Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Time-out: Let's reassess things

David Hyder, crew chief for Bill Elliott and the Woods, agrees with Doug Yates that NASCAR needs to cut horsepower and speed (Photo: Autostock)


   By Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.
   Smashing guitars in Nashville may be rock-and-roll cool, if passé, but at least Kyle Busch – like Danica Patrick – certainly knows how to get attention.
   Maybe that's what it's really all about.
   But, in considering the future of NASCAR's Truck series and Nationwide series, does having Kyle Busch kick butt in Trucks and Nationwide help NASCAR or hurt NASCAR?
   That may be a question for the sport's bosses to start kicking around.
   Maybe it's time to start asking some 'big picture' questions, and set agendas for the future of the sport.
   Yes, NASCAR has really cranked up its marketing campaign lately – that Team Red Bull 'guerilla pit stop' in Times Square the other day was cool (do we credit NASCAR's NYC boss Andrew Giangola, or newcomer Leslie Maxie?)…and NASCAR this week is promotionally shipping its stars around the country, like Greg Biffle at the Aquarium in Tampa, and Jeff Gordon in Indianapolis.
   Star-power sells.

When you stop laughing.....yes, that's Brian Vickers getting a four-tire 'guerilla' pit stop in the middle of Times Square traffic. Give someone at NASCAR two thumbs up on this caper! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   But does having Carl Edwards face off against Busch and other Sprint Cup cars in Saturday Nationwide races – like this week's Sonoma-to-Milwaukee-back-to-Sonoma sprint -- help or hurt the sport long-term?
   Yes, Busch in Truck races is a good marketing draw, just as Edwards and Biffle and all those Cup stars when they run Nationwide events. It's a cool gimmick first started by Humpy Wheeler and Bruton Smith years ago, to pump up Saturday crowds.
   It's certainly worked, at least at Smith's tracks. Saturday crowds for the France family's ISC tracks has been problematic, for whatever reasons.
   Still, while having Cup stars do double-duty or triple-duty may be good for the weekend's promoter, is it good for the sport?
   How can a newcomer -- unless he arrives, like Joey Logano, with so much talent and pre-race support that he's a can't miss -- get a headline here?


Carl Edwards leading in last summer's Nationwide race at Montreal (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


And with the future of the Truck series itself in some doubt now, despite great action, and with the Nationwide series still little more than Cup Lite, without any distinctive personality, and with General Motors now joining Ford and Dodge in reassessing its entire NASCAR budget and marketing game plan, it appears time for NASCAR too to rethink its Triple-A and Double-A series, as well as it premier Cup series.
   The Truck tour and Nationwide a while back were considered good training grounds for promising young drivers, and for new sponsors interested in getting their feet wet in NASCAR. 
   For $3 million to $5 million they could run a Truck team, /hopefully get some headlines, learning the tricks of the trade.
   Then for a few dollars more, they could step up to Nationwide…and eventually make the leap to Cup, where running a top team is a $20 million to $30 million a year deal, after buying all the equipment, and where sponsors typically spend at least that much themselves on 'activation' of that sponsorship, with ads and promotions.
   Maybe this is all now suddenly out of kilter.
   Maybe it's because sponsors, particularly at these price points, want name-stars, not potential stars.

The big guy: Mike Helton. The NASCAR pres doesn't talk a lot, but when he does, people listen. So what's he going to say about engines and horsepower and the future of the Truck series and the shape of the Nationwide tour and tweaks for the Cup series' car-of-tomorrow? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Is it time to change the price-point?
   For Trucks, think 'salary cap.'
   Maybe Truck series champion Johnny Benson losing his Truck ride just a few days ago could be a wake-up call.
   With Ford announcing its withdrawal from the Truck tour at the end of the season, with Dodge having pulled out two years ago, and with General Motors now pulling out, and GM also pulling out of Nationwide racing, it may be time to reassess things.
    Consider this: ESPN's live telecast of the Nationwide race at Kentucky June 13 earned a final household coverage rating of 1.2, down from the 1.3 rating for the race in both 2007 and 2008. The telecast averaged 1,490,292 viewers.
   And consider this: Sunday's Michigan 400 pulled a 3.3 rating, lowest of the season, with just over five million viewers.
First, there's cost.
   Thus the concept of using standardize 'crate' motors, all produced by a single manufacturer, looks like a great idea for Trucks, and possibly Nationwide too.
   If that concept works with Honda and the Indy Racing League, why not NASCAR too?
   Like maybe Truck operations could be held to a strict salary cap too, with a limit on crewmen. Set a price point that would attract new sponsors – and possible set it so that those sponsors could actually buy some marketing too, on TV, radio and the Web.
   If cost cutting is something NASCAR is serious about….
   After all, what's the difference between 'common engines' and 'common template bodies'?
   Cutting engine costs is a NASCAR goal, NASCAR president Mike Helton says: "We're always anxious to figure out how to do that, and we think we've made some progress with the Trucks and Nationwide, by 'sealing' the motors.
   "And by us designing the 'box' the motor has to fit in, we feel that's a sensible and reasonable way to regulate that side of the sport.
   "We're using 'spec' engines in Camping World East and West, and we're looking to see if that can be grown any.
   "We'll stay on top of the things, with car owners, on what we can do with engines in Nationwide, Truck and Cup, because a lot of what we spend our time on is ways to save money, and obviously engines are an expensive element of our sport."



