Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: The Grand Illusion

Once upon a time, not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, everything was going splendidly in the world of NASCAR. The sport was doing what it was intended to do: making already wealthy people wealthier.

Being a team owner was a pretty sweet gig. It was like having money trees growing in your backyard and spending one’s days plucking freshly grown large denomination bills into a bushel. In fact, when their shoulders got sore, some of them would give up harvesting for the rest of the day knowing there’d be plenty more to come tomorrow.

There was no rocket science involved in growing from a two-car team to four. One just had to find the right sponsor and make sure said sponsor was cool with the team’s intended driver. It wasn’t hard getting sponsorship back then when NASCAR was the Next Big Thing. In fact, of all the next big things, NASCAR was the nextest, biggest and thingiest. The sky was the limit and corporations were eager to sign on and stick with a team that enjoyed even moderate success. In same cases, those sponsors stuck by teams that had little success at all.

(Yes, those days are long gone. You’ll note Kyle Larson and the No. 42 team are second in the current points standings yet the team’s long-term sponsor, Target, won’t be back next year. Is that a reasonable call on Target’s part? You’ll note the nation’s two biggest retailers, Amazon and Wal-Mart, don’t get involved with auto racing. Target, like Red Bull and Sprint before them, has decided to spend more marketing dollars on soccer. Right now, soccer is the next big thing though no less an authority than Homer Simpson is on record as saying Americans will never embrace professional soccer.)

Back in the dearly departed good old days, NASCAR got uneasy with some of the team owners. They didn’t mind some other snouts at the trough but nobody was going to shoulder them aside before they’d had their fill. In open-wheel racing, a few team owners controlled too much of the field. They developed a mindset the open-wheel series weren’t going to have much of a circuit without race cars to compete at their events. The sanctioning bodies, on the other hand, felt the team owners with all their brightly colored high-dollar sponsored cars weren’t going to have much of a chance to strut their stuff without big name races to participate in. And thus, the sport of open-wheel racing got strangled like the goose that laid the golden eggs and still hasn’t recovered from the schism.

Did Adam Stevens go too far in defending his driver at Indy? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

While the salad days were still at the cool ranch, NASCAR decided on a rule that no team owner could own more than four teams. With a nod and a wink, the team owners said that nobody did. On paper, at least one of Rick Hendrick’s teams was owned by his father, Jimmie Johnson’s team was owned by Jeff Gordon, and presumably his wife’s hairdresser owned the No. 5 team. “We’re serious this time.” NASCAR countered. “We’re the sheepdogs, not the lambs, and as such, we won’t be silent.”

Roush Fenway Racing was the only organization that actually had to divest of a team to meet the new rules. Now RFR is down to two teams, of course. But the limits did keep outfits like Rick Hendrick’s and Joe Gibbs’ from growing beyond four teams. And that has caused some problems. Take rookie sensation William Byron, who’d been under the Toyota umbrella driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, a close affiliate (ahem) of Joe Gibbs Racing. But with four star drivers at JGR and Daniel Suarez ahead of him in line, there was no room for Byron to advance. So he defected over to the Chevy/JR Motorsports/Rick Hendrick camp where at least one if not two Cup seats open up next year. My guess is that the coach wasn’t happy to see such a challenging prospect switch allegiances.

There’s also a problem right now in that NASCAR is having trouble finding full fields of competitive cars. Thus, perhaps they’ve become a bit more lenient in policing how many teams one individual actually has control of. It’s never been any big secret. Until this year, SHR was a satellite team of Hendrick’s while Furniture Row Racing was closely aligned with Joe Gibbs and company over the last few seasons.

When Jimmie Johnson referred to Tony Stewart as a teammate, nobody blinked an eye though in fact such a thing was very much against at least the spirit of the rules. In other news this week, Ryan Blaney will become a third Penske driver next year and Paul Menard will move over to the Wood Brothers with sponsorship from his dad’s company. That’s where he’ll be a defacto teammate of Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Richard Childress, who lost Menard, says he still plans to field three cars next year. My guess is if he can find a sponsor he’ll bring grandson Ty Dillon into the fold.

