Tag: Team Penske

The Unstable World Of NASCAR Ownership

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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.

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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.

Column: Keselowski, Debuts, Talladega, MWR, and Irvan Returns

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In this week’s column I take a look at the most recent Sprint Cup Series winner, Brad Keselowski, along with the three drivers who made their Cup debuts Saturday under the lights. My two cents on the Michael Waltrip Racing situation that came out Monday. And to round things out I will touch on what a wildcard Talladega is to the Chase and a former Talladega winner is back involved in NASCAR.

It was a very long time coming for Brad Keselowski, who had not won a Sprint Cup Series race in just over a year. His last win was Kansas of last year during his run for the Sprint Cup championship. It has been a big struggle for him and his team all year long. Luck just has not been on their side, some of their own doing (Texas with penalties) and others were just out of his hands. This team is going for broke during the Chase since they are not in it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up another win or two.

It was Kyle Larson who got most of the media attention heading into Charlotte about making his Sprint Cup Series debut. He did not do it alone as Brian Scott and Blake Koch each made their inaugural Sprint Cup races. Of the trio, Scott produced the best finish coming home in the 27th position. Larson was quick and up near the top-10, but his engine expired after completing 247 of the 334 laps, relegating him to a 37th place finish. Koch was a late add to the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford and ran 216 laps before retiring with a vibration, he finished 38th. Larson is going to be running full-time in 2014, whereas Scott hopes to run a handful of races next season, and Koch’s plans are still unknown at this time. Each has a bright future, but Larson will be the one who garners all the attention.

It’s down to a five man battle for the Sprint Cup championship this year, although you could argue it’s down to two already with five races to go. That’s good because Talladega is up next and the unpredictability of it will definitely shake things up. In the spring Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth were the only Chase drivers to get a top-10 finish. Heck, David Ragan won the race with David Gilliland pushing him. When we say anything can happen, anything can and will happen in the race. The goal of every Chase driver is to survive and hopefully not lose too many points in the process.

The announcement that Michael Waltrip Racing would be reducing the number of full-time teams it fields from three to two is not surprising. There was no way they could secure funding for a full season in such short notice after NAPA informed them they were leaving. What I don’t like is the number of people who will be out of jobs because of the action of a few inside the organization. You can’t tell me from the top (i.e. Michael Waltrip himself) there was no discussions of manipulating the race if push came to shove out there. For a team that is starving for funds, a bonus for a car making the Chase was worth the risks at the time. Now that they have found out what the risks are, they would probably re-think their approach. I hope that driver Martin Truex, Jr., who did nothing but race his ass off into the Chase only to get kicked out, lands a good ride and can bring some of his former MWR colleagues with him.

Something that might have slipped through the cracks last weekend was Ernie Irvan getting back into racing as a car owner for his son Jared starting in 2014. The 15-year old Irvan will compete full-time in the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) that hits tracks like Hickory, South Boston, and Organ County. History lesson for you all is those were former Nationwide Series tracks back in the day. It’s good to see Ernie getting back into the sport after having such a great, albeit short, career that included 15 victories, the 1991 Daytona 500, and what should have been the 1994 title had he not gotten injured at Michigan.

Brad Keselowski Vs. Kyle Busch

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NASCAR’s newest rivalry has been brewing for a while now. It’s not a surprise given how many races Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch run against each other that they’ve finally bumped heads one too many times.

Tensions came to a boil during Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, the Kansas Lottery 300, from the Kansas Speedway. Keselowski and Busch were racing hard for the second position with 31 laps to go. Presumably leader Matt Kenseth was short on fuel, so the duel could be for the win, and with the two teams neck and neck for the owner’s title, a lot was at stake.

As they came through with 12 laps to go, Busch was under Keselowski, and held in the gas a bit too much and hooked Keselowski. Keselowski slid through the infield and then into the outside, ending his day.

Keselowski then ran to the infield, gesturing towards Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing team and had some harsh words once reporters caught up to him. “I got wrecked by a dirty driver,” Keselowski said. “There’s no other way of putting it. He’s cool with that. I have raced him really cool over the last year to be respectful to him and try to repair our relationship…He put me in the fence in Chicago in the Truck race, and the Nationwide races he has been pulling this crap. It is not going to last, I can tell you that. I feel bad for the guys next to me (indicating the No. 54 team) that are going to have to fix his stuff. That’s going to be part of racing and they are going to have to deal with it…Now we’ve got war.”

