The year 2015 marks the final full-time season from Jeff Gordon, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the best drivers in NASCAR history. While it is sad to think Gordon will be done after this season, the good news is we can spend the whole season celebrating his career. Odds are good we could see Gordon drive in the Sprint Cup Series after 2015, but when it comes to Daytona it is a big NO to running here again. “I definitely won’t be running another restrictor plate race,” Gordon told media members last week. Continue reading “Jeff Gordon Flashback: The Daytona 500”
There it is, the official word is out that Jeff Gordon is done as a full-time NASCAR driver at the close of the 2015 season. Thus ends the speculation and questions that have been building since the 2009 season.
We should have all seen it coming, especially in the cryptic language of recent sponsorship announcements. Especially when 3M came on board, the emphasis was sponsorship of the team, not driver. Add in rising star Chase Elliott needing a place to go, this opens the door for him and keeps Hendrick Motorsports from losing another champion in the making.
Looking over his career, where do you start to put his time in perspective of NASCAR’s greats. Easiest place would be his stat line. Coming into his final season, Gordon has started 761 consecutive races (11th all-time), has won 77 poles (3rd all-time), has won 92 races (3rd all-time), collected 320 top-5s (3rd all-time), has 454 top-10s (2nd all-time), led 24,664 laps (6th all-time), and of course there are those four championships (1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001). The argument could be made that had the Chase not be developed, we’d be talking about a five or six time champion at this point.
Gordon also represents the last link to what many fans consider the best years of racing, the 1990s. He was the kid who came out of nowhere (well Pittsboro, IN to be exact) to challenge the great Dale Earnhardt and won. His youthful image and business prowess redefined NASCAR superstars. Not only was he a changing of the guard, he was an overall game changer for NASCAR. His rise to fame was something of a storybook, being nicknamed Boy Wonder.
Take away his statistics, he was able to rewrite NASCAR history without doing anything on the track. He had the eye to saw something in Jimmie Johnson that no one (including Johnson) saw. The result has been five championships and 70 wins for Johnson since 2002 as a teammate to Gordon.
The future, like many press releases before, is unknown and cryptic. On paper it says “last full-time season,” which indicates we might see Gordon run some races in the future. I’m thinking Hendrick might go the route it went with Terry Labonte, letting Gordon run a fifth car at tracks of his choosing. I hope that is the case because I think he has a lot left in the tank at age 43.
I’m sure the motivation is to be able to spend more time with his family. Another factor has got to be that nagging back injury that almost had Gordon call it quits in 2009. Instead of backing down, he came back and proved he was still an elite driver.
We have 36 more races to see Gordon, a walking legend. I just hope fans appreciate exactly what Gordon has done for the sport. I’m confident in saying it would not be at the levels it is without Jeff Gordon.
When news broke in January that Steve Letarte was leaving Hendrick Motorsports for the television booth it was anarchy. Fans and media questioned why would they announce this before the season began? Who would replace him? Then they both assumed that Earnhardt would not perform during this lame duck season.
The reality is not only was it a good move to start with, but the sense of urgency to win with Letarte has led to Earnhardt scoring two wins, locking himself into the Chase, and being a contender week in and week out.
Through 20 races, Earnhardt has those two wins, the first time since 2004 he has won more than once. Going a step further, he had two wins between 2008 and 2013 altogether. This season he has nine top-10 finishes, which has him one behind what he did last year, with 16 races to go. If he can get 11 or more top-5s, that will be the first time he did that since 2004.
Going behind the now, announcing Letarte leaving in January allowed Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Steve Letarte to be able to select the replacement crew chief. Sure they could have waited until the end of the year, but they’ve been able to take their time, and find who they believe is the best candidate.
That candidate is Greg Ives, who at 34 years old is just getting started as a crew chief in NASCAR. He worked wonders with Regan Smith last season (winning twice) and Chase Elliott (winning three times) this season in the Nationwide Series as crew chief. Prior to that he was the race engineer for Jimmie Johnson during his five in a row championship run.
While some could argue he should have been left with Elliott to form a Jeff Gordon/Ray Evernham or Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus like bond, it’s not hard to argue going with Earnhardt now. At age 39. Earnhardt has only down to go from here, so he and Hendrick had better make the most of him while they can.
Elliott, on the flipside, is young enough and talented enough that they can find another crew chief to step up and go through the growing pains. I just hope that person isn’t Lance McGrew, who has some talent as a crew chief, but hasn’t really done much with the talent he’s been given in the driver seat. Because he’s worked the past two years on and off with Elliott, I wouldn’t be surprised that’s where they go.
Ives will be a great resource for Earnhardt and will be able to slip into the role right away without many growing pains. He also knows what it takes to win a championship and the Hendrick way, which will prove fruitful for Earnhardt and his team.