Doug Yates (R) and Jack Roush (L) spent a heck of a lot of Ford's money designing this new NASCAR 358. And Roush has long said NASCAR has forced teams to waste time and effort and money in this engine arms race, that Roush says should have been nipped in the bud years ago. Does 900 horsepower really make for better NASCAR racing? (Photo: Autostock)


Second, there's basic engine design.
   Certainly it's long past time for NASCAR to review its engine rules. These 358 c.i. motors with carburetors are antiques….and way overpowered, at nearly 900 horsepower – regardless of what Jeff Gordon might say.
   Doug Yates, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame engine builder Robert Yates, says NASCAR should indeed consider 'crate' motors for Truck and Nationwide, and he says NASCAR should start cutting horsepower out of the Cup engines too.
   Bill Elliott's crew chief, Dave Hyder, agrees with Yates: "The only way you're going to make better racing out of these cars is to slow them down.
   "And there's a simple solution – pull away power from the motor.
   "You could knock 100 horsepower out of these things quick and easy with a restrictor plate…and they could race tighter at places like Michigan and California."
   Gordon might be playing more politics than considering the good of the sport on this issue. Remember, he has a vested interest in not changing anything right now – he's in the running for the Cup championship, he made about $30 million last year, and the Jimmie Johnson team he is part-owner in has won three straight Cup titles. If you were doing that well with the status quo, why change anything?


Yes, this new double-file restart thing could get very, very interesting Sunday at Sonoma (Photo: Autostock)



Third, there's marketing.    
   There are interesting Truck and Nationwide angles, actually. Like NFL'er Randy Moss as a new owner, with veteran Mike Skinner driving. Like Aric Almirola. Marcos Ambrose. Colin Braun. Regan Smith.
   However those angles tend to get drowned out each weekend by the incessant marketing of NASCAR's top-12 Cup drivers….who, outsiders might easily believe, are the only drivers even playing this game.
    Team owners of the smaller NASCAR teams, in the Cup garage as well as Truck and Nationwide, may rightly be angry about the seeming lack of NASCAR marketing support for their guys too.
   And why this incessant drumbeating about the championship? What about winning races? What's wrong with, hey, the guy who wins the most races wins the championship?
   Points racing stinks. And fans know it. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence fans are turned off by the chase format itself.

Kyle Busch, in one of his classic smokey victory burnouts after winning last summer's Sonoma 350 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


And fourth, there's the race car itself. The car-of-tomorrow, as poor a physics/engineering project has it has turned out, is at the moment maybe too expensive to change. NASCAR boxed itself into a corner on that. So NASCAR is stuck with too much follow-the-leader racing at too many tracks.
   Yes, the sport has been on a good run….but Sunday's Michigan race showed once again the COT still has major flaws. Johnson led 146 of the 200 laps…boring. And then the race turned into a gas mileage run at the finish, with drivers seeing how much they could back off.
    NASCAR racing shouldn't be about feathering the throttle; it should be about full-throttle.
    But with this new car so edgy to race, drivers seem to wait till the closing miles to get up on the wheel.