To his credit Busch did own the incident, stating “There were a lot of moments where maybe I felt a little crowded, but the contact there that ultimately ended it… I just got real tight off (Turn) 4. I’ve been battling tight underneath him and behind him and everything else, and finally I thought I had a run, and I tried to stay in the gas so I could get a run on him and get to his quarter and side-drafted him down the front straightaway. I got too tight, got inside his wake and just got too close to him and spun him out.”

The problem is Busch kept talking at this point, especially after hearing Keselowski’s remarks, to say “Brad Keselowski knows what dirty drivers are because he’s done it plenty of times. But I have yet to wreck a person on purpose…I got wrecked for the Chase spot by Brad Keselowski (in 2012) and then had an opportunity to wreck him a few times throughout the Chase and didn’t. (I) let him and Jimmie Johnson battle it out on their own, and ultimately he won the deal. If I wanted to, I could have cost Brad Keselowski a championship, but I’m a bigger person than that.”

In Sunday’s Sprint Cup race Keselowski did not have an opportunity to get to Busch as other drivers took care of that for him. During one of the cautions, Keselowski’s spotter radioed him “you’ll enjoy why we’re under caution,” referring to Busch having problems.

The irony in this is during one of the incidents for Busch, he came down on Juan Pablo Montoya, who did not give an inch. The end results was Busch going for a spin and remarking that he’s never spun himself on a straightaway.

You have one driver who has nothing to lose this season (Keselowski) going against a driver who has a short fuse and long memory (Busch). Needless to say this will get interesting.

Oh and for the record, Kyle Busch has crashed himself going in a straight line.

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Logano Continues Climbing Out Of The Basement

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Engine issues at Chicagoland put Joey Logano and his Penske Racing team in a deep hole for the Chase. They were able to get a little bit out of last week’s 14th place finish, he was aided by Kasey Kahne’s problems to get out of the basement to 12th place in points.

Sunday at the Dover International Speedway, Logano came home third in the AAA 400. It was his first top-5/top-10 finish since a second place finish at Atlanta four races ago.

“We are concerned about points because we’re in the Chase and we’re not out of it yet.  I just saw we’re 66 points back now so we gained a couple, which isn’t many, but these are the days we’ve got to have.  We’re back on track.  The last three weeks have been a little tougher for us and coming here to Dover, my favorite race track, this Shell/Pennzoil team did everything they had to do to get that Ford up front and get closer,” Logano told reporters after finishing the race.

The issue Logano had was a car that wasn’t good for the short term, but the long term runs. He was aided by a long stretch of green flag laps just before the end of the race.

“Our biggest issue is we didn’t take off with really good speed, but after 15-16-17 laps it came to me and it was really fast.  It just took a little bit too long there on the last restart.  I was able to get up to third, I was in the right lane, but by the time my car came to me I was too late.  We were the fastest car the last six laps, but it doesn’t really matter when you can barely see the leaders.  Unfortunately, that was our day, but, overall, we can’t be too disappointed with a third-place finish.  It’s just that you always want to be a little better,” Logano explained.

Building confidence is what Logano and his team need to do. Capitalizing on the momentum they get from the third place finish will be key to how they finish the Chase off.

“Momentum is built back up.  Richmond, Chicago and then Loudon weren’t our best races.  At Chicago we had a fast car, but we blew up there.  Really, if we had that Chicago race back, we’d be in the mix for this championship.  Unfortunately, those things happen, but we’re slowly but surely making up from that right now,” commented Logano.

The Hollywood Casino 400 is next up from the Kansas Speedway for the Sprint Cup Series. The action gets underway Sunday, October 6th, at 2:00 PM EST and can be seen live on ESPN.

End Of The Road For Hornish At Penske?

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As the 2013 season winds down with just over two months left, most drivers have an idea of where they’ll be racing for the 2014 season. One driver who has yet to concretely answer that question is Sam Hornish, Jr.

Hornish is currently driving the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Penske Racing and is doing a great job currently leading the driver standings by 17 points over Austin Dillon. With a win to his credit this year, he’s finally performing at the potential team owner Roger Penske saw when he brought him over to NASCAR in 2008.

The problem was it was directly into the Sprint Cup Series without much preparation in the lower-tier Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series.  The result was finishing 35th in points his first season (2008), he improved the next year (2009) to finish 28th in points, and then regressed finishing 29th the next season (2010).

