Nationwide Series veteran Jason Keller has a record 498 career starts under his belt. That’s the type of resume that gives you a lifetime of respect.
It also creates a world of attention the moment you speak with fear. And make no mistake, Mr. Keller spoke like a man freaked over his future Friday – a future that includes new cars his race team can ill afford. For with NASCAR just two months away from debuting its new Car of Tomorrow, the clock is also ticking for some teams who might just be priced out of the business both on and off the track.
“I don’t want to separate the competition between the Cup regulars and the independent Nationwide Series teams,” he says of the snazzy new cars that look good but come with a hefty price tag. “And I fear that’s what’s going to happen.”
“Those guys and those teams, those organizations have been running a pretty close version of what we’re going to get into. They have a lot of research and data, and we’re going to come in with pretty much none.”
By “those teams,” Keller refers to the handful of Cup owners that double dip with both drivers and technology his Nationwide-only, mostly-unsponsored Tri-Star Motorsports team will never have. Armed with just one CoT apiece for their two-car operation (they also run Tony Raines in the No. 34), Keller openly wonders whether they can even afford to attend the final Daytona test session where Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and others will come loaded for bear in less than two weeks (May 18th-19th).
He’s not alone. At least three other organizations: K-Automotive’s primary car (Brian Keselowski), Team Rensi’s No. 24 (Eric McClure), and Specialty Racing’s No. 61 (Josh Wise) are either unsure or unable to test. One of those owners (under the guise of anonymity) told Frontstretch NASCAR had approached them on the issue, and their complaints may cause the test to be postponed due to economic concerns. But no amount of “two-hour delay” can get around the pending drive towards a new CoT school this July, one that’s set to leave a number of teams flunking out.
“It’s the right move, but at the wrong time,” says a source, who claims converting his Cup CoT cars to the Nationwide versions is costing him upwards of $20,000 apiece. “It’s hard to even make the changes now, because NASCAR’s still tweaking some little things with the cars. And we don’t have the money to keep changing things around… little things make a big difference.”
Even if the small-time teams scrape up enough cash, the big concern revolves around the competition level once they show up. Of anyone, perhaps Keller understands the gap between rich and poor the best – after all, he’s spent his driving career on both sides of the fence, nearly winning a championship with now-defunct ppc Racing and testing the new car with a top-tier organization in 2008.
“I did a lot of testing for Evernham Motorsports on their Car of Tomorrow program,” he said. “And I saw the versions – every time I would test a new version, it was so much superior to the previous version. I know there have been leaps and bounds since then.”
“We’re purchasing some older cars and trying to make them as modern as we possibly can, but I know that there’s a light year’s difference.”
As these owners juggle whether to sink or swim, the hope for NASCAR is new ones jump in to replace them. But according to sources, in the short-term there’s just one, maybe two ready to step in by the end of the season. And even that group, according to a source, is filled with familiar names that have been previously involved with the sport.
Over time, new cars will likely mean new blood. But with the costs of doing business combined with a tough economy, expect the new car to mean a new round of start-and-parking by up to a third of the Nationwide field in the short-term – if they even make it to the track.
“It’s going to be tough,” sums up Keller. “It really is.”
NEWS AND NOTES
- Keselowski revealed Friday his K-Automotive team would likely make their Cup debut in the All-Star Showdown on Saturday, May 22nd with him behind the wheel. The team has gotten two Cup CoT cars certified, although according to their owner, they don’t plan on making a full-time transition anytime soon. Keselowski claims they’re still a full-time Nationwide team, only using the run to “test the waters” in Cup; in fact, he’s all but ruled out attempting the Coca-Cola 600. In a best-case scenario, Pocono and Michigan would be considered while they’re still seeking sponsorship for all Cup events.
- Keselowski also revealed Friday the No. 92 car destroyed by Dennis Setzer in the Nationwide race has an unlikely buyer: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kes says Earnhardt approached him about a deal to add the trashed Dodge into his backyard filled with totaled racecars. “It’s like a haunted hayride back there,” he joked, as each car actually has a crash dummy inside it in what’s turning into a wreckage museum of sorts on Earnhardt’s property.
- According to our own Bryan Davis Keith, Baker/Curb Racing remains uncertain about the No. 27 car’s future in the wake of losing the Red Man sponsorship at the end of June. The company is prohibited from supporting the team under a new U.S. law restricting advertising on smokeless tobacco, putting their future in peril despite three top-five and six top-10 finishes this season with Greg Biffle. When pressed, a Baker/Curb spokesman insisted they’ll run the car by any means possible but would not rule out the possibility they’ll start-and-park.