Wow! It takes a heck of a lot of NASCAR templates to build a car-of-tomorrow. Overkill? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Let's walk down to the other end of the garage and check out this part of the story:
    Gordon, Johnson and Hendrick may be at one end of the economic spectrum in the garage. Elliott, Hyder and the Woods are at the other.
    Running a limited 12-race schedule this season, Elliott, Hyder and the Woods are trying to recapture some magic, by focusing on just a few races. And they appear to be making headway the past few weeks, even though it's easy to lose rhythm in this sport if you're not at the track every week.
    "I don't think you lose your rhythm if you're working on the right things…and we've hit on something pretty good," Hyder says.
    "Bill's driving style -- finessing the throttle and using the rear of the car -- makes it work well. It doesn't matter if it's old-school or not, if it works. And Bill has gone around these tracks so many times….
   "We're all learning these new cars.
    "And for the amount of money we've got to work with, I think we do pretty well."
    So Hyder is not interested in many changes on the car-of-tomorrow right now.
   "Changing the cars themselves I don't think that's going to make for any better racing," Hyder insists.


And you think being a NASCAR star is all fun and games? Greg Biffle's latest PR push was off into the deep end, scuba diving in the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, to promote the upcoming 400 at Daytona (Photo: Daytona International Speedway)


Still, drivers and crew chiefs are still learning about these cars. The line, according to Kurt Busch, is that the rear wing on the COT makes the cars so much more stable that drivers can't move other drivers around on the track to make a pass. That's one reason, perhaps, that NASCAR has been looking at going back to the original flat spoiler on the proposed new Nationwide COT – an expensive changeover that Dale Earnhardt Jr., for one, says isn't needed.
   "Well, I was thinking it was like Kurt said….until I watched Tony Stewart get up under Jimmie Johnson and push him off the corner sideways at Michigan," Hyder said.
    "Bill does say that in dirty air these cars are trouble. But then these cars knock a bigger hole in the air…and that means there's no air there.
    "The way these cars are built does save the teams a lot of money. We're not cutting bodies off each week like we used to in the old days.
   "Trying to figure out how we can test, or how we can spend more money, that's not really the smart thing to do. Even if you just stick around the race track an extra day to test, you've got to pay another motel night, buy more tires, use more engines.
    "I've talked with NASCAR too, and I've suggested they don't do anything with the car itself.
   "A lot of their problems with the TV ratings going down, I don't think it's in the car. We're fighting a bad economy.
   "There's no point in trying to develop a new car. The economy's bad, and nobody has any money to develop a new car, not even the big teams.
   "Yes, changing back to a flat spoiler from the wing might be a change….but I'm at the point where let's don't do things that cost teams money. We're not getting any more money; we're getting less.
   "The ones that don't need to save the money, they're the ones who'll say we need a change.
   "But it's not just GM cutting, it's across the board.
    "Putting a new nose fascia on these cars, changing the rear wing, that would just cost a lot of money, and wind tunnel time, and testing. And NASCAR has said all along they were not going to change this car.
    "I've got to budget the money for this team very carefully, and we can't run out before next year. So it wouldn't be smart to make any of these teams spend any more money."

Bill Elliott: the fastest man in NASCAR history, and one of the very few in the sport today who knows what it's like to run wide open at Talladega and Daytona. And his crew chief David Hyder says NASCAR needs to cut back on these 900 horsepower engines (Photo: Autostock)





Since the COT is saving

Since the COT is saving money, maybe it came along at the right time - and of course it might have even saved a couple of lives. I do believe Jeff Gordon's opinion deserves just as much respect as Doug Yates' opinion - even though I would never have thought to look at engine size the way Gordon has. Since Doug Yates is in the business of building engines, it is even possible that he might be interested in ideas that might increase his customer base, such as un-branded engines for the Truck or Nationwide series.
Richard in N.C.

Here is a really crazy

Here is a really crazy thought about a points championship, every ticket actually sold counts as one point. The driver that wins the race collects all the points. At the end of the season, add them up. Money talks, BS walks.

They are missing the big

They are missing the big picture!

This growing attitude toward a "Spec Series" now with all the engines alike and the COT!

I have not seen "spec series work", IROC, CART, IRL, ASA,! Indy sure did better when it had Ford, Chevy, Offenshauser, Mercedes, now they have ruined what used to be the number one spectator sport on Memorial Day!

I am not for "cutting cost to millionaires", I want to see them spend money, I am sure they would like every part to be alike and generic!

Its all about the fans, we have little input! One of the things that made Nascar popular was you had 'driver fans' and 'car guy' fans! Now with Cot it is a generic spec car series that leaves "car guys' staying at home!


I would love to see them experiment with 'paying points for leading laps" and see how hard the COT is to pass!

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com