Did You Notice… Both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity series are struggling to bring in new ownership?
It’s a talking point that’s nothing new. But the hard numbers are jarring, especially in Xfinity, where ownership participation has declined 17% from last season alone. Just 49 cars have attempted at least one event through 29 Xfinity races, the lowest number in NASCAR’s playoff era. Just a decade earlier, in 2009, that total stood at 82.
A closer look at NASCAR’s top feeder series shows the ownership ranks have shrunk even more. Multi-car teams lead the way, even with underdogs, as a limited group of people is willing to dip their toe in NXS.
2019 NASCAR XFINITY SERIES MULTI-CAR TEAMS
4 cars: JD Motorsports, JR Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management
3 cars: B.J. McLeod Motorsports, DGM Racing*, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing*, RSS Racing
2 cars: Brandonbilt Motorsports*, Means Motorsports*, Richard Childress Racing*, SS Green Light Racing, Team Penske*
Close Collaborations: Stewart-Haas Racing and Biagi-Denbeste Racing, Mike Harmon Racing and Rick Ware Racing
* – includes part-time team(s) that have run at least one race
One-car teams: ACG Motorsports, GMS Racing, Hattori Racing Enterprises (now partnered with MBM), H2 Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Pardus Racing Inc., Shepherd Racing Ventures, XCI Racing
The total number leaves roughly about 22 owners still contesting the series, filling a grid that will drop to 36 cars for 2020.
But that list is much smaller than it initially appears. Richard Childress Racing is rumored to close its Xfinity program altogether for 2020; Stewart-Haas Racing could dial back its schedule with Cole Custer if he moves to Cup. H2 Motorsports and XCI Racing, virtually the only two ownership adds this season, failed to complete their schedules after financial problems. GMS Racing is another one-car program that could disappear in 2020 without proper funding.
That leaves just three teams (JR Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske) running full-time efforts with direct ties to the Cup Series. (We’ll have to see how Chase Briscoe and Biagi-DenBeste Racing shake out.) Only one team, Kaulig Racing, is talking 2020 expansion with no new owners rumored on the horizon.
Contraction means the entry list should shrink along with the reduction to 36 cars. Several entries, like RSS Racing’s extra cars on occasion, will still start-and-park at the back for extra money. And the gap between the rich and poor is expected to grow even wider. We’ve seen that on display at tracks like Dover International Speedway last weekend where just 23 cars of 38 finished, only eight of them remaining on the lead lap.
The Cup Series side is suffering through a similar ownership problem. Its 47 cars to make at least one race attempt is on par with last year’s list. But consolidation among teams has led to a slight reduction in the owners fielding race cars.
2019 NASCAR CUP SERIES MULTI-CAR TEAMS
Four cars: Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Rick Ware Racing*, Stewart-Haas Racing
Three cars: Front Row Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing*, Team Penske
Two cars: Chip Ganassi Racing, Germain Racing*, JTG Daugherty Racing, Motorsports Business Management*, Premium Motorsports*, Roush Fenway Racing
One-car teams: Beard Motorsports, Gaunt Brothers Racing, Go FAS Racing, Leavine Family Racing (aligned with Gibbs), Richard Petty Motorsports (aligned with Childress), Spire Motorsports (aligned with Premium), Starcom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, Wood Brothers (aligned with Penske), XCI Racing
* – includes part-time team(s) that have run at least one race
That’s a total of 23 owners fighting for charters and spots on the grid each week. Of that group, two of the three newbies for 2019 (TBR, XCI) are part-timers who never got going due to financial problems. Four other single-car efforts are heavily aligned with larger teams that provide chassis and engine support. It leaves Go FAS (rumored to be partnering with SHR for 2020) and Starcom as the lone wolf single-car teams left standing.
There have been no new owners announced and no expansion plans prior to the Gen-7 car being introduced in 2021. Perhaps there will be some movement among the ownership ranks as teams sell off their Gen-6 models at bargain-basement prices. It’s a chance for a new manufacturer or organization to test the waters late in 2020, getting their feet wet in preparation for a full-time assault on the schedule in 2021.
But the fact remains, attracting new ownership into NASCAR remains a big problem. Only seven of 29 races this season have fielded a full 40 cars on the grid. The move to franchise ownership through charters has heavily discouraged others from dipping their toe in. Money for unchartered teams per race is far less. And the charters themselves have limited value. Furniture Row Racing’s championship-pedigree outfit sold its charter for a paltry $6 million on the way out the door.
Limited ownership provides limited opportunities for a sport still falling short on profitability. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., potentially Daniel Hemric and even Michael McDowell could be victims of this stagnation.
It’s a trend NASCAR might not attempt to fix until the Gen-7 car arrives in full force come February 2021. But they remain without a full-throated solution to what’s become their biggest problem.
One reason for optimism here before moving on: NASCAR’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series. While several 2019 teams initially announced as full-time efforts scaled back as the year went on, they’ve found themselves with an ownership increase. A slight bump in Trucks (from 56 to 58) have attempted at least one event compared to 2018. It’s the highest total among NASCAR’s top three series despite the smallest grid (32 spots).
What’s made the difference? Spec engines. Shorter races. Rules potentially being considered to eliminate pit stops down the road. The only way to convince new people to get involved is to show they’ll actually be able to at least break even … and be competitive in doing so. The Trucks are doing that and also benefit from greater parity (the top seven trucks in the owner’s championship technically come from seven different programs: GMS Racing, Niece Motorsports, Hattori Racing Enterprises, Kyle Busch Motorsports, Halmar-Friesen Racing, DGR-Crosley and Thorsport Racing).
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- The less that’s said about this fall’s Dover International Speedway race, the better. Keep in mind the track loses its postseason date in 2020. With two races in close proximity to each other (May, August) is this independent track being positioned to lose a race come 2021? They certainly didn’t make a case to keep both dates over the weekend.
- Chase Elliott and Joey Logano out of title contention? Don’t be silly. Both are within seven points of the cutline heading to a race Elliott won at this spring. And Logano? He’s been victorious at Talladega Superspeedway three times and remains the reigning Cup champion. I feel like William Byron and Alex Bowman can be caught.
- All the drama surrounding Kyle Busch and he’s still 48 points above the cutline heading to Talladega. Even a wreck there almost certainly won’t knock him out. That Dover race may have been uneventful (sixth) but it was crucial to stabilizing an uneven playoff performance. The Championship 4 is still within reach with their cushion if this team can just steady itself and knock off top-10 finishes down the stretch.