At that point a sponsorship shortage forced Penske Racing to only run him in select Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races. Focusing on only those few races on the Nationwide side, Hornish got a win in 2011 and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

He drove the full 2012 season in the Nationwide Series finishing fourth in points, while also driving 20 races in the Sprint Cup Series after AJ Allmendinger was released from the #22 car. Going into the offseason Hornish thought he had a great chance at getting that car, but instead Penske went with Joey Logano.

While it was a blow to his ego, he’s raced hard this year, and the results are showing. The problem is sponsorship issues are again coming up with the rumor being Penske will only run one Nationwide team next season. Currently it’s Hornish in the full-time ride, then Sprint Cup drivers Brad Keselowski, Logano, and a few other drivers have been running the #22 Ford, which could win the owner’s title.

Odds are they will want to not only keep campaigning Keselowski and Logano, whom have gotten the team seven wins this season, but also provide an opportunity for development driver Ryan Blaney to get some races in. If sponsorship isn’t found, then I can see Hornish as the odd man out once again. For as much as Roger Penske likes Hornish, he just can’t get sponsors to feel the same way.

Hornish’s name has come up recently as a driver for the #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series. The rumor floating is there more interest from Hornish’s side than the team’s side. It’ll be interesting if they go the route of an experienced driver or a young driver and take their lumps.

I personally think Hornish deserves another chance in the Cup Series, it just might not be good to have it with Penske Racing. For all they’ve been through something is just keeping the combination from really clicking on the Cup side.

Could We See Larson In The 42 This Year?

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The biggest question raised after Monday’s announcement that Juan Pablo Montoya would be going back to the Izod IndyCar series in 2014 is will this open the door to seeing Kyle Larson in the car before the close of the season.

The first reason this would make sense is that Montoya isn’t in the Chase, so it’s not like he’s going for the championship, it’s mainly just wins from here on out. While the team has been fast, I don’t see them getting any wins in the final nine races.

A second reason is the rivalry between Chip Ganassi (co-owner Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) and Roger Penske (owner Team Penske) could be one where Ganassi could be furious that is where Montoya is going. Instead of keeping him around where maybe he gather information to give Penske, he could cut him loose early.

A third reason is this way both organizations can focus their efforts on 2014. Montoya can begin to re-acclimate himself to IndyCar and Ganassi can bring up rookie Kyle Larson to get some races under his belt. Penske might not have a team in place for Montoya yet, but Larson could begin to work with the crew he’ll work with starting at Daytona next February.

I think a move like this could benefit both sides, but most likely would take place after this weekend’s activates at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This weekend the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series are not racing at the same location, so logistically it would make sense to not start Larson until the week after.

Edwards: Menard Spun His Tires

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Lost in all the shuffle of Spingate has been the last restart where it looked like Carl Edwards jumped before second place running Paul Menard had a chance to hit the gas. Restarts have been a big source of controversy throughout the 2013 season and this was another example of where it appeared the leader got a big jump.

Not so fast as Edwards explained to media members gather in Chicago Thursday afternoon, in preparation for this weekend’s Chase kick off. “Paul (Menard) spun the tires, he actually ran into my door a little trying to get his car straightened out. I thought, ‘Man, what am I supposed to do here.’ I didn’t know if I was supposed to lift of how much I would have to lift. Fortunately NASCAR saw that he spun his tires and Paul said he spun the tires.”

Overall restarts are just an issue because of what can happen when a driver, leader or not, spins their tires trying to take off. “What if he had 100 laps on the tires and not grip and the whole field had four. Are we all supposed to go at his pace? I don’t know the answer to that. I think that either, not just as the second place guy, but as the leader it puts everyone in a tough position.”

Like anything in racing, drivers are given seconds to make decisions. “About a tenth of a second. It is tough and it all depends on how it looks too. No one is in that car with me…It is tough man. This thing, NASCAR has to make a lot of judgment calls and I don’t envy that position.”

What Edwards does have on his side is actually Menard, the driver who helped create this. Fans and media have been going after the fact Edwards jumped the start, but the drivers involved agree that he didn’t. “At least Paul and I agreed on what happened. I thought that was very respectful of him. He texted me after hoping that I didn’t catch too much grief because of him spinning his tires. That meant a lot. A lot of guys take advantage of a situation like that and fight you in the media over it and stuff like that. I thought that was pretty cool of Paul.”

Edwards will look to get an edge up on the competition going into the start of the Chase and hopefully not be in Menard’s spot the next time. The action this weekend gets underway on Sunday when the GEICO 400 is run at the Chicagoland Speedway. It can be seen on ESPN starting at 2 PM EST.