There was also a bit of tension at Indy last week. For much of the race, quasi-teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had been gaming restarts. Whoever had the lead would take the less preferred line for the restart under the unspoken agreement the second-place driver in the preferred line would yield position to the leader going into turn 1.

While it was successful to a point, Kyle Busch decided it was “every man for himself” time and bully for him in that regard. He felt that Truex’s car was decidedly faster than his (as it has been most of the season) and he wanted more than a handful of laps to try to catch and pass him after a late restart. There’s nothing that turns my stomach more than the notion one driver would “let” his teammate win because of the Playoff implications. Long story short, Truex and Busch collided. Truex got the worst end of the deal but both drivers were eliminated in a race they’d dominated. My guess is young Mr. Busch was not thrilled as it made the total over a year since he had won a Cup race.

Likewise, pit crew members from both teams were less than thrilled by the accident. There was some sarcastic clapping, a few vile words exchanged, a couple kindergarten sandbox worthy shoves and a few threats. No actual punches were thrown, at least that I saw. No blood was spilled. The “fight” wouldn’t have even drawn a sideways glance in the stands at a youth hockey game. At one point, someone might have said “Go away or I’ll taunt you some more,” but maybe not.

In the end, that didn’t matter. The front and rear tire changers for the No. 78 team, Chris Taylor and Lee Cunningham, each got suspended for three races. NASCAR didn’t suspend them. The No. 78 team they work for didn’t suspend them. Joe Gibbs Racing suspended them. Not only did JGR just suspend them, both Taylor and Cunningham are suspended for three races each. That’s a major penalty equivalent to having a tire fall off a car after a pit stop.

Now hang on thar just a cotton-picking minute there, Bubba-Louie. Officially the two argumentative, sarcastic crew members work for Joe Gibbs, but for all intents and purposes, they belong to Furniture Row. Further, it looks like those two were in the right, at least by the obviously outdated rules I learned years ago. A team’s pit box on pit road is theirs, at least for that event. Someone else can’t go striding in there to express a contrary opinion or question someone on that team’s parentage. If you do “trespass” and get tossed physically out of that pit box, don’t look for NASCAR to bail you out. Even when wishing to discuss strategy with another crew chief, most of the team bosses will wait at the edge of the box to be acknowledged and waved in before walking over to the pit box. Failure to do so is like storming into another team’s trailer in the garage area uninvited. If the folks inside decide to toss you back out head first you, not the tossers, will likely be fined. I hate to use the term but the pit box and trailer are NASCAR’s version of “safe spaces” at a microaggression aware grade school.

And who drives for the No. 18 team? The aforementioned Kyle Busch. Busch has never been shy about confronting other drivers in vividly profane terms after incidents he’s involved in. He’ll run the length of pit road to find that SOB who he felt wronged him, and then throw a punch if he doesn’t get flattened by members of the other team first. In one infamous race, Kyle Busch wrecked a driver competing for the title in a Truck race under caution even as his team owner, spotter, and crew chief told him not to do it. And how many times has JGR suspended Kyle Busch for a race for his temper-borne antics? Precisely zero. Oh, NASCAR has sat his ass down a few times, but not his ever-patient car owner. That’s just Kyle being Kyle. All of us are praying on him eventually maturing just a wee bit because we love the hell out of that feisty little rooster.

Meanwhile, the No. 78 team is also competing for a title. (Recall even if they are the red-haired stepchild JGR team, they are competing against “teammates” for the top prize and to be frank, they’ve been beating JGR like a gong all year.) Due to the vagaries of NASCAR’s Playoff system it isn’t possible to say Truex is an odds on favorite to win the championship though he has been racking up stage points like The Who’s Tommy used to run up pinball scores. The loss of two highly skilled members of his pit crew will doubtless make things more difficult for Truex the next three races. Doubtless if the No. 78 team was the only JGR outfit in contention for the title the team wouldn’t have imposed this penalty.

