(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

4 Burning Questions: The Rags-to-Riches Myth

Who will win themselves a grandfather clock this week?

A couple of weeks ago in this column, it was noted that there were just three lead changes at Martinsville Speedway in the spring race. While I don’t think that number is going to go into double digits this weekend, there’ll definitely be at least a little more excitement, with it being a playoff race this go-round.

Brad Keselowski utterly dominated that race, leading 446 laps en route to his first victory of the year. But with Keselowski eliminated from the playoffs, Team Penske is going to put more focus in its other two teams for this weekend. And of the two, Joey Logano will defend his win from a year ago with yet another that will lock him into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Outside of the dominant Team Penske cars, Denny Hamlin has enjoyed a lot of success at one of his home tracks. Hamlin is in the middle of a career season, and winning at Martinsville Speedway would be the cherry on the sundae. Chase Elliott’s success at the racetrack has been well documented, finishing second in the spring race this year and almost winning in 2017. But none of that success has included a grandfather clock, and it’s hard to put him as one of the true favorites in the field without having one in his living room.

Why are bottom tier cars so slow?

There is a big problem in NASCAR right now, one that isn’t given a lot of press until they become too obvious not to mention: slow cars.

There is a crazy speed difference between the top 25 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the other 11-15 depending on the week, and especially between the top 30 and the other six to 10. And it seems that not only are these cars slow, but more importantly, they won’t get out of the way.

Why is this? Well, my theory is that attitudes of talented drivers coming up through the pipelines have changed dramatically. Back in the day, if you had a chance at getting in a Cup car, you took it. Bobby Labonte moved up with a new team named Bill Davis Racing, Harry Gant’s Cup break came Jack Beebe’s Racing Hills Farms team, and Jeff Burton’s first couple of seasons were with the lightly-regarded Stavola Brothers team.

But now, look at where we’re at. All of these NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers are racing with Justin Allgaier every week; he moved up to Cup with a team that ended up having no business at that level. And now, he’s never going to be given a legitimate chance in great Cup equipment.

Same with guys like Corey LaJoie and Landon Cassill, who have careers but are never getting looks for bigger Cup teams. And while a lot of this has to do with funding, that’s not as big an issue once you get in the top 20-or-so Cup teams now, with established sponsors.

You only have once chance at a first impression when it comes to those established sponsors. Who can blame the drivers if this is the situation? What good would it do a guy like Noah Gragson to run 20 laps down with Rick Ware Racing?

And a lot of the guys coming up through the grapevine already have long-term contracts with their team or manufacturer, which wasn’t really a problem 20 years ago when not every top NXS team had a Cup connection, but here we are now.

Which is?

Well, with none of the better NXS drivers wanting anything of those lower-tier Cup rides, here come the geeks.

You know the ones. The guys not named Ross Chastain who race for RWR, Jay Robinson and the really shady Spire Motorsports. The teams that really don’t have the funding to compete at this level of motorsport, yet barf out multiple cars every week that are driven by competent drivers maybe half of the time. For every Timmy Hill, there’s three or four Quin Houffs racing for these guys.

So when these teams employ these drivers who have no business being in a Cup car, it leads to bad results. Meaningless results. And ultimately, hey, it’s not these drivers’ fault for taking a job. They’re not necessarily bad at those jobs, just not ready for them.

At the end of the day, the one conclusion to come to is a simple one: blame the teams.

Bless all of these smaller team owners’ hearts, they’re good people (with the exception of Spire). But they’re not going to grow. They’re never going to get better. They’re always going to putter around and do much of nothing before shutting their doors down.

The only team that has started from the bottom and made it to being competitive on a weekly basis in the last time 30 years was Furniture Row Racing. The rags to riches story doesn’t really happen in racing. And when it does, like with FRR and possibly Leavine Family Racing, it only happens when a much larger team takes them on as a satellite.

In conclusion, a lot of people in the industry hate the idea of cutting teams from the Cup Series because that cuts jobs, and that’s understandable. But maybe that’s going to be the right way for the sport to progress for now. In the future, maybe when NASCAR becomes bigger again, those teams can come back. But for now, I’d be fine as a viewer if the field was cut to 32 Cup cars as the maximum field size.

Can Ankrum hang on in the Trucks?

The most interesting championship battle in NASCAR right now is in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Just two points separate the driver in last of the round of six drivers for the final cut-off spot.

And with Spencer Boyd getting a surprise win at Talladega Superspeedway, nobody has locked a spot in the championship four at Homestead. Brett Moffitt is the closest to doing so, with a 46-point advantage over that sixth-place driver, Chastain. But that can be wiped away with an untimely wreck this weekend.

