Race Weekend Central

Wrong Price, Wrong Time for NASCAR Nationwide Series CoT

On paper, there’s a lot of things that sound great. Take healthcare reform, for instance. Who in their right mind would argue that covering more people while lowering costs for everyone out there is a bad thing? No one.

But, as anyone that reads anything not featured on CNN or HealthReform.gov knows very well, alongside all the problems, unresolved issues, ideological conflicts and the simple fact that the proposed change doesn’t cover more people while costing less, there are two major problems with the current reform proposition that have nothing to do with healthcare: The costs are too high and the time is not right.

That current episode in Washington is comparable to the situation surrounding the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with the upcoming implementation of that series’ CoT in 2010. On paper, the new car is just what the doctor ordered. It looks sharp, and it drives better than the disaster that is the Cup CoT. Justin Allgaier told NASCAR.com after testing the new ride at Talladega that “it drives like a dream.”

And with the justifiably rave reviews of both how the car drives and how it actually halfway resembles something that puts the stock car in NASCAR, there are plenty out there writing about the new car, how it looks, and what it’s going to mean for racing in 2010. Take the “NASCAR Insiders” for instance, who took time to praise the looks of the new car while questioning nothing about its rollout other than how NASCAR would handle it’s second-tier series running a more attractive racecar than the Cup circuit.

Congratulations, Insiders! You and everyone else out there writing about the drivers liking how the CoT car drove in testing and how the cars are now distinguishable by more than just decals have bitten NASCAR’s lure hook, line and sinker. Instead of asking substantive questions about how it even remotely makes fiscal sense for a series that has no money as is to force a costly, four-race only new program on teams, there’s instead debate over what type of muscle car Chevrolet should bring in instead of the Impala.

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NASCAR’s got to be loving articles like that, because if that’s what’s being written, it’s clear that writers have lost sight of two underlying factors regarding this new car: the costs are too high, the time is not right.

Let’s talk costs. Remember back when the Cup CoT was first announced (and how drivers had surprisingly little to say negatively about how it drove?) One of the major justifications for that new car was that it would save teams money through reduced fleets of racecars. And now, in our third season with the new car, costs in the Cup ranks are higher than ever, with the big teams out there still having over a dozen cars in their shop – and specific ones built to run on specific tracks.

Yet, despite this track record, NASCAR’s been far from bashful about toting how the new NNS car would be a cost-cutter for teams down the road.

Great, future savings down the road. What about the present? Hey NASCAR, see how many cars in the back of the field are starting-and-parking? See how even teams with sponsorship, like the Rensi-Hamilton Racing No. 24 team, can’t afford to buy a full race allotment of tires? See how many young prospects are sitting on the sidelines because they have no sponsors to foot the bill? See how many teams have just flat disappeared from the Nationwide Series over the last few years (remember PPC Racing, Lewis Motorsports?) News flash… there is NO money in the Nationwide Series right now to tackle this kind of development project.

Jason Keller noted in October that his Baker-Curb Racing team estimated that to run the four CoT races on the NNS schedule for 2010, it would cost them a million dollars. To put that in perspective, that’s 25% of the team’s current sponsorship to run barely a tenth of the races on the schedule. And that’s for a team fortunate enough to have a bigger sponsor (that’s not returning next year, by the way.) To give you further perspective, that million-dollar price tag is also worth more than Kenny Wallace‘s yearlong sponsorship deal with the U.S. Border Patrol.

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Listening to Keller, the Nationwide Series’ longest-running veteran, he notes that to start drawing sponsors back into a series that is losing them left and right (longtime sponsors Kimberly Clark, Clorox and Kingsford are just a handful of the companies that have either left for the Cup Series or just pulled out of motorsports), the costs of running a competitive NNS operation needs to come back into the $3-4 million range. OK, so that’s $3-4 million for a season of 35 races – $1 million to run four races. There is no spinster out there that can make that math add up.

What’s more, there aren’t a lot of NNS teams out there with enough infrastructure to dedicate to developing a new racecar on top of keeping up with a grueling 35-race schedule that travel-wise is even more challenging than that tackled by the Cup Series. Longtime NNS team owner Jodi Geschickter told Frontstretch back in September that NASCAR seldom seems to stop and realize that for most Nationwide Series teams, race weekend means there’s no one left at the shop… because all of those folks are also at the track taking care of race-day operations.

In short, these Nationwide teams aren’t Hendrick Motorsports. They don’t put 500 people on the payroll ready to tackle continuous R&D.