Today it was announced that Farmers Insurance would continue to sponsor the #5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports through the 2017. In the release it also says fans can help design the 2015 car Kasey Kahne will drive. What it lacks is language that indicate Kahne will be the driver for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Kahne’s deal with Hendrick Motorsports expires after the 2015 season and the team has Chase Elliott waiting in the wings for the next opening on the team. Many have thought that Jeff Gordon would be the first to leave because of his age and back problems. With Gordon leading the points and battling through the pains, it’s possible he might race for up to five more years.
For Kahne, he has struggled this season since losing engineer Keith Rodden to Chip Ganassi Racing. He and crew chief Kenny Francis have not been on the same page, pointing to a possible shake up in the pairing. If his struggles continue through this year and into next and Gordon keeps excelling, it might be time for Hendrick Motorsports to move on from Kahne.
It would be surprising to see them give up on a driver that they signed a full year before they could have him, but it might make better business sense. This, of course, can all go away if he can get some wins and get into the Chase this season and next.
The biggest news out of last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 from the Charlotte Motor Speedway was Jeff Gordon and his back problems. Many news outlets jumped to the conclusion that Gordon is now going to retire because of the issue and this weekend has been no different.
Various outlets have taken parts of Gordon’s conversation with the media when it comes to retirement and spun it into a sensational story. The reality is Gordon, the current Sprint Cup Series point leader, is not going anywhere any time soon.
Here’s what he said about his back and last weekend in full text, so you can draw your own conclusions:
“The issues that I’ve had in the past never really were like what I dealt with last weekend. That’s the first time that something like that happened in the car, on qualifying day, into a race weekend. I’ve rolled out of bed and had things like that happen, and that’s just being tight and just not having the muscles with blood flow and being loose, and that’s part of just getting older. So, it was a little bit foreign to me to have that and that’s why I had to get out of the car. The treatment that I had was I had an epidural as well as another type of injection. I don’t know what they call it. It’s some type of Cortisone that’s fairly typical and common. I don’t know all the different stuff that was in there that made the pain go away and helped more of the inflammation, is I think what they were trying to accomplish. So, that’s the first time I’ve ever had to do that on a race weekend. I’ve done that before on a different part of my back that didn’t really do much for me. This one luckily did.
“I think that it really more pointed toward some things that I have to address throughout a race weekend and how I handle the downtime. I’ve been working a lot harder on my training and riding a bike and exercising and the problem with that is that it tightens everything up even more so than normal. If I don’t stay loose and ice and do other things that keep me loose when I get to the race weekend, what happened could possible occur again. So, that’s the biggest thing I’m focused on; not thinking or focusing on anything else. I can tell you if that happens many more times, I won’t have a choice (regarding retirement).”
I don’t see him hanging it up anytime soon, especially if he can stay competitive. It is worrisome that his back started having problems out of nowhere. The silver lining is now that it happened he and his team are aware and can work on solutions or ways to prevent it.
It’s only May, roughly three months into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the jockeying for 2015 free agents might begin soon. Hendrick Motorsports announced that Nationwide Insurance would sponsor Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starting in 2015 on Friday and it’s a move that impacts two teams at minimum.
Nationwide Insurance will move from Roush Fenway Racing, where it has sponsored Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. the past two years. Stenhouse already has glaring holes in his sponsorship for 2014, this will just add to that issue for 2015 and beyond. Looking at RFR as a whole, both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are unsigned beyond the 2014 season.
At Hendrick Motorsports, bringing in Nationwide brings up questions about what happens to Kasey Kahne. Currently he has Farmers Insurance as his sponsor, their contract expires at the close of 2014, and not many could picture two rival insurance companies sponsoring cars coming out of the same shop.
Having rivals sponsors has happened in the past, a good example is found at Richard Childress Racing where they are sponsored, as a team, by Lucas Oil. At the same time driver Paul Menard has Quaker State on his car and is featured from time to time because of the connections between his sponsor, Menards, and Quaker State. This was also the case when Kevin Harvick drove a Shell/Pennzoil sponsored car with Menard as a teammate.
If Farmers does not return and a replacement is not found, does Hendrick look elsewhere? It’s no secret that Kahne has not lived up to expectations so far this season and honestly, has come up short on what many thought to be a dream pairing with him and Hendrick Motorsports. His contract runs through 2015, but could he be bought out a year early to make room for another driver with sponsorship?
Could that other driver be Hendrick developmental driver Chase Elliott? He has backing from NAPA and has been shocking the Nationwide Series with two wins and a second place finish in the last three races. The plan seems to have Elliott replace Jeff Gordon when he retires, but there is no timeline to when that could be. I think it would be a mistake to bring Elliott up too fast, as in next season or even the year after, but if the sponsor requests it, it could happen. That’s what got Joey Logano into the Sprint Cup Series before he was ready. The Home Depot wanted him in the car and Joe Gibbs Racing obliged.
An off the wall scenario could find Carl Edwards in play for the Hendrick ride if they decide to go in another direction. Edwards made it known he wants to be top dog at Roush Fenway Racing, which played into Matt Kenseth’s departure, but the team hasn’t performed how many expected. They have improved this season, but sponsorship questions continue to linger year after year and Edwards might want to jump ship.
