There has been lots of talk about franchising in NASCAR’s top divisions. Is this the right direction for the sport to look in for the future?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Maybe. It depends on how it’s done and what it includes. While I don’t like the idea of new teams being essentially locked out of the sport, if it includes some kind of real cost cutting or revenue sharing or something that will bring the sport and its teams closer to financial parity, that would be great. Imagine if all 43 teams actually had a chance to win every week? It would make the racing better as well as help those teams improve. If teams had a similar amount of resources, it would put the racing in their hands much more — it might actually be about talent a little more often.
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: The one thing that I know for sure is we do NOT need guaranteed starting spots. Whether it is a medallion, a golden ticket, a magic halo or whatever you want to call it, locking people into the starting field for the entire season is completely counter to the very foundation of racing. The essence of racing is if you are one of the fastest, you get to race. If you are the fastest you will win. On occasion, a strategy call lets someone else win but, for the most part, the fastest wins. Guaranteeing starting spots means that there is little competition whatsoever to make the races. That also means that there is very little room at all for new teams to come into the sport. We need incentives for MORE teams to be entering, not fewer. Franchising will just be another nail, and a big one, in the coffin that is the end of NASCAR.
Jerry Jordan, Contributor: Sure. Why not do something in that department? It won’t be the same as they have in the NFL or other sports, but the concept is a good one. If steps aren’t taken to ensure the overall future of the sport, NASCAR could change into something none of us like or recognize. It’s apparent that some politicians and liberal tree-hugging environmentalists would love for this sport to go the way of the dinosaur.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I’m going to withhold judgment until I see what NASCAR and the RTA come up with on this issue. On a knee-jerk level, yes, I’d like to see some way for a team owner who has devoted years to the sport have something of value to sell if they lose a sponsor and go belly up. I’d like to see the Wood Brothers and Ryan Blaney make races if qualifying is rained out, given their decades-long involvement in the sport and the fact they are helping a talented young driver get some seat time as part of the development process. But if there is to be a franchise system, I’d want there to be no more than two franchises awarded to a team owner – and no, you can’t have your wife, dad or local butcher add more under your umbrella. My fear is that given recent history, NASCAR won’t give credit to teams for sweat equity and perseverance, but will find a way to make more money for itself selling franchises.
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I think considering the current economic climate in NASCAR, franchising is an option you have to look to for this sport to survive long-term. Too many owners are running scared, watching their lifetime financial investment sink in the midst of poor TV ratings, track attendance and purses that have shrunk by over 10% in some cases. Four teams working together a la Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports makes it near impossible for a new, single-car team owner to overcome the deficit they face. The sport needs to balance protecting their longtime supporters with the reality of needing to bring new people into the fold and move forward. That means, should a medallion program pop up as rumored, I’m in favor of the franchise system if NASCAR issues one medallion per owner. That’s right: one. I don’t care how many cars you have, Mr. Hendrick. Thanks for having a five-car team at one time, Mr. Roush. Each owner gets one medallion, one car they protect. I’d maybe consider two, but that’s it. Otherwise you’re never going to get new owners to consider the sport, because the cost of entry is just too large to overcome. Will NASCAR have the guts to step in and limit the amount of franchising that will happen? The answer at this point could very well determine the sport’s future survival. That’s where we are at this point.
We talked about Tony Stewart‘s retirement last week, and it was announced that Clint Bowyer will take over in 2017. Was Bowyer the right choice, and is his fill-in ride at HScott Motorsports the best way to move him into the seat?
Henderson: I think Bowyer is a solid choice for the short term. The No. 14 team is struggling and a veteran may be able to help right the ship. Long term though, a younger driver may have been a wiser choice. There is a lot of talent out there to build a team around for a decade or more. Even a more experienced younger driver like Landon Cassill might have been a good choice. Filling in at HScott is probably best for Stewart-Haas Racing and may even benefit HSM, but I’d have much rather seen SHR step up and fully fund a third team rather than displace a driver who has made huge strides and didn’t deserve to get kicked to the curb the moment a bigger star came along.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I think putting Bowyer in the HSM car for one year is a wonderful idea. His talent will benefit a team that seems poised for greatness. With the right driver, the right attention, and the right sponsorship, HScott should find itself headed in a positive direction. I think what Bowyer brings to the team in 2016 will bolster HScott so it can make another smart driver choice for 2017.
Neff: If you wanted an experienced driver then Bowyer is probably the best choice. With the number of young, talented drivers coming over the horizon, it would have been nice to see someone like Daniel Hemric or Corey LaJoie get a shot in the ride. Bowyer is capable of winning right out of the box and, in a sport where sponsorship dollars can dry up faster than Lake Mead, winning is crucial to keeping them. As for the HScott deal, Bowyer needed to run somewhere next year, and I guess he didn’t want to run dirt late models for a season.
Jordan: My sadness comes from the fact that Stewart won’t be behind the wheel of a Sprint Cup Series car. Yeah, yeah, I know you’re not supposed to have favorites when you are a reporter, but if I were going to have a favorite, which I don’t because it is against the rules, all I am saying is that it could possibly be someone with the nickname of Smoke. But that is a just a hypothetical analysis of my alleged inner thoughts. As for Bowyer, hell yeah! He is a great driver and has a personality that is off the chain. Turn that country boy loose and let him stir the pot and he might surprise everyone. In fact, I think there will be a time when we see CLINT BOWYER – (INSERT NASCAR SPONSOR HERE) CHAMPION.