And even if this new car wasn’t so cost prohibitive and time consuming, it would still likely end up driving a ton of independent team owners out of the series, at least in a full-time capacity. Why? Because so many teams in the Nationwide ranks rely on buying used racecars from the superteams. JD Motorsports, Faith Motorsports, MacDonald Motorsports, Key Motorsports, Cardinal Motorsports, Specialty Racing… that list permeates all the way through the series’ entry forms. So where, exactly, are all of these car owners going to be able to pick up a used Nationwide CoT?

Can’t think of the answer? That’s because there isn’t one. The only way that these teams are going to be able to acquire these cars is if the super-teams go from car development to car assembly, churning out CoTs like a factory not only to equip their own outfits, but to create a surplus of cars for the little guys to race as well.

Yes, that’s about as far-fetched as ESPN deciding not to use near-death crashes to promote racing at Talladega.

But the bigger teams aren’t just going to start churning out CoTs for a used-car lot. No, they’re going to do what their resources allow them to do: test, experiment, fine-tune. They’re going to take their time and figure these cars out, so that when they hit the track at Daytona in July 2010 they’re going to be up at the front of the field, just like they’re used to being. That’s not a knock on them at all… any race team with money would do the same thing.

But that’s also bad news for the majority of NNS teams out there that have a hard enough time affording the old-gen cars that the superteams put on the selling block already.

The fact that the giants of the Nationwide Series are going to be under the gun themselves for the next eight months getting their cars up to par does not bode well for teams like Key Motorsports, who despite their admirable efforts in 2009 still have no factory support.

The same goes for Specialty Racing, who actually planned to work on the chassis component of their CoTs themselves while counting on Ford’s Roush Fenway Racing organization to run testing on the car’s bodies and other components to provide the link for them to have a competitive CoT. And this was before the failed Matt Carter experiment left that organization with no choice but to start-and-park for the remainder of this season…

Couple the fact that at least a dozen regular Nationwide Series teams that are going to somehow have to find CoT cars to race in July with a field that’s only reaching 43 cars thanks to an ever-growing start-and-park brigade, and there’s a recipe for a field at Daytona that would more resemble a local short track in terms of car count. But have no fear, says NASCAR. Sources tell Frontstretch that NASCAR has accounted for it, choosing to leave these owners to their own means while banking on a number of new owners who are holding out on fielding NNS entries until the new car comes around to fill the fields.

Well, that’s about as comforting a “solution” to the problem as it is having Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid claim that half of the new healthcare bill is going to be paid for by unspecified cuts of fraud and abuse in the existing bureaucracy of government-run healthcare. And if you find that comforting, go ahead and stop wasting your time reading this.

So the price tag is astronomical and there’s a big question mark surrounding just about every NNS team out there that doesn’t have Cup backing as to where they’re going to find CoT cars to race in 2010.

But it’s safer, says NASCAR. And who can put a price on safety? I mean, look at that horrible crash that Ryan Newman endured at Talladega this past Sunday. King Brian’s dream car saved Newman’s life, right?

I’m not stupid enough to argue that the CoT is not a very safe racecar, nor am I suggesting at all that safety be minimized when considering a car. But does the Nationwide Series have to create a brand new car from the ground up to have safer ones?

If you ask owner/driver Peyton Sellers, the answer is no… because “I think we can fix [the cars] we’ve got.”

Sellers points to two concrete examples of how modifications to the current car that everyone has could be made for considerably less expense than the CoT, and make the NNS drivers safer as well: opening up the greenhouse and moving the driver’s seat towards the center of the car.

“The greenhouse is the hoop bar that goes around the driver’s head and right now it’s pretty close to the driver’s head. Right now, you could open it up four inches, and give the driver some more room,” says Sellers. “And the tower shifter, the shifter’s typically been on the side of the transmission, where now they [can] move it to the top of the transmission. You get a couple inches there, so you can move the seat over a little bit. There’s some things they could do to the cars we have now that could be real effective.”

But, those aren’t solutions being tossed around. Instead, NASCAR sees fit to throw the baby out with the bathwater and to force a costly new project onto the Nationwide Series that only the Cup teams already running actual Nationwide regulars out of business in the first place are going to be able to afford to undertake.

That’s not to say the new car doesn’t have merits. It does look sleek. The drivers do like how it drives. And it does have the potential to give an identity to the Nationwide Series, something it is lacking.

But none of those potential benefits matter if there’s no one left to race in the Nationwide Series. Plain and simple, the personnel are not there to handle this project. The money and sponsors aren’t there. The roster of teams and owners isn’t strong enough.

The time is not right for the Nationwide Series to tackle a CoT program.

But that’s apparently news to NASCAR.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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