenseth vs. David Gilliland. Here’s a guy in Kenseth who has spent six months getting involved in incidents not of his making with Carl Edwards and David Ragan, but then refusing their apologies even though both drivers happen to be his teammates. Then on Sunday, it was fellow Ford driver (and semi-teammate) Gilliland who bumped Kenseth, sending him spinning; it wasn’t more than 100 laps later before the No. 17 repaid the favor, dooming the No. 38 to a 24th-place finish.
So, if you’re counting at home, that’s three of seven Ford drivers Kenseth has been involved in conflicts with this year. I have the utmost respect for Kenseth – think he’s a great interview and one of the funniest guys out there – and I know he doesn’t want to be looked at as “the leader” of the Ford camp. But sometimes, great accomplishments get packaged with great responsibility, whether you like it or not; and last time I checked, prolonged squabbles with half the Ford faithful isn’t exactly the prime definition of “leadership.”
Did You Notice? That since their 1-2 finish in the Daytona 500, neither Ryan Newman nor Kurt Busch have finished higher than 10th, leading a total of three laps between them. In the meantime, new teammate Sam Hornish Jr. has raced his way right out of the Top 35 and a guaranteed qualifying spot. Wasn’t Busch a darkhorse championship contender? Did Pat Tryson stop coming into work this offseason or something?
Did You Notice? As my colleague Amy Henderson briefly pointed out this week, that Greg Biffle got himself a free pass at Martinsville by causing a wreck? It’s such an egregious violation of the rules, I had to point it out again. Here’s the scenario: Biffle is the second car one lap down. Television replays clearly show the No. 16 tapping the back bumper of Lucky Dog hopeful Newman ahead of him – causing him to slide into the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson and cause a two-car wreck. While those cars spin out, Biffle soldiers on, passing Newman and putting himself into Lucky Dog position as the yellow flag waves. Yet, even though NASCAR saw the TV replays, they reversed an initial decision and gave Biffle his lap back, without explanation.
Say what? Let me tell you, if I’m the second car a lap down at Texas this weekend, I’ll be wrecking the Lucky Dog ahead of me first chance I get if it’s that easy to get back on the lead lap! Last I checked, that’s not how the rule is written, but then again, how often does NASCAR follow the rules?