Off the racetrack, Kenny Wallace couldn’t be better, one of the sport’s leading analysts that keeps us all informed each weekend on SPEED’s NASCAR RaceDay. But on the track… it’s getting tougher and tougher for this 47-year-old to survive in a world where sponsorship is scarce. Now, his underdog Jay Robinson Racing team – who’s been running without a main primary backer for most of the season – will be forced to switch over their whole fleet of Chevys to the new Nationwide Car of Tomorrow for 2011. Will his team be able to afford it? Will anybody ELSE be able to afford it?
Kenny answered those burning questions and more Friday afternoon, responding to some Tweets that got him in hot water with NASCAR in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Jay Pennell. He also talks his racing future, whether we’ll see short fields in the series and if start-and-parking is on the verge of raging out of control in this latest edition of Beyond the Cockpit.
Jay Pennell, Frontstretch: I noticed your Tweet earlier this week saying that the new Nationwide car would kill your team because you guys buy used cars and there are no used new cars to buy. Could you expand on that and what the new car does to your team?
Kenny Wallace: I tweet to have fun, meet my fans and interact. It’s entertainment for me. I have never had one Tweet create so controversy as that Tweet has. It created a lot of controversy and – there’s confusion.
First of all, I love NASCAR and I’m the only one that sits there every Sunday in front of two million people, three million people, telling them how much I love this sport, and I do love this sport. But, what I said was true – and this needs to be put in exclamation points – about my team, my team.
My team, Jay Robinson Racing, has to get fresh money and buy new cars. So, we can go buy a used Cup car, but we have to take the body completely off of it and we have to rebuild the car. We have a used car, this car we’re running tonight at Richmond is a used Cup car and we put $70,000 in it. It cost us $70,000 to change it over – on top of buying the used car.
Let me be clear: there are plenty of Cup cars out there to buy, but you can’t run a Cup car in this series. You can buy a used Cup car, but you literally have to take the body off of it, the suspension won’t work, you have to change everything on it. So, Jay Robinson Racing, this is a James Finch Phoenix Racing used Cup car from three, four years ago, and we still have $70,000 in it.
I was being very clear: my team. My team has to buy used cars that are ready to race. There are no used cars ready to race, because it’s a used car. I meant no harm by what I said.
Pennell: I did not take it as you meaning any harm, but these cost concerns are something I have heard from a number of smaller teams in the Nationwide garage. This change might be good for the bigger owners, but for the smaller-funded ones in the garage the new car has been a hassle more than anything else. What is stopping Jay Robinson Racing from going out and buying a used Cup car and running it in the Cup Series instead of the Nationwide Series?
Wallace: We’re not that type of team. I think everyone knows there are different levels of knowledge and different levels of team. It’s kind of funny, everyone knows what kind of team I am, but if I say it then all of a sudden it is something everyone wants to print. I’ll just leave it at this: everyone knows what kind of team we are. It would be very hard for us to go buy a Cup car and make a race. And even if we made a race, every week it’s like playing Russian roulette. You go and rent a motor, buy all the cars and if you miss the race, all of a sudden you’re $50,000 in the hole.
Pennell: They have already cut some purses, and they are talking about cutting purses 20% across the board. Is it going to be worth it to go to races like Fontana next year when you are buying a used car, putting $70,000 into it, sending it across the country with a crew of guys and, worst-case scenario, you wreck the car?
Wallace: I say to each his own. I think what’s going to happen next year is – you’re going to go back to the Wood Brothers. What the Wood Brothers are doing right now is what we’ll see a lot of Nationwide teams doing. Me, personally, I want to run every single race. I’m going to do my very best to run every single race.
I definitely see a lot teams going, ‘Hey, we could run 15 races.’ Or, I could see a team using six different drivers, because everybody – you have thousands of people looking for $100,000, $200,000. Right now, nobody – and I mean nobody – can find $5 million from one sponsor. I see a lot of teams doing what the Wood Brothers are doing. I see a lot of teams maybe running all the races, but with five or six different drivers. You see different sponsors on Joe Gibbs’s racecars every week, you see different sponsors on some of the other top teams each week. You see different sponsors on some of the top teams. Of course, all of the Roush cars are white most of the time.
I want to race every week next year. Can I? Hell, I don’t know if anybody can. So, it’s better to ask everybody else.
Pennell: As someone who has been around the series for a long time, listening to what you are saying now, how do you view the state of the Nationwide Series? There is a lot of talk about changing the rules for the Cup guys that are involved in it, the lack of money and the expenses involved with this new car. What does it do for this series moving forward?
Wallace: Let me say it this way: right now, everybody is having problems. Obviously, we had to cut the purse 20% so the race tracks would want to host a Nationwide race. I understand that. So, we’re going to have to operate cheaper. Everybody is just going to operate cheaper, that’s all there is to it. If you go to O’Reilly Raceway Park and last place pays $8,000 – and see last year it paid $10,000, so next year it’s going to pay $8,000 – you have to ask yourself, ‘If I go to that racetrack and I blow a motor or have something wrong, is that good for me?’ Each team has to ask themselves that. I don’t know if start-and-parks will be happy with that. Maybe it will be better for the start-and-parks next year.
I think the start-and-parks will be bigger next year, because guys that want to run good just won’t run all the races, they’ll pick and choose.
Pennell: So do you think we will see smaller Nationwide fields across the board next year?
Wallace: I don’t know what you’re going to see. I’m confused, and I’ll tell you why, because everybody said there would be a short field at Daytona and we showed up with more cars than we needed. What is crazy is people are spending $70,000-100,000 to build a car and then on lap 30 they park it. I don’t get it, I don’t get it at all.
I can’t really say what’s right and what’s wrong for each individual. One thing I’ve learned through all of this, is that it’s up to each individual car owner. One thing is for sure also, nobody – and I mean nobody – is getting a $5-million sponsor, that’s all there is to it, and if there is, there’s one person getting it.
I’m working so hard on sponsorship right now, it’s unbelievable. You’re going to see a new sponsor on my car in St. Louis. You know, you’re going to see me working really hard for next year. I love this sport and I want to race next year, I want to run all the races. It’s just really hard right now. I don’t have all the answers, but I know this — NASCAR’s teaching me. NASCAR taught me they are cutting the purses 20%, so that tells us we’ve got to cut our expenditures. So, if NASCAR is cutting the purse 20%, we’ve got to cut costs of our cars down 20%, too.
Pennell: When NASCAR is changing cars and it is costing you more to go out there just to buy these cars and get them race ready, where do those cuts come from?
Wallace: They’re cutting the purse, we can’t go out and get more money, so if we’re asking for $5 or $6 million we have to ask for 20% less, or we have to ask for more to cover the loss.
Pennell: Are you going to have to have less guys at the shop? Less guys at the track?
Wallace: You know, it’s funny, you have a lot of wealthy guys out here like Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush, Roger Penske, and they say it’s a free enterprise, so they’re just going to grab some of their own money and race. It’s an old adage, what’s going on right now: the strong will survive. I will survive. But what’s hard on me is everyone pays attention to me. They listen to what I have to say, because I’m right.
I always tell people, I’m the guy, the Saturday Night Live guy, I make fun of the obvious. Everybody knows the obvious right now, but I’m a little afraid to talk about it because I don’t want to get in trouble with NASCAR. There’s no doubt we’re all in trouble – that’s the bottom line.
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