Did You Notice? … NASCAR has struggled to bring new owners to the track this season? Through 17 races, only 43 different cars have made an attempt to qualify. That’s easily the smallest number in modern NASCAR history for the Cup Series.
Just a decade ago, the starting grid was 43, not 40 while 48-50 cars were routinely showing up to qualify. Now, the field has been consolidated with an ownership group that’s increasingly showing its age.
Take a look at the breakdown of these 43 cars who have made an attempt. They’re owned by just two dozen people, most of whom have been around the sport for quite sometime.
Wood Brothers: 1 car, owned part/full-time since 1953 (owned by Wood family, various ages)
Richard Childress: 3 cars, owned full-time since 1976 (age 71)
Rick Hendrick: 4 cars, owned full-time since 1984 (turns age 68 next week)
Jack Roush: 2 cars, owned full-time since 1988 (age 75)
TriStar Motorsports: 1 car, owned full-time on-and-off since 1989 (owner Mark Smith)
Roger Penske: 2 cars, owned full-time since 1991 (age 80)
Joe Gibbs: 4 cars, owned full-time since 1992 (age 76)
Joe Falk: 1 car, owned full-time on-and-off since 1997 (age 65)
Chip Ganassi: 2 cars, owned full-time since 2001 (age 59)
Gene Haas/Tony Stewart: 4 cars, around in some form since 2002 (Gene Haas is age 64, Stewart is 46)
Front Row Motorsports: 2 cars, owned full-time since 2005 (owner Bob Jenkins)
Furniture Row Racing: 2 cars, owned part/full-time since 2005 (owner Barney Visser, age 67)
JTG Daugherty Racing: 2 cars, owned full-time since 2009 (owner Tad Gaeschickter, age 51)
Richard Petty Motorsports: 1 car, owned full-time since 2009 (owner Andrew Murstein, age 52)
Germain Racing: 1 car, owned full-time since 2009 (owner Bob Germain)
Leavine Family Racing: 1 car, owned part/full-time since 2011 (owned by Bob Leavine and multiple investors)
BK Racing: 2 cars, owned full-time since 2012 (owner Ron Devine)
Go FAS Racing: 1 car, owned full-time since 2012 (owner Archie St. Hilaire)
Premium Motorsports: 2 cars, owned full-time since 2014 (owner Jay Robinson, age 57)
Tommy Baldwin Racing: 1 car, owned full-time since 2009 (now part-time, owner age 50)
Rick Ware Racing: 1 car, debuted in Cup 2017 (owner Rick Ware, age 56)
Beard Motorsports: 1 car, debuted in Cup 2017 (owner Mark Beard, age 68)
Motorsports Business Management: 1 car, debuted in Cup 2017 (owner Carl Long, age 49)
Gaunt Brothers Racing: 1 car, debuted for one race in Cup 2017 (owner Marty Gaunt)
In summary, of the 38 cars competing full-time, only three of those owners have entered the Cup Series within the last five years. None of them are in serious playoff contention while one (Ron Devine) was reported to have a tax lien on the business in May.
Whittling it down to the teams in playoff contention, all are driving for owners who have been in the sport a decade or more. While that can lead to financial stability, partially driven by the sport’s charter system that can also portray a sense it’s impossible to challenge the top teams.
So just like the sport has a transition to a slate of “young gun” drivers, there will be one in ownership coming these next few years. Who and how NASCAR can get interested in taking the reins of a car may well determine the future of the sport. Gibbs, Penske, Roush are all at an age where we could see them start transitioning power within the next few seasons.
In some cases, succession plans are already in place. In others, like Roush there’s a question of who would take control. Would outsiders buy them, like Andrew Murstein picking up a struggling Petty team last decade? Or does the sport’s declining numbers keep Wall Street away and devalue these organizations to the point their charters can’t attract any interest?
Could the battle between Ford, Chevy, and Toyota be the key to new owners then? Note that no new manufacturers have gotten involved since Toyota debuted in 2007 in a sport where their support increasingly helps fund each car. But just take a look at what Gene Haas said this week when talking about his Silly Season plans for 2018.
“Financially, running four teams makes sense,” he told Lee Spencer of Motorsport despite no full sponsorship signed for two of them. “Because with this new charter system we’re paid money to run the cars not only from NASCAR (purses) but with our relationship with Ford.”
If manufacturers are helping even the biggest owners keep up financially are they the key to transforming ownership? Can executives down in Daytona Beach convince Dodge to return, Honda to debut, perhaps even reach for a longshot like Tesla to take a look at the sport?
Or should they be focused on the sport’s lower series? Getting longtime Truck Series owners like GMS Racing and Thorsport to move their operations up the ladder? There’s a downside to that option, as there’s no owners there waiting in the wings to replace them. Will pulling owners out of Trucks, let’s say dry up the well and make that series unsustainable?
There are plenty of big decisions ahead in the next couple of years. But there’s no doubt an aging ownership will need to transition at some point, just like the driving corps.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- Have any doubt this sport is pushing a new generation of talent? The International Speedway Corporation earnings report (ISC) announced this week mentioned to investors how “up-and-coming drivers Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliot (yes, it was misspelled by ISC) are positioning themselves among NASCAR’s elite.” To mention that trio by name shows how important the next generation is to the France family’s current marketing strategy. By comparison, nowhere in that report were specifics about revenue generated from fans flocking to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final races.
- Aric Almirola, back as soon as next week could still have a shot at making the NASCAR playoffs. Sure, he would have to win; the only victory for him in the No. 43 came at Daytona in July 2014. But staying inside the top 30 in points shouldn’t be a problem. He’s 30th entering Kentucky, likely his final race outside the car and only three drivers are within ten points of knocking him out.