Did You Notice? … Only four different engine combinations are currently in position to make NASCAR’s Chase? A quick look at the top 16 gives us the following breakdown….
Joe Gibbs Racing (via TRD): 5
Team Penske (via Roush Yates motors): 2
Richard Childress Racing (Earnhardt Childress motors): 2
In a modern racing world where multi-car efforts have increasingly blurred the lines of “individual” and “team” seeing such a small crop of “different” combinations is highly concerning. It’s bad enough the sport has been down to just three manufacturers for several years in a world where types and brands of cars are diversifying rapidly. It’s even worse that despite aesthetic changes all three approved cars (Ford Fusion, Chevy SS & Toyota Camry) look fairly similar on track. Crew chiefs, carrying the heavy burden of rules that leave them stuck in a box are already puzzled each week on how to get their setups to stand out in a way that they’ll eke ahead.
Unfortunately, there’s little to no hope of those numbers adjusting. Each of the sport’s current top 25 in points is running one of those four engine “options.” You have to go down to Landon Cassill in 28th to see a major difference in money/connection and even then they’re still running Roush Yates Motors.
Looking back, NASCAR could never really find a way control the consolidation of these multi-car teams into giant units working together. They did try, enacting a four-car limit in 2009 per “investor” but the way multi-car organizations cross the lines to information share the rule looks silly on paper. It’s left the sport on the verge of where IndyCar already is — a few superteams, others unable to challenge and competition that’s constantly fighting giants like Andretti, Penske and Chip Ganassi’s drivers whose information is all lumped together.
That’s the worry if the sport continues down this road. Will it be Hendrick chassis vs Joe Gibbs Racing chassis yearly simply because no one else is left with those types of resources? Even if Penske stays in on the act there’s only so much diversity they have as well. Stewart-Haas Racing jumping to Ford next year, while lessening the influence of Hendrick does little to open the floodgates on differences between organizations.
The sport has to find new blood, new teams and new opportunities for them to flourish. The writing on the wall is clear. The problem is, potential new investors also see how impossible it is for them to win starting from scratch.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…
- In a sea of difficult times for NASCAR tracks there’s one CEO who totally gets it: Pocono Raceway’s Brandon Igdalsky. While other speedways around him have struggled attendance wise Pocono has held its own in large part due to creative initiatives that keep fans engaged regardless of how good the racing is on track. Igdalsky’s latest twist? Opening a dog park in the infield for all fans who bring their pets. Sounds like a small convenience but it makes a big difference — especially when the park is free to use.
- A 2.5 Nielsen rating for Texas Motor Speedway was the lowest ever for a Saturday night race on FOX. A difficult year of audience woes continues for NASCAR but perhaps the most alarming number is just an 0.9! rating for adults aged 18-34. You know what people that age group don’t do on a Saturday night? Sit around and watch television. I understand the novelty of weekend night racing but I think the once-proud experiment for the sport has got to stop. Not to mention these evening races come in direct competition of NASCAR’s “minor leagues” — local short tracks.
- How bad have things gotten for Clint Bowyer? Brian Vickers, despite running two fewer races has one more point than Bowyer in the standings. Sitting 32nd in points, even a surprise win won’t get the veteran inside the Chase right now. 2017 and replacing Tony Stewart can’t come soon enough.
- Rockingham Speedway is apparently going up for auction May 5 according to a new report from the Richmond County Daily Journal. The article spouts optimism but the reality? A completely new set of owners could come in, buy the property and tear down the track for some sort of new commercial use. Andy Hillenburg did such a yeoman’s job for years in keeping that track alive and you wonder if his ownership group couldn’t succeed… is it only a matter of time? Perhaps the rough reality, as we learned at North Wilkesboro since its closure in 1996 is that NASCAR racing in this region of the country may be oversaturated.