But according to Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch and the alleged aggrieved party in this whole hullaballoo, the penalty was necessary to maintain team order. He pointed out that no JGR employee should talk to another JGR employee the way he was spoken to out of respect for the team. But like the song goes “here in the real world….”

Of course, Stevens knows something about three-race suspensions having already served one earlier this year, and if Cunningham and Taylor deserve their penalties, than as lead instigator, Stevens ought to be serving another one to be fair.  And if Stevens is, in fact, correct and the No. 78 outfit is a JGR team, than that is in clear violation of NASCAR’s rule that a team owner can control no more than four Cup cars. (Editor’s note: JGR employs the pit crews that they then supply to the Nos. 77 and 78 of Furniture Row Racing as part of a team alliance.) Maybe all six JGR teams should be banned from the playoffs this year now that this egregious and abhorrent violation of the rules has come to light. At very least, perhaps Joe Gibbs himself ought to have his hard card pulled for three weeks for his duplicitous conduct.

In other forms of auto racing, particularly Formula 1 and sports car racing, team orders have intruded on natural competition. Team orders have changed the outcomes not only of races but of championships. Fans of those other disciplines of racing hated those shenanigans and my guess is that NASCAR fans would be equally put off by team orders determining the results of races and crowing champions. At a time NASCAR is already trying to stem a mass exodus from the grandstands they can little afford even the appearance of backroom politics deciding races.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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Gppd work truth in all you said.

A 5 year old playing chess could see what JESUS JOE was positioning and succeeding at!!!!!!!!!!! Too bad it worked out for him. Now we have the loose lug nut which will purportedly means nuttin! But I ask why if they knew it was going to be an advantage and the L’ENFANT TERRIBLE WON…ISN”T THAT A WIN MANIPULATION and have the real meaning of “Encumbered” applied to Jesus Joe and the over 30 year old brat? ? It is…but with JESUS JOE and TOYOTA…BRIAN IS PUTTY IN THEIR NASTY, ILL GOTTEN GRUBBY PAWS!!!!!!!!!!!! This is a joke…and will continue…sadly. The stage is being set…TOYS, TOYS, TOYS!

RIGHT ON MATT, ON ALL POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Read the rules kb….one loose lug nut is NOT grounds for an encumbered win. And Toyota is NOT being favored this year or Kyle Larson and his Chevy would not be doing so spectacularly well. Your irrational and over-the-top hatred for a certain team owner and driver is getting soooo old at this point. I pray that you will some help soon!


Oh dear God, you freaking again. What give lunatic?

Marky Mark I know the rules…but do you not think with the nitpicking NASCAR has been doing to other teams…THIS IS A CHEATING TACTIC FOR THE WIN? A CLEAR ADVANTAGE? And should be modified if a win was because of? NAH, MARKY GONNA PREACH AGAIN….AND NOT SEE THE FACTS IN FRONT OF YOU, the whole enchilada, the whole communion wafer? PREACH ON MARKY MARK, YOU ARE ONLY ONE AT YOUR SERMON!


Maybe “the younger Busch”? but not “young Busch!!!!!! I dunno calling him “young” in this article or any other made this lunatic seem like an innocent babe in the woods. OH HELL NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


While there were no problems on pit road for the 79, it is interesting that, immediately after suspending two team members, the #18 finally wins a race. It’s time to stop pretending that ‘alliances’ aren’t really all members of the same team.

Bill B

With short fields and sponsor issues don’t expect NASCAR to start enforcing their 4 team limit now if they were unwilling to enforce it when things were going well. Once again, it’s things like this that make fans of other sports look at NASCAR like a joke.

Through the years I’ve continually lost more and more respect for Joe Gibbs. He is a hypocrite because he talks like he has some morals and ethics but his actions tell a different story. He is FOS and only cares about the bottom line like any other businessman.


