Wednesday , August 20 2014
Home / Did You Notice? / Did You Notice? … Penalty Loopholes, Awkward NASCAR Alliances And Quick Hits
Did You Notice? … Penalty Loopholes, Awkward NASCAR Alliances And Quick Hits
(Credit: CIA)

Did You Notice? … Penalty Loopholes, Awkward NASCAR Alliances And Quick Hits

Did You Notice?… NASCAR’s top nine team owners in Sprint Cup have come together to form their own, separate “organization?” Of course you did, as it’s been the top story of a slow news summer. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing will head up a new Race Team Alliance (RTA) that includes the top nine funded teams in the sport. Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and MWR make up its initial membership.

That’s a powerful number, equivalent to 26 of the 43 full-time cars competing on the Cup Series circuit. All those not involved are single-car outfits (like Furniture Row Racing) heavily dependent on the larger teams for support or underfunded, multi-car teams like Tommy Baldwin Racing simply trying to drudge up enough backing each week to keep coming to the racetrack. The fact these owners are coming together immediately forms a powerful entity, the likes of which was never seen during two eras of heavy-handed NASCAR dictatorship in the form of Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr.

The goal of these owners, they claim is to reduce costs, a noble effort in an age where NASCAR sponsorship pricing has remained steady but interest, viewership, and future growth in the sport has taken major hits. The “jump to conclusions” (thank you, Office Space) theory for many following the sport, though is that these owners have unionized, coming together for their own agenda NASCAR must support… or else.

Its formation, should it hold in my view instantly minimizes the power of NASCAR and Brian France. Could you imagine, per se the sport passes an engine rule change for next year these multi-car owners don’t like, designed to get new faces and investors involved that could one day challenge their dominance at the top. If this RTA organization says, “If you make this change, we’ll all go ‘on strike’ and not show up at Daytona” how could NASCAR continue to function? What, is BK Racing going to go out there, with three-year-old equipment funding 43 cars to run the Daytona 500?

In the past, when driver unions or similar formations have taken place strong leadership down in the oval office of Daytona has torn them to shreds. The Frances, for years have been known for that type of totalitarian environment but let’s face facts: Brian, no matter what you think about him is just not that type of leader. There’s no true response from NASCAR on this alliance because they have no response. These owners, this RTA after years of unchecked growth is now more integral to the survival of NASCAR as a sport than the leadership of the sport itself.

How the RTA functions going forward, then, as it solidifies could determine the landscape of NASCAR for the next decade to come. If a goal is to reduce costs, well, will these nine owners do that, eventually letting all other teams in the RTA (which is their stated goal) when that reduction increases parity and thus, allows other organizations to creep into their stranglehold on the front? Other owners winning races spreads growth in the sport but also gives Ganassi, Hendrick, Roush, etc. a financial hit when these race teams are a major source of their functional income. Can these multi-car owners, with no guarantee of franchising and their continued future place in the sport allow others to enter their country club of success, knowing it’s good for business in the long run but bad for their own, personal bottom line in the short term? It’s not only possible, but probable they could reach that type of conclusion; after all, the New York Yankees, in Major League Baseball recognize the luxury tax as a major evil to allow all teams, big and small to remain competitive and keep fans filling stadiums for years to come.

Or are these owners too greedy, looking to solidify their stake in the sport and the financial stake that comes with it in the face of potential opposition? After all, there’s no “franchising” in NASCAR, which means failure costs them a fortune in a series where “bankruptcy” or going belly-up goes unprotected. It’s part of a list of open-ended, unanswered questions that could go 1,000 different directions. Are these owners willing to make a major sacrifice, or are they drawing a line in the sand, preparing to protect themselves as stock car racing reaches out to other investors, manufacturers, and potential owners to get them involved? We do know, based on how IndyCar has worked over the last decade leaving the bargaining power in the form of a select few owners, where the sport’s CEO (remember Randy Bernard?) has been fairly ineffective doesn’t really do much to move the needle – except when you’re pointing to the ground.

