Furniture Row Racing. Leavine Family Racing. Now, Germain Racing with driver Ty Dillon. All are single-car teams that fell to the wayside of NASCAR’s business model, failing to compete long-term against the sport’s multi-car elites.
No, Germain Racing hasn’t locked its doors yet. But just under three weeks ago, team owner Bob Germain said all options were on the table for the 2021 Cup Series season, including a potential sale. Later that week, the team confirmed its primary sponsor since entering Cup in 2009 — GEICO — wouldn’t return to back the No. 13 Chevrolet next season.
Optics aside, one of NASCAR’s longest-lasting sponsors will continue to have a role in the sport, continuing to be a premier Cup Series sponsor. That’s a good thing. But their departure leaves yet another Cup organization in flux heading into the heart of Silly Season.
The COVID-19 pandemic further complicates matters as the 2020 season continues. Sponsors are looking to reduce budgets and one of the first things those companies can cut is advertising dollars. Meanwhile, the cost to run a competitive race team has continued to increase.
If that trend continues, smaller teams will continue to exit the sport. NASCAR was slated to introduce the Next-Gen car in 2021 to help reduce costs, though it got postponed until 2022 due to the pandemic.
“The sport, I think for a long time, has been very hyper-focused on the top-tier teams,” Dillon told Frontstretch. “I don’t think anybody wants to see a day where you have 15 cars that are on such a higher level than the rest of the field, and then you have 20 cars that are going to be two laps down, 100 laps into the race just because the resources aren’t there.
“There has to be some attention given to these [smaller] teams that have dedicated so much and are putting so much to the sport, they need to be given something back. […] I think you go back in time and when NASCAR was thriving [in] the mid-1990s, early 2000s when the stands were slammed full, you knew a storyline of every team in the field. You knew a storyline of most of the drivers. Even drivers that were running 20th to 30th had huge followings, had a ton of commercials and promotion they were allowed to do.
“There has to be that focus on keeping the mid-range of the field strong and that will help feed the top.”
Dillon pointed to the Formula One Netflix series Drive to Survive. In that documentary series, it follows teams of all sizes, giving the viewer an inside glimpse of what it takes to be competitive. In a Zoom session with media prior to the race weekend at Dover International Speedway in August, Dillon challenged the race broadcasts to do a better job of telling stories throughout the entire field. He does believe, though, that the one-day shows this year have helped the small teams survive, cutting costs, and this template needs to continue for the immediate future.
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) August 21, 2020
Criticism aside, Dillon is optimistic of NASCAR’s future, which has had a lot of turnover the past couple of years. With the addition of the Next-Gen car, the North Carolina native is hoping it reduces costs by a significant amount. That would allow teams of all sizes to make a profit instead of being lucky to break even.
“I think there’s a lot that hinges on the development of the ’22 car,” Dillon said. “It has to be cost-efficient. It has to cut a couple million dollars out of what it really takes to be competitive if we want to have a sport that has a healthy field week in and week out and not a top-heavy 12 to 15 teams. I think NASCAR is aware and everyone in the sport knows at the rate that is [out there] right now — and that’s why we’re going to have so much change in the future – you’re going to continue to see teams close the doors because it’s not necessarily sustainable.”
On the plus side, Dillon states there is more interest from outside investors and team owners entering the sport than in recent memory.
What does that mean for him? Since Germain is looking to sell his team, that uncertainty leaves Dillon in uncharted territory. Yes, he’s the grandson of Richard Childress, team owner of Richard Childress Racing, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get another ride. He also didn’t have a ton of time to create a Plan B, informed of the potential sale “two or three” days before it became public knowledge.
“Stressful,” Dillon said in short of what the past few weeks have been like. “I feel like I’m starting to enter a point of my career where this is my fourth year and starting to get an understanding of where I feel I am as a driver. I feel like I’m very capable and proven to myself in moments that I know I can beat these guys given the right opportunity. For me, I feel like I’m just starting to get into the beginning of the prime years of my career.
“With nothing certain yet, it’s very tough. It’s very stressful. I believe in myself as a racecar driver. I feel like I can win races and win championships. I’m very aware of what it takes financially for a team to do that, the resources that it takes and the attitude of the driver it takes as well. I believe I’m capable of that and I’m just waiting for the right opportunity. Hopefully, that door will open and I’ll be able to step in and continue the growth of my career. I think my best racing is yet to come and I’m hopeful to get to see that soon.”
Racing up the ranks, Dillon competed for RCR in both the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck and the NASCAR Xfinity series. But when he moved to Cup in 2017 as a rookie, it was with the No. 13 team, replacing Casey Mears, albeit in an alliance with RCR.
Regardless of what Dillon’s next move is, he wants to have the chance to compete for victories. That’s something he hasn’t done in the top three national touring series since 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Xfinity.
“I want to drive and I want to make sure I’m in good equipment, continue to be able to showcase what I can do and continue to grow,” Dillon said. “I think, as a human, you crave stability and know what the future holds, but right now it’s not really in [my] hands. […] Right now, I’m just focused on making sure I’m in the best shape that I am for whatever opportunity comes and that I’m working at my craft. That’s all I can do. Hopefully, I have an opportunity when we roll into Daytona next year.”
Retirement rumors, strongly denied by Dillon, dogged him at points during 2019. But despite the difficult road ahead, there’s no doubt in the driver’s mind he wants to continue racing.
“I want to be able to showcase what I know in my ability,” he added. “I think there are options at every level to be able to do that. Obviously, my first intention is to continue to be a Cup racer. I personally believe I’m a top-15 Cup talent right now, and I think I’m even better than that given the right opportunity in the right cars to be able to go out and to learn at that next level.
“If you have to take an opportunity to go win races at a different level, winning races is always fun. But if I have to run something else, I want to be able to compete for wins and championships.”
No matter what, Dillon vows to close out the final seven races strong for Germain. He’s currently sitting 28th in the championship standings, just 19 markers out of the top 25.
“We’ve had a good four years,” he said. “It’s not been as bad as it could be [with the news] because I think a lot of people have put their heart and soul into Germain Racing for years. They want to see it out until the end and make sure we end on a good note. I’m very committed to that.”