McLaughlin: I’d have thought Bowyer would have been a good match at the No. 9. But of course Richard Petty Motorsports (and the King is only a figurehead here, not a nuts and bolts owner) runs Fords. And SHR runs Chevys. And gets its engines from HMS. As does HScott Motorsports, so it’s sort of back-dooring Bowyer into the franchise. Bowyer finds himself in an enviable one-year position. If he runs well, he’ll do so “despite” the team he’s with. If he runs poorly, well, what did you expect from that team? Furniture Row Racing has become a respectable team by hiring castoffs and orphans, so maybe it will work for HScott as well.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: No one would ever be a suitable replacement for Stewart, but Bowyer is about as close as can be found in the garage area. Bowyer’s style is similar to Stewart’s. He’s unafraid to say what needs to be said, gets the most out of his cars every weekend and knows how to have fun on and off the the track. As for the HScott move, Bowyer didn’t have a lot of options. There are no Red Bull Racing-type teams like Kasey Kahne was able to resort to in 2011. Chip Ganassi Racing wasn’t willing to do it, and Hendrick is full. A year at Hendrick-affiliated HSM should serve as a suitable short-term fit for Bowyer, and may help the small team make large strides.
Richard Petty Motorsports has not named a 2016 driver for the No. 9 Ford. Who should be on the team’s radar?
Henderson: Getting kicked to the curb could potentially give Justin Allgaier a boost if he could land this ride as RPM is a definite step up. Again, Cassill comes to mind as a very talented driver. I’ve heard Ty Dillon bandied about as a possibility, but RPM just re-upped with Ford, and I don’t see that sitting well with Dillon or his connections — he’ll most likely drive a Chevy full time for Richard Childress Racing in the not-too-distant future.
Neff: Take your pick of any one of a dozen talented drivers looking for a ride in the Cup Series. Brandon Jones is doing a great job this year. LaJoie is already under contract with them. Kyle Benjamin is talented but too inexperienced at this point. Darrell Wallace Jr. would be a fan favorite. Chris Buescher is right on the cusp of winning an Xfinity Series title.
Jordan: Justin Allgaier! Justin Allgaier! Justin Allgaier! Did I mention Justin Allgaier? This is a continuation of question two for me. Bowyer going to HScott is only bad for Allgaier. That being said, when I talked with Allgaier a few weeks ago, he said there were a lot of dominoes left to fall before he could say anything about his future plans. I want to go on record that I think Allgaier would be the best candidate to drive the No. 9. He has talent, he has character and HE HAS A SPONSOR!
Bowles: David Ragan‘s probably top of the list based on his past affiliations with Ford, Roush Fenway Racing, and his resume (stats say Best Driver Available). Don’t be surprised, though, if Allgaier gets a serious look to take this seat if HSM fails to expand its Sprint Cup program. Allgaier brings money in BRANDT, sorely needed for RPM, and has shown flashes of potential with a middling team in his first two seasons. RPM co-owner Andy Murstein likes to make a splash though, so don’t be surprised if he thinks outside the box. A surprise choice isn’t out of the question (say, Dillon? RCR alliance?) as long as there’s money on the table supporting the move.
Bearden: The driver with the most sponsor money. I know that’s not the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth.
John Wes Townley secured his first career win on Saturday in Las Vegas. Is Townley finally a star on the rise, or has he hit the top of his talent with his win?
Howell: While it was great to see Townley finally win a Camping World Truck Series race, I cannot help but flashback to his past issues and behaviors. Those problems seemed to derail what looked to be a promising career. As such, I think he’s been regarded as damaged goods within the NASCAR universe. While part of me was thrilled to see JWT win at Las Vegas, another part of me took it as a career highlight. I sincerely hope that part of me is wrong, because the guy deserves better.
McLaughlin: Townley won a race determined by fuel economy. Joey Logano lucked into his first Cup win in a rain-shortened race. Townley has a seat because his dad has money. But then I seem to recall that everyone thought some kid named Bill Elliott only got a Cup ride because his dad was rich and funding the team (the fact they were rich must have come to a surprise to the Elliotts, who used to share one motel room with the team when they started out). Way back when, a lot of folks thought Richard Petty only got a Cup ride because of his dad getting injured and Petty being heir apparent. Nope, that Richard kid wasn’t half the driver his old man was and nobody thought he’d ever amount to much. And some folks still think that Dale Earnhardt Jr. only got a ride because of his last name. No, I doubt Townley will ever be mentioned in the same breath as the Pettys, the Earnhardts or the Elliotts, but having that first win is a big step.
Bowles: Did this one really happen? I think a lot of people, both inside and outside the garage, are still processing Townley’s trip to victory lane. How do you feel if you’re Danny O’Quinn Jr.? Cassill? Jeremy Clements? There are so many talented drivers out there who’ve spent years struggling to find funding to compete. There’s others booted from their ride after just a few months due to an impatient, top-tier owner. Yet here Townley comes along, wrecks half the cars he drives and doesn’t even care to drive stock cars at one point. He takes several years to develop and FINALLY breaks through in the Truck Series in a fuel-mileage race despite millions being thrown his way. Yes, Townley has improved leaps and bounds from where he was wrecking equipment years ago. But even Paul Menard, the other famous, family-funded driver, can still run circles around this guy. I think the money will put Townley in the Cup Series someday but he’ll be lucky to sniff the lead lap, let alone Victory Lane, once he finally gets there. A Truck win every now and then, even if he moves up the ladder someday, is about the best we’ll get out of him.
Bearden: Props to Townley. Through all of the jokes and scrutiny dumped on him by the majority of the NASCAR community, he’s managed to improve and grow into a winner. That said, I wouldn’t expect much more noise from him. He’s come a long way from his first-turn practice crash in a Cup car at Pocono Raceway, but you’d be hard-pressed to make anyone believe he’ll be a star. Saturday’s Vegas triumph will ultimately probably serve as the climax of the infamous #JWT’s career.