The biggest wild card of the six drivers is clearly Tyler Ankrum. As much momentum as the young driver has carried and sustained through these playoffs, Ankrum’s only two finishes at Martinsville in the Truck Series were 18th last year and 19th in the spring race earlier this year, results he has to improve on if he’s going to advance to the next round on points.

If any of the six drivers advance to the championship four at Homestead with a Martinsville win, it’s going to be Chastain. Chastain won a stage in the spring and really seemed like the only guy who had any shot at eventual winner Kyle Busch that whole day. The aggressive style Chastain is known for will be a big plus for his chances at the paperclip, as long as he’s smart as far as when to use it.

Support Frontstretch on Patreon

About Michael Finley

Avatar
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).

Check Also

NASCAR Delays Debut of Next Gen Car Until 2022

Thursday (April 2) NASCAR announced it will delay the debut of the Next Gen car …

5 comments

  1. Avatar

    So…..you are writing for this online rag that nobody would read if not linked to jayski presumably in the hopes of being a legitimate journalist some time in the future, but nobody should take a similar course in racing? That won’t happen for you anyway as long as you keep spewing inaccurate (Alan Kulwicki’s success was within the last 30 years and he wasn’t allied with anybody) and biased (you have no business criticizing Spire, or anybody else who invests a dime of their money into this sport when you have not) nonsense.

  2. Avatar

    I definitely disagree with the article. I don’t mean to pull a “I’ve been following NASCAR longer” card, but when I was a kid, my favorite driver behind Richard Petty was Jimmy Means. The era of NASCAR from the late 90’s through the late 2000’s was the exception, not the rule.

    For most of NASCAR’s history, there have been races within races. That’s where we are again. When I was a kid, you had long-standing teams fielded by Means, Buddy Arrington, Elmo Langley, Roger Hamby, D.K. Ulrich, J.D. McDuffie, and James Hylton racing to qualify and racing amongst each other in the back. Means’ team was typically the best of that group. Fans from those days respected those guys for showing up and doing the best they could with what they had. That was life for many of NASCAR’s fans in those days. Then you had other teams a slight bit above that, like Dave Marcis’s team and Junie Donlavey’s team. So many fans from those decades of yore hold all of those men in great esteem. It’s why we love it when Dale Earnhardt Jr. has old drivers on the Dale Junior Download.

    Front Row Motorsports is one of my favorite teams, because of their methodical build. So, I don’t mind Rick Ware Racing fielding three to four cars. I watched Rick race back in the day and I have little doubt he’s trying to build a respectable team. Watching his 51, 52, 53, and 54 get lapped a number of times is like watching the 52, 67, 64, 6 (when D.K. had it), 70 and 48 get lapped back in the day. I enjoy following the battle each week amongst the 32, 00, and 15 cars. I’ve enjoyed watching Starcom move their team up the order and become faster. I’ve enjoyed watching Ross Chastain get everything he can out of the 15. It was obvious he was doing awesome in the 15 well before he got his Xfinity chance with Ganassi. I’ve enjoyed watching Gray Gaulding mature greatly from his start in Cup to his time with SS Green Light Racing in Xfinity now. I root for Carl Long’s team growing in the Xfinity Series and him getting his Cup team up to a higher level of performance, too. Carl Long is a throwback and I love it. For me, the current state of NASCAR is close to what I grew up with. That was a time when almost everybody involved in the sport truly loved it, loved racing, and enjoyed and appreciated all the races within the race. We remember when ESPN, TNN, or TBS actually routinely showed battles in the middle of the order.

    Up next, NASCAR moving away from gimmicks to attract fans they’re never going to get or keep and, instead, dance with the girl they brought to the prom.

  3. Avatar

    NASCAR has been reasonably proactive in trying to address this backmarker problem, but they can only move so fast. Several years ago the field was 43 entries and more recently they have cut the field down to 40, of which 36 are guaranteed spots with their charters. Most fields during the season have been around 38 entries, with some consisting of just the chartered 36.

    When NASCAR came up with the charter system I was shocked that they settled on 36 charters. The number of charters should have been no more than 30, which would have better aligned the supply with the actual demand from competitive teams. This would have cleaned the field of “charter squatters” like Rick Ware Racing, Premium Motorsports and Spire (but it wouldn’t have prevented them from entering races). Without the higher payouts from having charters I doubt that the business models of Rick Ware, Premium or Spire would work as well as they do. Bob Leavine mentioned on Twitter that these teams are actually making money off the charter payouts by cutting expenses to the bone and trying to sell their rides to pre-paid drivers, but hey have no intention of actually being competitive.

    • Avatar

      How much of your money do you have invested in NASCAR? How many cars do you own? How many people do you employ? None? Oh, right. STFU.

      Every single person in that garage every week is there for ONE reason, and it’s not because they love racing.