2014 Dover I NNS Jack Roush CIA

Jack Roush has joined with other owners in helping secure their present and future NASCAR investment with the formation of the Race Team Alliance (RTA).

Kauffman, whose MWR organization is smack in the middle of the pack when it comes to both results and financial success is viewed as a moderate leader with potential. But, let’s not forget, he’s also at the epicenter of a cheating scandal last Fall in which the financial greed of making the Chase overwhelmed his organization into making decisions that forever tainted the competition. That’s not exactly the perfect track record on which to trust. So I’d say yes, the RTA bears watching but with a skeptical eye. Actions, in the next six months will speak louder than any “nice nice” words we hear from people trying to say all the right things right now for what is an unprecedented formation within the world of stock car racing.

Did You Notice?… Tuesday showed us a potential loophole in NASCAR’s penalty system? At Daytona, Kurt Busch was caught in postrace inspection for a panhard bar issue. Officially, it was diagnosed as a P2 violation, part of the sport’s new system that clarifies fines, points deductions and other punishments doled out for breaking the rules. As a result, because the Z-height measurement between the center of the panhard bar mounting bolt (located at the left truck trailing arm) and the center of the panhard bar mounting bolt, located at the right rear sub-frame mounting bracket, exceeded three inches the team endured a $10,000 fine (applied to crew chief Daniel Knost) and lost 10 driver/owner points.

Sounds like a normal penalty, right? Of course. But how, exactly is Busch being penalized aside from the fine? His regular season points standing, since he’s all but earned a spot in the Chase doesn’t suffer. Even with the penalty, Busch remains around 150 points up on 31st-place David Gilliland; Gilliland may not even score 150 points between now and the end of the regular season. $10,000, what the No. 41 team was hit with is pocket change as opposed to the millions they could win by taking home the Cup Series title.

Facing that type of imbalance, why wouldn’t a team looking for an inside edge come September test the gray area now? If you get caught, there’s nothing to lose; Busch’s “criminal record” will have no impact once the points get reset this postseason. Why not play in the danger zone, see if you get caught and if not, well, you know what tricks of the trade to use for the final ten races?

There’s an easy fix to this problem for NASCAR: make all penalties that incur during the regular season impact a driver’s potential postseason standing. For example, if Kurt got a P4 penalty and had 20 driver points taken away, apply said penalty now and once the points are reset for the postseason. There’s no better way to derail cheating than hitting the teams where it really counts, right? Otherwise, with the way the Chase structure is – a system where you can “lock in” a postseason bid up to six months early – the door is wide open to play sort of when it comes to the rules on occasion.

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before we take off:

- With Richard Petty Motorsports remaining with Ford, Toyota still has a prime opening or two if they want to expand their NASCAR Cup operation. But why not pour money into BK Racing instead, making them the other “factory” team with Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing? You’ve got a three-car team there, surviving in an era where lower-tier teams struggle to get to the track each week and three rookies to boot: Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, and Cole Whitt. There’s no better way to invest in NASCAR’s future than to invest in the drivers leading them into the future, right? There were indications, when Swan Racing closed up shop Toyota was increasing their presence with BK and their 2015 inclusion into a factory program would be nice to see.

- Brian Vickers, second at Daytona Sunday is the defending race winner at New Hampshire. Marcos Ambrose has dominated Watkins Glen in the recent past. Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, and Tony Stewart haven’t won. It’s still so easy to get to 16 winners… so those who are points racing, like three-car Richard Childress Racing have to be getting a little nervous, no? I applaud RCR’s strategy, which has gotten all three of their drivers in Chase position if the season ended now. If you can’t beat ‘em, top-10 ‘em to death, right? But at some point, RCR may have to take a big risk to ensure they don’t get shoved out by others visiting Victory Lane.