It might be too early to get a good feel on how this might all shake out, but it will keep things entertaining for the rest of the season. I can’t see Hendrick bailing on Kahne just yet, but if he continues to be so far behind his teammates it will lead to some serious discussions. For Edwards, I can’t believe Ford or Roush would let him walk to another team, especially a Chevrolet back team, so look for them to throw a lot of money at him to keep him locked up. All this excitement and we still have Talladega to look forward to this Sunday.
With the recent demise of Swan Racing, it got me thinking about the ownership landscape of NASCAR. It seems every year we see a team come in and leave within a year or two. Only a handful of organizations have stood up to the test of time. Here are my survival theories.
To get an idea of how unstable the world of NASCAR ownership is, I took a look back to 1990 and noted what teams were in the Daytona 500 for that year. Granted, some drivers missed the show and ran the rest of the year, but I used that race as my baseline. From there I looked at five year intervals going all the way up to 2014.
The 1990 Daytona 500 list reveals only four teams that existed then still competed in 2014;and one team technically still operates, but has gone through a ton of mergers. The four teams are Richard Childress Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, and Wood Brothers Racing. At the time Childress only fielded a single entry for Dale Earnhardt; Hendrick ran three teams; Roush had only one car; and the Wood Brothers had their single entry.
Of those four organizations, both Roush and Childress had to get outside help/investment in their teams during the past decade. Though crew members, drivers, and management all change year to year, the business ownership entity has stayed the same over the years. Hendrick Motorsports and Wood Brothers Racing are the only two to have their teams 100 % intact. Going one step further, the Wood Brothers no longer run full schedules. This leaves Hendrick Motorsports as the only team to keep their team intact since 1990.
Another team with this group is SABCO Racing (then later Team SABCO) owned by Felix Sabates. They ran the #42 Pontiac for Kyle Petty in 1990 where Sabates ran the team for many years before bringing in Chip Ganassi in 2001. From there the team re-branded itself as Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. In 2008, the team merged with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to become Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Finally this year, they divested themselves of the Earnhardt name to go back to Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Like most teams, Ganassi has seen its organization go from one car up to as many as four, then back down to the current two car operation. Roush started as one car before moving to two then up to five at one point. Currently they operate only three cars. Hendrick has been four cars since 2002 when the organization added Jimmie Johnson, although they have campaigned more in select races. Childress has constantly bounced from three to four cars the past decade without much success with each expansion.
There are two organizations that missed the cut of 1990 that have campaigned cars for over 20 years now, those being Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Neither has brought in investors, although Team Penske has acquired teams in order to expand. In 1998 they purchased Michael Kranefuss’ team and then in 2004 they acquired Doug Bawel’s Jasper Motorsports team.
In 1990, 40 of the 42 cars in the Daytona 500 we single car efforts. Only Hendrick Motorsports had more than one entry that race. By 1995 that number decreased slightly to 38 independent teams. By 2000 that number dropped to 27, in 2005 it hit the lowest point at which 20 teams now made up the 43 finishers of the Daytona 500. That number went up to 21 for 2010 and 2014.
Starting from 1990 the number of teams who entered a car in that Daytona 500 to 1995 was 22, so 18 teams disappeared (or missed the race). In 2000 16 teams returned, although organizations like Roush Fenway Racing went from two cars in 1995 to four in 2000. For 2005, the number dipped down to 14, but the worst showing was going to 2010 when only nine teams came back.
That was by far the worst stretch, as teams like Dale Earnhardt, Inc. merged with MB2 Motorsports and then Chip Ganassi Racing, going from eight teams among them down to two. Ray Evernham Motorsports was bought by George Gillette then merged into Petty Enterprises to make Richard Petty Motorsports. Another set of moves that took five teams out of operation and replaced them with only two running now. In the last four year gap of 2010 to 2014, 16 teams came back out of the 21 that entered a car in the Daytona 500.
No one has ever gotten rich from running a race team from the local level up to the NASCAR leagues. Team owners pour millions of dollars into their teams with little to no return; just ask Kyle Busch or Rusty Wallace how team ownership goes. Where organizations like Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing have made their money has been outsourcing services.
Hendrick Motorsports sells chassis, engines, and technical support to other organizations who race in NASCAR, most notably Stewart-Haas Racing. Roush Fenway Racing created Roush Yates Engines and makes money with that venture among others. Joe Gibbs Racing has developed racing products that they sell to secondary markets.
The key to ownership is having sponsors for one, but also the ability to make other revenue streams into your organization. This is simple business concepts, but unfortunately teams like Swan Racing can’t get the sponsorship that will allow them the foundation on which to set the organization. A great example is even the great empire that is Red Bull Racing, who spends money like crazy in Formula 1 but could not cut it in NASCAR, no matter how much they spent.
NASCAR, and racing in general, is a tough sport because so much is dependent on having the funds to compete for sponsorships. Unless there is a way to cap costs, teams will come and go, and we will even see a time where the mightiest team can just be a distant memory.