So maybe saying “I think we’re going to pound them into the ground” didn’t work so well after all, huh?
Kevin Harvick was referring to Joe Gibbs Racing heading into week one of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicago, a team whose four cars had won a majority of the last several races and were poised for a strong championship run heading into the Chase. In an attempt to play mind games, Harvick made the comment as the Chase began.
Now, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion sits 15th in points heading into a tough track for him: Dover International Speedway. Playing the fuel gamble has bit so many of the Cup Series’ top drivers over this season, and it caught up with crew chief Rodney Childers and Harvick on Sunday when the No. 4 car finished 21st after running out of fuel while leading with just a few laps to go. Now that lost bet will have to yield Harvick a victory to continue into the second round of the Chase this weekend at Dover, a track Harvick has yet to win a race. What a difference just two races can make in a driver’s quest for the championship.
Sunday’s winner of the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire, JGR driver Matt Kenseth and his teammates are on a hot streak. JGR has won 10 of the last 12 Sprint Cup Series races. It’s hard to overstate that record.
When you factor in that Denny Hamlin and Kenseth both also have victories in the first round of the Chase, the four-car stable over at JGR seems almost the sure bet to take home the hardware and the title at Homestead. But crazier things have happened in this sport, and to count out a driver of Harvick’s talent level, as well as the speed this year has shown this year, would be foolhardy at best.
This past week, we also had major news come out of the Sprint Cup Series garage that will change the sport next year and beyond. To start with, the Tony Stewart rumors of retirement following the 2016 season turned out to be true. This should be an interesting transition for not only Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing without the ‘boss’ behind the wheel, but also for the sport as a whole losing two of its premier names in back-to-back season to retirement with Jeff Gordon retiring at the end of 2015.
We also had Denver, Colorado-based single-car team, Furniture Row Racing announcing at New Hampshire that the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. will field a Toyota entry next season. The team unveiled the new Camry which they’ll run next year in a ceremony at the track. Furniture Row owner, Barney Visser, publicly stated that their current manufacturer, Chevrolet, was not giving the team as much support as they expected and needed, and that they will seek other opportunities for ’16 and beyond. We’ll address that part more later…
And now let’s get into this week’s questions sent in from you, our readers.
Q: Hi Greg, I read that NASCAR team owners and NASCAR’s top execs all met on Tuesday to hash out some details on the “franchising” of the teams? Is this true, and if so what’s going on with where they are? Seems like this has been an issue all season off and on. Any updates, and what do you think will happen? Thanks – Janis D., Texas
A: Janis, thanks for the question. This is certainly one of those topics that has been getting hotter and hotter throughout the season this year, but has been a discussion for even longer. So yes, many of the owners (particularly those in the Race Team Alliance) met with the sanctioning body on Tuesday to discuss the future of the sport. According to a statement by NASCAR Senior Vice President & Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes, the sanctioning body “presented framework concepts for future qualification to compete in NASCAR’s top national series with an eye toward implementing a new model for the 2016 season.”
This is a big deal, and a major step towards what you referenced in your question. Right now, the owners really have nothing more than a building (or a few) and the equipment their employees work with each week. That’s really it. Look at, for example, the situation we saw in 2014 with Swan Racing, or even more recently (and on a larger scale) the collapse of Michael Waltrip Racing. The teams just can’t compete any longer with rising costs and less commitments from sponsors. And when things go really bad, and the costs outweigh what the team can bring in and they close up operations, all that is really left is the physical equipment and facilities.
So, again this is big, and it’s just another step towards where the sport needs to be in order to grow and create a more secure environment for these owners so that they feel safe investing in the sport long-term. Right now, in my opinion, things have gotten so crazy with spending and things like TV deals and sponsorships, that a small-time operation in the Cup Series has an even harder time getting established and staying in business than ever before. This move, if implemented, is really positive for the sport.
Q: Greg, I’m a big fan of many of the Toyota drivers (Kyle Busch and Hamlin especially), AND of Truex. So when I heard about Truex driving a Toyota next season I was naturally thrilled! With Chevy losing Furniture Row Racing, and Toyota losing two cars with the closure of Michael Waltrip Racing, who really comes out on top in this deal? – Harris P., Newton, Kan.
A: Harris, thanks for writing in on this. So Furniture Row and Barney Visser are smart people, there’s no question. And doing what he did earlier this season by stating that General Motors and Chevrolet has hardly been giving them any support, at least not to the extent they do for other teams (think Hendrick Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing), switching to Toyota was a smart move. Basically, Furniture Row opened up the doors to the other two manufacturers to come calling with that one attack. Chevy didn’t respond, and Toyota saw the combination of what FRR has built in such a short period. Compare that with Truex’s branding power and Visser’s hopes to expand into a multi-car operation, and this should be seen as a perfect fit to expand the oval T to one more organization.
Now, you’re right about one thing. The closure of MWR and their two cars (No. 55 of David Ragan and No. 15 of Clint Bowyer), Toyota is actually down two, compared to the loss of just one bowtie in the Chevrolet camp. But when you look at Chevrolet’s dominance the last few years in the Cup Series and the numbers they still command in the garage, it’s really still their stronghold. In the end, I think gaining Truex and FRR is actually big for Toyota, especially with MWR leaving the sport. Just don’t underestimate Chevy’s dominance in NASCAR. The reigning champion drives one after all…