You mean like the Fat Felon? And Carl Haas? NASCAR is the only sport that allows convicted felons to be team owners and your feelings are hurt because Joe Gibbs favors his top 4 drivers over his two charity cases? You are a pathetic joke and quite the hypocrite yourself. Not to mention ignorant and naïve.

Fed Up

Spot on article Matt! After Gibbs antics last week, I knew the 18 had gotten “The Call” so I only tuned in for the last 25 laps or so. It looks like NBC
got “the call” also as the 18 was pretty much the only car shown. What a farce for race coverage! Stale product and even more stale presentation.


Matt McLaughlin is a moron just like you, Fed Up. Just how many times has Dale Junior gotten “the call” in is his pathetic career? You are all such a bunch of ignorant hypocrites it’s actually funny to read your weekly whine. And NOBODY whines like Matt and his followers. If you didn’t realize that JGR ran Furniture Row, you are dumber than a post. Just like Penske runs the #21 even though the name on the car is “Wood Brothers.” Wake the fuck up and smell the coffee. You think Penske is gonna let Blaney win the Championship? Excuse me while I stop choking on my snot!


i’ve said each time the 78 has won this year that gibbs won. i’m surprised gibbs hasn’t pushed for the 78 and 77 to relocate to nc,

now that stewart/haas is a ford team, are they in alliance with rousch? does the team have yates engines?

i’m still scratching my head about the blaney/menard thing. just menard taking his dollars for his son’s ride to a ford team, but why not throw it stewart/haas to the 10 team? maybe paul doesn’t have the fight in him like the rest of the stewart/haas drivers do? and what other ford team is the 21 part of? penske?

life was easier in the 60’s and 70’s before everyone became associated with each other.


Roush-Yates is the only Ford engine provider in NASCAR. Buying engines from them doesn’t equate to an alliance, it’s just a business transaction.

Al Torney

All Ford teams use Yates-Roush engines. The Toyota teams use TRD engines. Hendrick and Childress supply most Chevy teams with engines. These are lease deals.

There has been no announcement about Patrick’s ride. I would think that she will be in that ride next year since nothing has been said about it. More has been discussed about Kurt being out at SHR..

Menard can go anywhere he likes. When you have guaranteed sponsorship you will be racing somewhere. Wood Bros. Was a neutral fit. Paul has always been odd man out on other teams. Now he’ll be no. 1. Now we will see if he has the skills to be a front runner. I hope he succeeds with the Woods Bros. Team.


I’m sure you spend a lot of time scratching your head, Janice. You are a moron like most other NASCAR fans who don’t understand the basics of how the business is run, how sponsors make driver choices, and how MONEY is and always has the most important factor in a driver getting a ride. Only a complete fool fails to realize that JGR runs 6 teams and Penske runs 3. And it was no different in the 60’s and 70’s when Yates and Roush got the only Ford factory support in spite of the fact they were inferior to the single car #9 team which was running on its own. I do admire that Bill Elliott never complained, but he did famously run the evil Earnhardt down on pit road to put the bully in his place. Dale never screwed with Bill again after Bill stood up to him. Dale was a whiney ignorant self-absorbed bully. Bill is still the better man and raised his son to be a better man as well.

Al Torney

I have absolutely no doubt that those guys were suspended to slow Truex down. The altercation was a nothing and should have been handled with a front office reprimand. A three race suspension is awful severe in this case. But then the entire sport has gotten out of hand in respect to suspensions, fines and failed inspections after a car passed inspection. All of this non sense drives fans away. And what gets me is they continue to do it.

