What will come of Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports?
This weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway marks two years since an incident that changed Bubba Wallace’s life forever.
On that Saturday night, Aric Almirola had a horrible accident, breaking the T5 vertabra in his back. The injury forced “The Cuban Missile” to miss seven Cup races.
Wallace, whose NASCAR Xfinity Series ride at Roush Fenway Racing was shutting down at the end of the next month, was tabbed with filling in for Almirola in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43. After a somewhat slow start, with Wallace finishing 26th in his first race at Pocono Raceway, Wallace was able to improve his results every week, finishing his stint in the car with an 11th at Kentucky.
At the end of the season, after some drama between Almirola, Petty, and sponsor Smithfield, Wallace was named as the new full-time driver for the team in 2018 and beyond. And, well, that’s about it.
Wallace hasn’t really impressed in the Cup Series since being named to the No. 43 full-time. Wallace has just one top-five finish and three top 10 finishes, with the highlight by far being runner-up in the 2018 Daytona 500. But his average finish of 25th in these two years is ranked 25th of the 27 drivers who have started every race, and the Alabama driver has had some awful wrecks of his own.
2019 has been awful for Wallace. He’s had just two top 20 finishes and a best of 17th at Martinsville, which was also his lone lead lap finish. What’s more, however, is that the bright personality Wallace displayed in a number of TV interviews and other media in 2018 has seemingly been replaced by a more down and dire voice of the problems facing the team.
Now, granted, let’s not pretend that Wallace is a perfect driver. He himself has made it clear that he needs to improve if the team is going to make progress in results. And Wallace didn’t really do a lot in the Xfinity Series while his teammate drove to a championship in the same equipment.
But let’s also not pretend what the main hurdle is that the team is facing, that being itself. RPM has gone from having four cars and one of the sport’s hottest drivers (Kasey Kahne) in 2009 to having one single car 28th in points in 2019. The team has hemorrhaged big sponsors (From Budweiser to Allstate to Best Buy to Valvoline to Smithfield) since coming into existence and has been unable to replace any of them.
Owner Andrew Murstein, the money man behind owner and face of the team Richard Petty, might not have the money to be able to afford to run fast. Murstein made just $2 million in fiscal 2017, which isn’t nearly enough to fund an “underfunded” race team. Money equals speed, and in today’s NASCAR, owners can’t just rely on a hodge-podge of sponsorship with a lower level charter and expect to be successful.
Honestly, the best possible path forward for the team and for Wallace would be to seek a merger or buyout with Richard Childress Racing. RCR already provides RPM with engines, chassis, and a shop (RPM is based out of RCR’s old Truck Series shop). RCR does a great job at finding sponsorship, and the PR from having the No. 3 and No. 43 officially under one roof would be a great boost for doing so.
Does Kansas deserve two Cup races?
The 1.5-mile track in middle America was given a second Cup Series date in 2011, thanks in part to being the home of then-series title sponsor Sprint, but mostly for a big-money deal with the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on the property.
Kansas has had some memorable moments in the past, such as a Carl Edwards/Jimmie Johnson duel in 2008 and a controversial 2007 win by Greg Biffle. But it pales in comparison to other tracks such as Darlington Raceway, Auto Club Speedway, or even Chicagoland Speedway, three racetracks that have put on much better races the past few years yet still have just one date on the Cup schedule. Meanwhile, Kansas is an incredibly generic racetrack where no winner has won less then two other races in that season since Johnson in 2011. There’s just nothing unique about it.
With NASCAR’s slow transformation from being a live attendance based sport into one that should focus more on its television product, maybe it’s time to get away from the casino money that Kansas has and get back to the tracks where the racing is the attraction. It would be for the good of the sport.
Do Kyle Busch’s comments have merit?
Kyle Busch’s explosive comments following Dover has kicked off a conversation on the high downforce NASCAR rules package.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) May 8, 2019
Busch wasn’t the only NASCAR figure to speak his mind on the issue, as Leavine Family Racing owner Bob Leavine sounded off about it on Twitter.
— Bob Leavine (@BLeavine) May 6, 2019
Meanwhile, NASCAR Executive VP Steve O’Donnell said a whole lot of nothing on Sirius XM the following day, other than voicing displeasure that both Leavine and Busch didn’t bring these matters up in private.
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) May 7, 2019
Now, let’s be clear. The biggest loser if NASCAR were to make major changes to its Cup rules package would be Busch. A take I’ve seen online this week is that Busch is only complaining because he didn’t win on Monday. Well, he didn’t win, but he did get his eleventh straight top-10 finish and maintained his points lead. Nobody has been more successful than Busch has been under this rules package, and the last time Busch has been this outspoken about a rules package was something nobody liked in hindsight.
One thing I hope NASCAR gets done, regardless of what happens with this rules package, is the elimination of the spreadsheet. If you talk to a car guy about NASCAR and they ask what kind of horsepower these things are pulling, what do you do? Tell them they produce 750 at these certain racetracks and 550 at those? What about if they ask about aero ducts? Do you try to make sense of what tracks run which in light of NASCAR’s announcement on Wednesday or do you give up and pull out the spreadsheet? Having all of these different rules and requirements from track-to-track makes it harder to effectively market the race cars to the general public. And it’s a problem NASCAR didn’t really have until the last five years.
How can NASCAR improve the Truck counts?
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series has struggled with big track entries for years, culminating in just 28 trucks being on the entry list for Friday night’s race at Kansas.
The reason the trucks race at so many big racetracks is because NASCAR feels there’s no money in having many standalone races with either the Truck or Xfinity Series. Instead, both series have a large amount of companion races compared to how it used to be 20 years ago.
Still, however, it’s clear they need to figure something out. Short tracks in the Truck Series bring more excitement, significantly more entries, and the drivers themselves love it because they’re not on the throttle for 95% of a lap. And if NASCAR eliminates live pit stops, costs will dramatically go lower and would open the series up to hold races in smaller venues than what they can do now. And with, again, NASCAR becoming a TV sport and not being dependent on the live gate anymore, why not try to make this series a can’t-miss event as many weeks as they can?
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