- Wouldn’t it have been nice if Tony Stewart just went off a little further on Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.? No one wants to deal with the media circus generated by a “good vs. evil” rivalry within the world of NASCAR these days. But what caused the sport to grow? “Good vs. evil” rivalries, generated in fans’ heads involving Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, etc. The choice of drivers, increasingly these days is to keep their mouth shut, a sound of silence that is far more damaging than the “sound bite of the season” that would pop up all over the country in its place.

- There are plenty of people complaining NASCAR should have ran all 160 laps on Sunday, waiting out the rain for several more hours. That’s fine; we’re all entitled to our own opinion. But when so many of them criticized NASCAR for not postponing the Daytona 500 after a lengthy rain delay, resulting in the “12 Hours of Daytona” five months earlier that’s a double standard. Which was worse? Because you can’t have it both ways…

About Tom Bowles

Tom Bowles
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.

21 comments

  1. “these owners have unionized, coming together for their own agenda NASCAR must support… or else” What will they do if NASCAR doesn’t do what they want? Stay home? Really? They have sponsors who are paying huge money to have their cars on the track. Lowe’s, Go Daddy, Budweiser, Shell…. you think they’re not going to want their money back if the cars stay home because their owners are taking a tantrum? That happened once before… and Richard Petty missed the first Talladega race and looked like an idiot for it. NASCAR controls everything whether the owners like it or not.

    • This isn’t 1969. The RTA will litigate the crap out of NASCAR. It is the new American Way.

    • Don’t be surprised if the sponsors get in on it. Truex got screwed by nascar and napa tucked tail. Nationwide dropped a whole series to go with one driver. It’s a different world now.

    • There is zero comparison between this and the previous driver’s association. The RTA is more than a small annoyance, as they control the majority of teams and all of the drivers – and make no mistake that NASCAR fandom 2014 is basically a personality cult (example A – Junior, example B – Danica…should I keep going?). The $8B TV deal only works if fans tune in to see their faves. It will be polite and quiet for a while, but with the Frances and Bruton Smith getting most of the TV revenue both directly and through their tracks (and a closed, set schedule that puts almost all races on their tracks…), unless NASCAR come up to the table and forks over a significant chunk while giving up a portion their complete control, there will be fireworks. For too long NASCAR has been scooping team sponsorships, keeping TV revenue to themselves, limiting the companies that teams can partner with due to “market segment exclusivity” and basically…being NASCAR. The France’s are going to quickly find out that the TV deal may not work out as well for them as expected. Owners smell blood. This is going to be interesting!

  2. At the very least this new RTA deal will allow the owners to present a clear agenda when dealing with NASCAR. Whatever the topic, the owners will meet, vote, and present NASCAR with their view. Whether it will ever be more than that or whether if NASCAR ignores them there will be repercussions is doubtful.

    Regarding the penalty on Kurt Busch, I pointed out early in the season with the new chase rules that there were two classes of drivers. Those that have a win and can laugh off a 50 point penalty and those without wins that are still scrapping for every point they can get. This new system allows those that have won (we’ll call them the priviledged class) to cheat with little fear during the regular season (granted they can’t go crazy or NASCAR could do something unheard of). Meanwhile those that haven’t won (we’ll call them the under class) can’t afford to try anything lest they be penalized.
    See, NASCAR mirrors real life. OJ anyone?

  3. Maybe, just maybe these team owners can see what Nascar and Brian France refuse to see. The sport is dying a slow death. Fans are not watching, the product has grown unwatchable, and teams are losing money year after year. Something has gotta give and if this makes Nascar a better product in the long run, I’m happy that they are forming this group.

    Love the “jump to conclusion mat” scene reference.

  4. Before we question the will of Brian France, remember his uncle is still behind the scenes. If the RTA tried to fight NASCAR then they will do what Big Bill did to the PDA, let them walk. The Frances control the sanctioning body and the majority of tracks with ISC. If the owners ever tried to revolt, where are they going to race? I don’t see SMI as an ally, they want the TV money more than the team owners. Where are they going to race? Rockingham, North Wilkesboro? They won’t make enough money to pay the star drivers salaries and they would die quicker than CART did. Brian may not be the tyrant his dad or grandfather were, but the family still holds all the cards.