Here’s a good one. ISC’s major stockholders are the France Family. NASCAR is either 100% owned, or close to it, by tthe same France Family. ISC along with the other track owners is doing all it can to draw fans to their Speedways while NASCAR is doing things to turn people off to the sport. Now how bright is that. Every person I know feels that if a car passes inspection before a race that’s it. If NASCAR missed something in that inspection that’s their fault and they accept the responsibility. Larsen’s penalty this year is a case in point. Think about it. I think they inspect the winning car and 4 others after a race. The means 35 others are good to go. It’s worth the gamble to take a chance with the rule book as the odds are in your favor to not get caught. And what’s with this crap of telling a crew chief not to bring a perfectly legal car back to the track like they did with Everham and Knaus?

I think there is a big difference between the Hendrick-SHR alliance and the JGR-FRR deal. From what I read Hendrick supplied chassis and engines to SHR and SHR hung the bodies and paid Hendrick for what he supplied. In addition, SHR had their own employees. Since Visser has already announced that the 77 will probably not run in 2018 I think it is fair to assume that Gibbs owned that entire team. Although Gibbs may have another youngster he wants to protect for the future. At this point in NASCAR history it may be advantagous to allow this to happen across the board. Simply because the big teams are more capable of attracting and keeping sponsors then the smaller underfunded teams. What I find interesting is that several car owners have businesses, Penske, Hendrick, Roush, Childress, and they don’t have their businesses sponsor one of their cars. Like Childress sponsor a car with his wine company for a race, or two.. tells me it is not worth it. Hmmmm.


The B to B relationships are where its at. An example being, Penske has Shell as a sponsor on the 22 I believe. In return Penske dealerships sell Shell oil and other products. Everybody wins and the net cost isn’t that much to either party. Similar arrangement can be found with other teams.

As to the crew, well when you work for a fellow, or take a guy’s money, he sets the rules. Same as any other workplace or business deal.


‘BEHIND THE RSISING TIDE?” Why not just call the column “Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, since that is Matt’s only purpose in writing it. And his fans(?) just jump on the bandwagon with their equally bitchy comments. Matt ceased to be a journalist at least 25 years ago and yet he collects a paycheck for no purpose other than expressing his hatred against a certain team and driver.

But that’s not all bad. Dale Jr. is NASCAR’s most valuable driver, but Kyle Busch is close behind. As Jimmy Spencer once said, “I get blamed for the wrecks even when I’m not in the race.” Kyle can win, lose, pout, throw a punch, be gracious on occasion, it doesn’t’ matter. He is the lightning rod and NASCAR would be oh-so-boring without him (as Dale Jr. mentioned earlier this year). Not to mention that he is sponsored by the most-recognized name in the merchandise game. He is doing what wrong here? (Aside from irritating the Holy Rollers of the sport.)

And let us not forget that Bush has single-handedly brought more driving talent to the ranks of young drivers than any other driver in the history of the sport. He has a stockpile of kids he is mentoring that would surpass even Matt’s chronic ire. We need good boys (named after their fathers) and bad boys to make the game fun anymore, since the racing frankly sucks. But when one of the bad boys is doing more for the sport than all the little angels, that is the best of both worlds. Suck it, Matt! You never did anything for a the sport!

Bill B

First, doesn’t that fact that you’re bitching about everyone else bitching make you the pot calling the kettle black?

Second, to answer your question “He is doing what wrong here? ” Acting like a little dickhead, pouty, spoiled baby, punk, jackass whenever things don’t go his way. Believe it or not, he’s not the only one that wants to win every time. He’s just the only one that can’t act like an adult or even a professional when he doesn’t.


Dale Earnhardt was the worst dickhead in motorsports – ever. He didn’t complain if he didn’t get the call (because NASCAR almost always gave him the call), but if he didn’t get the call, he would just wreck his competitor on purpose and then laugh like a hyena about it. He was the most despicable man ever to strap into a car. And it’s completely unsurprising that his enormous arrogance eventually killed him. I don’t know of any driver who deserved to die on the track more than the Cheater and the Bully. The Cult of Dale Senior is full of morons and whiners JUST LIKE YOU and Matt, Bill B!


