With the dawn of 2009, NASCAR embarked on a new journey, racing without testing. Well, at least greatly reduced testing. With the economy in such bad shape, NASCAR thought it would be the best thing for all of the teams to control costs by focusing their efforts in the shop and at the track on race weekends instead of spending excessive amounts of time in Kentucky and Nashville. There is no question that the lack of testing is saving owners some money and allowing drivers and teams a little more time with their families. Unfortunately, it has only served to make the results on the track look like they’re going to be much more of the same.
At the end of 2008, there were 12 drivers in the Chase representing four organizations. Three from Hendrick Motorsports, three from Roush Fenway Racing, three from Richard Childress Racing and three from Joe Gibbs Racing. After two races in the 2009 season, seven of the top-12 drivers in the points standings are members of the same four organizations. Granted, Tony Stewart is not technically a member of the Hendrick organization, but for all intents and purposes he’s driving a Hendrick car. There are certainly some surprises in the top 12, but given time, the cream will rise to the top and at least 11 of the top-12 drivers will be members of the big-four teams.
There can be arguments made that the big-four teams buy their way to their results and to some extent that is true, but there is also some truth to the fact that the best teams are there because they have the best people. In racing, like in any other business in the world, the people who are the best at what they do command the best salaries. The biggest teams in NASCAR have the biggest bank accounts and they are able to hire the most talented people in the garage. They surround those people with the best equipment that money can buy, and then they let those people do the magic that they do. However, it’s not just about the money. When we look back at history, Bobby Ginn put a ton of money into his organization and surrounded his people with the same ultra expensive equipment that the Hendrick organization has, paying some top salaries too. However, the mentality and a winning attitude were not in place, and that ultimately was a downfall for the organization.
When it all comes out in the wash at the end of 2009, the top-four organizations will dominate the top-12 places in the points standings again because they have the attitude and the mentality that breeds winning. Since 1989 there have been two championships that were won by teams that did not drive for one of the big four owners. In 1992, Alan Kulwicki did the nearly impossible in the modern era and won the title with a driver/owner team, while Dale Jarrett won the title driving for Robert Yates in 1999. Other than those two teams, the other 17 titles have come from Hendrick (8), Childress (4), Gibbs (3) and Roush (2). There is a reason that those four teams are dominating the sport, and it all comes down to the mindset and the attitude.
When Jeff Burton moved to RCR, he rejuvenated that organization. It brought an attitude back that has slipped away since the passing of Dale Earnhardt. He infused the teams with the mentality that had pushed Roush to the top of the heap in 2003 and 2004. Joe Gibbs has always infused his organization with the winning attitude that he used to lead the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl titles with three different quarterbacks. And lastly, after many years of trying, Hendrick fine-tuned his model and put together the perfect match with Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. Once they figured out the formula, and infused it throughout the organization, it bred more winning. Chad Knaus is a disciple of Evernham and may be one of the few people on the planet who is more focused than Evernham.
NASCAR’s policy in the long run is a way to save teams money, and the racing is not going to be much different this year because the teams have enough technology at their disposal that they’ll figure out ways to test things at the shop instead of at the track. However, when the checkered flag falls on the track, the same four teams that have dominated for the last 19 years will still be dominating, because they know how to win. And knowing how to win is still the majority of the battle.