Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Franchises, Barber, Work and Wrigley

So it was an off week in NASCAR. Did anyone miss it? Aww, c’mon, a little break never hurt. Of course, the difficulty in writing anything worthwhile about the sport becomes problematic when, you know, nothing really happened.

But wait, something did.

The demise of Swan Racing has taken center stage in the news cycle — which tells you that either A) nothing actually happened or B) it’s actually worth writing about. OK, it’s not to pick on the drivers, crewmen, or anyone else associated with the team who lost a job; that part sucks. The sad reality of the situation is that Swan Racing was a backmarker, not one that was destined to compete with the oligarchies of Cup competition. Even if they could buy into Hendrick, Toyota, or Roush, they still weren’t going to jump into the top 15 anytime soon.

The real story here is that few teams in the Cup Series are actually worth anything. Sure, they’re worth their parts and pieces, on the auction block but there’s no outside value in them. There are two reasons why.

First, the 43-car field is an outdated concept. How many people are really getting geeked up to worry whether J.J. Yeley beats out Ryan Truex for the 43rd spot so that either one of them can be two laps down before a quarter of the race has passed? Anyone? The continued ideal of the 43-car field is one whose time is left to history. Oh sure, blah blah blah, the NASCAR rhetoric is still that anyone can make the starting grid and whatever, but that’s a lie with however you want to consider the top 35 rule is these days (morphed into a provisional system where the top guys still have no problems qualifying).

Martin Truex, Jr.‘s No. 56 team went from full-time to part-time status in the blink of an eye.
Martin Truex, Jr.‘s No. 56 team went from full-time to part-time status in the blink of an eye.

Martin Truex, Jr.‘s No. 56 team went from full-time to part-time status in the blink of an eye.

The second problem is that if teams can come and go with such ease, there really isn’t any worth in them. Huh? Remember that Martin Truex, Jr. ride from last year, the No. 56? Where’s that? Part-time status.

If NASCAR wants to continue to think in stick-and-ball terms, then it needs to realize that stability of the teams is a good thing — meaning that they just don’t disappear. How often has the NBA,NFL or even the NHL contracted?

The reason they don’t is because, uh-oh, that dreaded word: they’re franchises. An owner buys into the league. To fold a team after that is supremely difficult. Sure, the Cleveland Browns have had some terrible (some, ha, surely you jest) years, but they still exist.

Franchises have value; they’re a commodity. A race team is not. The governing body is loath to move in a direction that might take away some of their authority, but really, Formula 1 sets the example here. Teams buy into the the series. Sure, Force India might not be great, but they’re there each week and they have been for a few years now. That’s the reason that getting into the sport is such an onerous prospect, one with which Gene Haas is now familiar. It’s because they don’t want teams just showing up hoping to make the race without a serious support structure — sorry, Brian Keselowski.

And look, F1 still manages to have quite the dictator running the show, which means that Brian France could do the same (though probably not as well). A driver’s union has always been an idea that has been bandied about, but locking the Cup field to 36, with all entries franchised, makes the sport, and with it the racing, better. Ah, perchance to dream…

Happiness Is… Barber. Yep, go get a haircut. Really, IndyCar is back in action this week after also taking a quick break. It’s Barber Motorsports Complex in Alabama where they head. Though Will Power may lead the standings, the Andretti group looked pretty strong at Long Beach and raced well there last year. Could Ryan Hunter-Reay atone for his mental hiccup? The race is on Sunday and isn’t battling the Richmond Cup race on the TV schedule. Give it a look-see.

Happiness Is… Work. OK, work can suck, no doubt. But in the Cup Series fans should be enjoying a rare thing — watching Hendrick Motorsports have to work for it. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may have collected a win, from four-car HMS but he’s the only one. At this point in the season, it almost seems like a statistical anomaly that they haven’t racked up four or so. Instead, five second-place finishes leave this New York Yankees outfit playing the bridesmaid and not the bride.

No doubt, that storyline will change. The teams have run up in the front all too much but just haven’t crossed the line first. It’s coming. So, for those non-Hendrick fans, enjoy the dearth of HMS trophies while you can.

Happiness Is… Wrigley. The Cubs celebrated their 100th year at Wrigley Field this past week. This kind of moment serves as a reminder of history and sports in America and how prominent its place can be. The Milwaukee Mile, now over 100 years old, still sits as a somewhat forgotten reminder of the birth of oval racing in the U.S. and the dawn of the mechanized age. Ah, the sepia-toned wonder of yesteryear.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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