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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

4 Burning Questions: It’s All About The Money

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.

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About Michael Finley

Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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13 comments

  1. Oh, and one more thing. Props to your Packers. I’ll be glad to root for y’all anytime your not playing “my” Steelers!

  2. First off, all this talk of “regular season”, “playoffs”, “clinching a playoff spot”, “missing the playoffs” is just a bunch of sports babble invented because the powers that be at Na$car think fans of stick and ball sports will surely watch Na$car races if only we used some sports friendly terms they can understand. It is all bunk and not a bit of it applies to racing and is scoffed by every real race fan. “Missing the playoffs” in every other sport means you are done for the year. Do the Browns get to keep going and maybe play the spoiler and knock off a playoff team even thought they were 0-16 at the end of the “regular season”? Of course not. So whys does somebody like 32nd place Matt Kenseth (just to pick a name at random) get to “play” in the “finals” despite not winning a “game” all season? And since we don’t want or expect any race teams to sit home after 26 races, we need to end this farce of using stick-and-ball terms in racing.

    Second, yes, Na$car racing (with a few exceptions) has SUCKED at IMS for many many years. Four long straights, four flat corners, one racing line, boring racing. Want to zing it up a little? How about using the F1 road course? We need more road courses, and the racing can’t possibly be worse than on the “oval”.

    Third. Na$car race same day as the NFL season opener? (Gee, who with a calendar and the internet didn’t see that coming?) Easy solution: IRP short track on a Saturday night! IRP just announced millions in upgrades and a desire to get Na$car back there. Not enough grandstand seats you say? Who cares? Judging by race attendance lately Na$car certainly does not. Only ratings and TV money mean anything to Na$car, and I’d bet a short track Saturday night race beats a Sunday afternoon up against NFL opening weekend hands down.

  3. The fact that Michael Finley is a Packer fan (who refers to them as “my Packers”) tells us all we need to know. I guess they would qualify for the FS Underdog House even when they pay their arrogant QB $134 million to nurse his recurrent injuries on the sidelines and play his role as Danica’s latest lap dog.

    • Don’t you mean boy toy? He has almost enough money to keep her happy for a while.

    • Well, considering I own a stake in the team, they are my Packers.

      Also you need to look at history. Back before NFL teams shared significant portions of their revenue, the Packers were a money pit that only survived and eventually prospered thanks to the Vince Lombardi era. When NFL teams began to share their revenue equally among every team in the league (a form of socialism created by the AFL, mind), the Packers could stay competitively viable both on the field and in contract negotiations.

      Love them or hate them, the Packers are still based in by far the smallest market of any of the four major sports in North America, and yet nobody really calls them “underdogs”. Why? Because their bottom line probably isn’t significantly worse than any other team in the country thanks to everybody sharing the wealth equally. In 1996, the year where Green Bay brought the Lombardi back home for the first time in nearly 30 years, 74% of their total revenue was shared team income, with the team itself generating the other 26% largely thanks to home games (as reported by the New York Times in a 1996 article on the team). You’re proving my point.

      • Thanks for reminding us of the reality of how a professionally managed sports team works. I used to own a few shares in the Celtics back during the Bird era, very illuminating to read the annual report.
        For those who think Danica didn’t have an impact, sure is interesting that they are still dissing her a year after she retired. Maybe she had more than they are willing to admit.

        • Her results say all that is necessary on her “impact” on the “racing” she tried to do. But she got exactly what she wanted for her time running Brian’s events…a boatload of money so she could do what she really wanted.

      • Michael Finley, you don’t own bullshit in the team. Try trading your “stock certificate” for real money. It’s just a meaningless piece of paper, a souvenir, nothing more. I have lived in Wisconsin all my life, so I know a few things about the Packers and how my tax dollars (not your “ownership interest” in the team) went to build their stadium full of luxury boxes, as well as their overpriced, overrated quarterback. How many times has the team you “own” let you watch a game from those luxury boxes?

        Maybe the Packers wouldn’t exist without revenue sharing, but would that destroy the NFL? No way in hell. The league would have gone on without them and the morons who cheer for them, because there is nothing else to do in the not-so-great state of Wisconsin. So your argument means diddly-squat as far as NASCAR goes. FRR bites the dust and a year from now nobody will remember who they were.

        • Most NFL teams were losing money before the league’s national TV deal outside of big market teams that could rely on tickets or dynasty teams like the Browns (back then). Could the league really continue on if half the teams back then went out of business, including mainstays such as Dallas and Pittsburgh. Also keep in mind that JGR wanted more money from FRR and that the hot rumor online is that most of the top teams might be losing money to stay competitive. MAN THAT SOUNDS FAMILIAR.

          Giving every team in the league enough money to make a profit basically made franchises untouchable and increased parity around the league. There were still doormats such as the Lions and the 70’s-80’s Packers, but they weren’t the equivalent of being lapped every 10 laps like a lot of the smaller teams were at Darlington.

  4. I live in Indianapolis and have all of my 52 years. Here is another reason that most people in Indianapolis stay away from the Brickyard, is not necessarily it being boring, a lot of it has to do with economics. The ticket prices for a family of four are high, parking is high, and the concession is high. With HD tv now and the races are pretty good to watch at home, it is not much of a choice for a lot of families. Nascar has lost that being about families and being economical. Nascar really doesn’t care, they got all of their money with the tv packages. It is all about the all mighty dollar and that is truly sad.

  5. This morning I was thinking about my plans for Sunday and I briefly thought “what time does the race start?” Then I remembered it was Indy, my least favorite race of the year, so it really didn’t matter much. If they were racing a little further down the road at IRP (Lucas Oil Raceway) it would be a must watch event.

  6. “…end of the regular season’. Big whoop.