  5. “Two eras of dictatorial leadership in the form of Bill France Sr and Bill France Jr”. Thank you, finally for some truthful non PC testosterone fueled reporting. Whatever the outcome of this organization it has to be an improvement over what NASCAR has been.

  6. Is team racing allowed now? Reference Kyle, non points racer, backing up to help Elliot, points race to stay last car on lead lap.

  7. This is all about money and power, not about racing. I dare say the team owners are.Happy with that side of it. It’s almost laughable to hear Kaufman talk about reducing costs. The teams are as culinary able as Nascar in driving costs up. And I don’t think you see many of the owners at Senior night at the restaurant. Increased purses will probably. Be what Nascar will trot out.Why because it doesn’t come out of their money. But I don’t think they will settle for that. They want the TV money.

    • I realy need to use preview my comments before they are published. Might make more sense.

  8. In the time of the formation of the Professional Drivers Association, sure NASCAR had its big-name stars, but a lot of fans were still cheering for whoever drove a particular make of car, and hoping the best drivers ended up on “their team.” These days, it’s all about the names and the decals, so the owners have a lot more value than they would have had back when, should they need to play that card.

    Conversely, if the “big dogs” are forming up to keep out the “little guy,” the need for that is long past. No new team is going to come into the sport and steal away anything other than the occasional plate track top ten.

  9. I’m so damn sick of hearing about “Spingate” when nascar itself manipulates races with the yellow flag. Even Jr. Intentionally spun out once. It’s not a new thing.

    • Yes, I remember Jr spinning out on purpose and admitting over the radio. If I recall he was penalized. Bowyer spun on purpose as well but didn’t admit it and his spin had obvious and significant impacts to the chase entry. (Was the chase even around when Jr spun out on purpose? I don’t remember.
      Technically Bowyer didn’t get any penalty did he?
      So you can keep trying to sweep spingate under the rug but there are a lot of us that won’t let that happen.

      • The one who really got away with it was the RCR car (Menard?) at Richmond the year before.

      • Not sweeping anything under the rug. Shinning the light of hypocrisy on nascar, the media, and ignorant fans.

      • Bill, no chase when Jr spun, he needed a caution so he caused one, he was trying to help himself not anyone else. Bowyer’s spin was another matter altogether since it was meant to benefit his teammate because of the chase. I don’t really care for the “team racing” that now goes on in NASCAR, I really preferred the simpler time when it was each car/team for itself.

        I do agree however that since NASCAR also manipulates the race through caution flags and other penalties that they essentially reap what they sowed. Brian France doesn’t really care about racing, he is all about “excitement”. What a shame that all of the things he has changed has resulted in less of that, not more, plus a fan base that is falling away at the same time.

  10. So here we go again with wanting drivers to show “personality” instead of the vanilla, boring, smiling faces. Yeah, let Kyle show some personality and the media will crush him and have fans emailing his sponsors.

  11. Let’s face it. Brian France is not a leader. He’s a spoiled brat who throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Remember the “Don’t call it a play-off” remarks about the Chase? Even he refers to it as a play-off system now. He’s also delusional. Remember his remarks about fans not liking the Chase? Does he really live in an Ivory Tower or a bubble keeping him stupid to the outside world and what’s going on? He really does need to go if there’s ever going to be any chance of salvaging what’s left of what was once a great form of auto racing.

    • Yep. This is happening because Brian France is a farce. Everyone can see that nascar is losing ground. This is a vote of no confidence against him and his two sidekicks.

    • agreed, Brainless is not a leader, but damn he can make $ hand over fist for the France family which is all they really care about. Good racing? that’s just an afterthought.