What can NASCAR do to change its financial system?
This week’s edition of the “Biggest News Story of The Year” continued with the announcement that Furniture Row Racing will be dissolving at the end of the season.
The Denver based team, in its 14th season of operation, will be leaving the sport after its owner Barney Visser announced that he’d either have to borrow money or cut the budget of the team to be less competitively viable, an option that Visser couldn’t take.
It came off the heels of 5-hour Energy announcing it will be leaving the sport following this season, and with Visser being unable to find a replacement sponsor for the team, there’s just no income to continue on.
This is not the first time a championship winning owner/organization left the sport after the following season. In 1957, Carl Kiekhafer’s Chrysler teams had won just about everything in the previous two seasons, but after a series of controversies, Kiekhafer left after Buck Baker won his second straight championship. In 1990, Blue Max Racing decided to leave NASCAR and owner Raymond Beadle sold his 1989 championship winning operation to Roger Penske. And in 1993, AK Racing was sold to Geoffrey Bodine for obvious reasons.
But unlike those other three times, there is no reason for Visser leaving the sport besides losing a sponsor. It’s yet another sign that the current financial model of the sport, one that involves businesses paying money to fund the race team through sponsorship, is failing.
It might be time for NASCAR to follow the trend of other sports and move away from the haves and have-nots, and instead embrace a more socialist model. My Packers have been able to stay in tiny Green Bay for 100 seasons now because the NFL has made the majority of the revenue the sport generates into a shared, equal income among its 32 teams.
Could NASCAR eventually do the same? It would require the cooperation of the track owners. In order to replace sponsorship, teams are going to need a much larger chunk of the TV money the sport is generating, which would require track owners to fork over some of their 65 percent piece of the pie.
Regardless of whether a system like this could work or not, something needs to be done soon. Because with fewer sponsors willing to step up and pay to be on a car than at any other point in the last 25 years, the Cup Series field is now going to be even smaller come next season. How many race teams have charters to sell or lease now? Heck, Front Row Motorsports owns four of them, and they might not even be able to afford to use three of them next season.
What will happen to… Daniel Suarez? What?
Of course, with the news of Furniture Row Racing’s death, it didn’t take long for Martin Truex Jr. to find a new home. Where it reportedly will be was a bit surprising.
Motorsport.com is reporting that Truex will jump to Joe Gibbs Racing to race the organization’s No. 19 Toyota, bringing over Bass Pro Shops and crew chief Cole Pearn. Daniel Suarez, who has suddenly found himself without a ride next year, has driven that Camry for the previous two seasons after the abrupt retirement of Carl Edwards.
Sports Business Daily reported that sponsor ARRIS may be contractually obligated to stay at JGR in 2019, which would severely limit where Suarez can go. Stewart-Haas Racing still has an open ride, as does Chip Ganassi Racing, apparently. But it’s very unlikely that Suarez could go to either ride without sponsorship, and with many companies having already decided on their marketing budgets for next year, it would be near impossible for Suarez to find a sponsor that could commit as much as ARRIS has.
What will the battle to be in the playoffs and for the regular season championship look like?
Right before this column was submitted, news broke late on Thursday night that Kasey Kahne will not compete at this week’s Cup race at Indianapolis due to complications from heat exhaustion at Darlington last week. Perennial emergency substitute driver, Regan Smith, will be in the No. 95 this week, ending Kahne’s already longshot odds of winning the race and ending his career as a playoff driver.
This year’s playoff scenarios are very simple entering this final race. 14 drivers are locked in and nobody can out-point Jimmie Johnson or Alex Bowman for the final two spots. If the top 16 in playoff standings win the race, there will be no change in the playoff field outside of seeding. If any of the 13 other eligible drivers win, Bowman will be knocked out of the playoffs unless he can gain 20 points on Johnson in the race.
If there are any two drivers who could conceivably win and get in, it would probably be Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray. Both are former Indianapolis winners, and Newman, in particular, has had success whenever his team has taken a gamble on strategy.
Another factor this week will be the rain, which is in the forecast. If the field can make it to the end of the second stage on Sunday, it’s unlikely the race will end before being delayed by rain at a track with no lights.
As far as the regular season championship goes, it’s a battle of two. Kyle Busch has a 39-point lead on Kevin Harvick and could clinch after the first stage of the race depending on who gets stage points. Whoever ends up on top will walk away with 15 playoff points, a valuable prize to take all the way to Homestead.
Will NASCAR solve its Indianapolis problem?
Last season, Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to two great NASCAR races, a rare occurrence to say the least.
This season, the XFINITY Series race should be a good one once again, as the series will be using the high downforce package that allowed for some great restrictor plate style racing last year. But the Cup race is unlikely to repeat.
There’s a rule I’m going to coin here called “Finley’s Law.” Finley’s Law is simple: a track will play host to at least one good and one bad race at some point over a period of 10 races, regardless of how exciting or non-exciting the track is for stock car racing. Sometimes, like last year, everything just goes completely bonkers and we end up with a great race that will be talked about for years. Sometimes, like a Martinsville race a few years ago, conditions will work against everything needed to have an exciting race. In that particular instance, a lack of rubber put down on the track that weekend made it impossible for drivers to pass each other.
Therefore, it stands to reason that the boring, single-file-down-the-school-hallway racing Indianapolis has typically produced will return this season. Sure, there will be some drama due to it being the regular season finale, but that didn’t make Richmond that much more exciting the last decade-and-a-half.
Indianapolis is a problem for NASCAR. Back when ESPN released market share reports for races it covered, the only two TV markets consistently in the top five in ratings every week that were not part of the Carolinas were Richmond and Indianapolis. There is a big market of NASCAR fans in the area, but they’ve stayed away from actually attending NASCAR races at the most sacred track in motorsports because the racing there is almost always boring.
And that’s pretending they aren’t going up against the first week of the NFL regular season, which is going to murder this race in the ratings. Something needs to change with Indianapolis, and it’s hard to provide a solution outside of going the XFINITY Series route.