You have been incompetent for a lot longer than Kyle Busch has been tormenting you, going back to your adoration of the ultimate Jerk in Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Sr., a man who would intentionally spin out a competitor and then laugh about it. It was only when Karma got him Big Time, that Dale became a saint to the moronic masses like yourself.

There is a great meme that features Tom Brady and Erin (sp intentional) Rodgers all dressed up to be superstars with a question: If Brady and Rodgers were both drowning and you had the chance to rescue only one………….what kind of sandwich would you make?

The point is that the sports world is gifted with supreme jerks who also happen to be massive talents. I don’t “like” either Brady or Rodgers, but what is the point of bashing them endlessly when we could be enjoying their prowess on the field? How much of your precious life is it worth it to bash Kyle Busch when he is no worse than the average arrogant jerk who dominates a sport? And who WHINES more than the Kyle-haters like you and your idiot followers every time he wins a race or funds a KBM winner? Of course, Kyle runs KBM as a business and sponsors are part of the business, but you failed to answer the question who has done more for young drivers than Kyle Busch. Multi-mega-trillionaire Dale Jr. didn’t hop on the Chase Elliott bandwagon until Elliott brought NAPA to Felony Motorsports and has done nothing in the way of mentoring since then. Kyle has brought so many drivers along with money AND TIME, it is a wonder he has time to whine about anything.

You are a bitter old man and I pity you and your tunnel-vision vitriol. Plus your horrific taste in music. And I spelled your column name wrong to insult you, but I guess the bulbs are no longer burning too bright in your personal hell anymore.


Oh dear God, another Kyle SYCOPHANT! What a constant stream of BS! I do believe I have seen your lies on other websites with the snarky and self indulgent name of “Smarter than You”. THAT IS A BIG CLUE TO YOUR MINDSET RIGHT THERE! Kyle is the best of this and that…blah, blah, blah. Where do these this hypnotic cult like lies put to print come from? And ripping on MATT to defend the L’ENTfANT TERRIBLE, who is a brat, a child, etc..and in no way can even be considered as someone to take seriously is comical at best, sad at worst. Your actions and mindset must mimic your little man crush…who else would like this abhorrent personality, especially over the age of 30????????


The history of my FS handle is that I was banned so many times, that I finally demanded to be allowed to post and chose SmarterThanYou as a laugh. But since it’s true, I figured why not keep it? If I chose another brilliant name like kb, I would probably be banned again for going against the party line. It always strikes me odd that sites ask for comments and then either ban any commenter who disagrees with the writer or in Matt’s case, have to endure his standard quotient of insults. As for Kyle Busch, I think he is the most talented driver in his generation, but has failed to get the success he might have because of his personality flaws. But then again, the success he has had might be BECAUSE of his character flaws. Interesting subject for debate, but obviously not on the site of Tom Bowles, Amy Henderson and Matt McLaughlin, where intelligent debate is strictly prohibited. (Hey Tom, still publicly cheering for your old boy Trevor or do you have a new man crush? I’m betting it’s Darlin Ryan. He’s your type.)

And kb, fail to take Kyle seriously at your own risk, BOY…………..As NASCAR learned, Vanilla (V-JJ) doesn’t make headlines no matter how many times he wins.

Don in Connecticut

And we care about all this nonsense because????


Dale Earnhardt was not a “good bad guy,” you stupid dickhead. He deserved to die on the track because he was a cheat, a bully, arrogant, disrespectful of other drivers, had a sense of entitlement which NASCAR encouraged, and finally because he was too ignorant to realize that ignoring safety rules and making a stupid move on the last lap was an invitation to die. I am just glad he only took himself out. Stuff that up your fat ass, Matt!


And his personal means of whining was just wrecking anybody in his way. Yeah, that’s real admirable. But a loser like you WOULD find those characteristics admirable, because you were always the little snot who was picked on in the school playground and Dale became your alter ago, the guy you wanted to identify with, even though Dale would have treated you like shit, just like he did everybody else.

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