ONE: Count on Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to Stick with Chevrolet
You can’t blame Ford for trying. With the blood of Richard Petty Motorsports still floating in the water, the Blue Oval brigade has made an offer to the EGR camp that in terms of finances trumps the organization’s current deal with Chevrolet. According to a report by Sirius Speedway, a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Company said, “the offer is on the table and it’s up to them whether or not to take it.”
But despite the financial incentive that’s there, don’t count on EGR bolting from the bowtie camp. And don’t mistake any of that decision for loyalty to the Chevrolet brand, or just out of racing loyalty in general, as the Ford spokesperson quoted by Sirius referred.
It’s a convenient explanation for the Blue Oval crowd, but one that glosses over the fact that in terms of contending for wins week in and week out, they’re dead last among manufacturers, tied with Dodge at only two wins with one driver over the course of 2010 (and that’s with Dodge running only three factory-backed cars). Not to mention that despite all their struggles, Roush Fenway Racing is clearly top dog at Ford. Let’s not forget that it was Richard Petty Motorsports’ midseason assistance that allowed the RFR camp to make up for setups based on faulty simulations, returning Roush to the semblance of competitiveness that they’re currently exhibiting on the track. This season would have been even more of a wash for the Ford camp without the help. Yet, for all the assistance that RPM bestowed on the manufacturer’s flagship and the entire Ford Racing camp, RPM may well not be back in 2011, no matter how many stories of new investors and driver confidences in their contracts are told.
That’s not to say that EGR’s sudden return to relevance will buy them a higher seat at the table with Chevrolet. But the fact remains right now that even as the fourth-tier operation with Chevy, EGR has won as many Cup races as Ford and Dodge combined in 2010.
That’s largely thanks to those oh-so-powerful ECR engines. Face it, the FR9 hasn’t righted the ship for Ford Racing, its unreliability actually derailing Greg Biffle‘s Chase chances for good at Fontana. ECR’s horsepower, on the other hand, played a large role in winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and nearly the Southern 500, as well.
The business sense angle from EGR says move to Ford… but business sense shouldn’t mean that much to them. That’s because business sense would have prevented that camp from signing Jamie McMurray, who could never make an arrangement with Bass Pro Shops work. Right?
It all adds up to an easy answer: Ganassi and Ford aren’t meant to be together for 2011.
TWO: The Wild-Card Race Decides Nothing
“Talladega is the race that changes everything,” or so we’ve been told. Jimmie Johnson admitted he was looking past Martinsville for fear of what Talladega would bring. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick both wrote that race off to chance. This plate race, more than any other, was the one that was going to throw a wrench into the Chase. It was where a contender or more would fall from the title fight at the hands of the vicious Big One, where one driver’s mistake triggered a massive crash that exposed the illegitimacy of plate racing and created a de facto elimination event. Boy, Brian must have been salivating at the prospects of this weekend.
Yet, nothing happened. There was no Big One. All three Chasers led laps and finished in the top 10. Johnson maintained the points lead, which fluctuated by less than 10 markers between first and second. Talladega may well not have happened this past weekend, sans for Clint Bowyer scoring his fourth career Cup win.
So what did we learn from this past weekend? One, it is possible, even at the Cup level, to run a plate race without a Big One demolishing dozens of cars. Though, frankly, just as this 500-miler was clean, it was also tempered. It was without the late four-wide moment that saw Jimmie Johnson’s season inches from being scrunched, a rather tame affair on Sunday afternoon even during the closing laps.
Two, just as plate racing is referred to as a great equalizer, no driver in the title Chase proved something that established them the favorite with three races to go. Johnson did manage to get out of that four-wide mess late, but let’s not forget that just as he was trying to stay out of a wreck, the dozen guys around him were doing their damnedest to avoid being the one to wreck the defending champ. Hamlin did recover from going a lap down, a product of trying to stay too far in the back rather than the team recovering from a poor race car down the stretch. And as for Harvick’s recovery from a wreck with Marcos Ambrose to finish runner-up, it’s not like an intact front end has ever been a prerequisite to win at ‘Dega; just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2003 or Martin Truex Jr. in Nationwide Series competition back in 2005.
The wild card’s been played, and everyone’s called. The game rolls on.
THREE: Top-35 Race All About Money, Not the Future
While the Chase standings remained tight, Travis Kvapil‘s failure to qualify at Talladega allowed both TRG Motorsports and Robby Gordon Motorsports to pull over 100 points ahead of Front Row’s No. 38 team, leaving the Top 35 all but set heading into the 2011 Daytona 500.
And while that bodes well for a strong field at season’s open, the real question is whether any of these teams battling for the final locked in spots in the Cup field will actually be around to have a go at the 2011 Cup slate. TRG has been all but noncommittal as to what next year’s plans are, opting to go driver-by-committee rather than auditioning a driver for the new year with their primary backer, TaxSlayer.com, committed to JR Motorsports’ Nationwide program next year. FRM has said that without finding major sponsorship, the organization would likely cut back to two cars after this season’s finale at Homestead, even admitting today they have questioned whether or not to run the No. 38 in this year’s final three events.
As for RGM, though the driver has committed for the first five races of next season, the commitment after that stretches only to the “fun” events on the Cup slate. Not to mention that for all the Extenze paint that the No. 7 car has featured since Kevin Conway moved over to the team, there’s been no news regarding that deal or the plan for BioTab to market the Alteril brand with Conway next year in the Cup Series… except that Conway will drive only one more race this season.
The bottom line is none of these teams will be conclusively back. The race is on not for ensuring a successful 2011, but for securing a spot in NASCAR’s biggest payday, and having a significant carrot to dangle in front of a new owner trying to make Cup racing who happens to show up at Daytona with some dollars to play with.
Chances of that happening? About as high as either of these three teams finding a sponsor in the first five races of 2011 that will result in a full-season campaign.
FOUR: PRISM Motorsports Back to One Car
It seemed the perfect plan. Take the business model of MSRP Motorsports in the Nationwide ranks, then transfer it to Cup. And after seeing Dave Blaney post a top-five qualifying effort while Michael McDowell also raced into the event at Fontana in the first race after the Daytona 500, the two drivers parked for good by lap 45, bringing home almost $160,000 in purse money. It was the dream start-and-park situation.
Fast forward to now, and the dream season has since disintegrated for the PRISM Motorsports team. Only one car, the team’s trademark No. 66, is on the entry list for the weekend’s event at Texas, as the dedicated start-and-parkers attempt to return to profitability; since the Chase started, the team’s two cars only went five for 14 in qualifying for races. Sooner or later, no matter how cheap the team does Cup racing, those dollars will stop making sense.
FIVE: The Yellow-Line Club Welcomes Kyle Busch
It’s an exclusive club indeed, the list of drivers that can make a pass clearly below the yellow line at a restrictor-plate race and be allowed not only to keep the position, but score a win doing it. The club ensures that Talladega’s victory lane is home to select names of NASCAR royalty, be it allowing Earnhardt Jr. to score the 2003 spring trophy at Talladega doing that same thing, or depriving Regan Smith of the fall trophy in 2008 to ensure that it went to Tony Stewart.
So while Kyle Busch was only granted a truck trophy by the Yellow Line Club this past weekend, rest assured that his day scoring a Cup trophy in such regard will come. The talent is undoubtedly there… and now that it’s well known that he is worthy, it’s only a matter of time before Kyle drives through the infield grass to score a win at ‘Dega. Call Vegas, any race fans that need a betting fix.