|08/29/19||DIBENNEDETTO NASCAR'S ROCKY BALBOA|
|06/26/19||FROM JOURNEYMAN DRIVER TO HALL OF FAMER|
|06/18/19||WINNERS NOT ADDING UP|
|05/25/19||THE 600 IS STILL A CROWN JEWEL|
|05/15/19||NEXT TWO WEEKS COULD BE TOO GOOD|
|04/10/19||WALTRIP A TWO-WAY HALL OF FAMER|
Tough Choices Made by Visser and Chastain
When Martin Truex, Jr. hesitated with a long "Ummmmm" when asked about the future prospects of his Monster Energy Cup Series championship team during a media center press conference recently at Bristol, it was the first hint something big was going on at Furniture Row Racing, but no one thought team owner Barney Visser would ever shut it down. So, when he decided this week to do just that it was an earthquake that rocked the NASCAR garage.
Visser's reasoning was straight forward. With 5-Hour Energy leaving, and unable to find a replacement sponsor, he would have had to borrow money to continue having a winning, championship caliber team and he was unwilling to do that anymore. He also had some health and family concerns, but the sponsor money was simply not there and he was no longer willing to pull millions of dollars out of his own pocket and business to fund this endeavor headquartered in Denver, CO.
"He had a unique business model that was quite challenging," Dale Earnhardt, Jr. explained during a break in the action during Thursday night's sprint car race on the new infield dirt track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "He self-funded over 80 percent of the races they ran of the 400 or so races that car was on the race track. It's hard to keep doing and as the costs continue to rise it gets even more difficult year after year."
Dale, Jr. added, unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. “That’s part of the business. Some things stick around for awhile and some things don’t. Who knows who’s next and I don’t think that’s the end of the 'Silly Season’. There’s a lot more turnover and changes coming down the pipe.”
It used to be the more you won, the more money a team would bring in. The fat got fatter with sponsors willing to pay higher than market value to get with an organization and driver that were sure to be running up front for all the TV cameras and fans to see. Somewhere along the line, though, that changed. Driven by a down economy, sponsor dollars, even for the top teams, began shrinking and performance no longer meant more than the bottom line.
There’s not a Monster Energy Cup Series owner not feeling the pinch with the cost of running their teams going up and income going down. The situation for the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series teams is even more dire. Thousands of men and women have been given pink slips in recent years because budgets had to be tightened to keep the doors open.
I don’t have any answers, but clearly the current financial model is not working for a Cup owner who wants to be competitive, have a chance to win, and make a Playoff run. I’m sure NASCAR and the RTA (Race Team Alliance) have had ongoing conversations about the financial predicament the owners are now in. The owners believe, part of the answer is for them to get a bigger piece of the billion dollar TV contracts. That would mean, however NASCAR and the tracks giving back some of their percentage.
After a guy like Barney Visser feels forced to wave the white flag of surrender, maybe it’s time for all parties involved to put some urgency into finding a long-term solution. After all, if you don’t have enough teams, what happens to the sport? We all know the answer and it’s not pretty.
CHASTAIN’S A NEW FACE BUT OLD SCHOOL
If you’re driving a mid-pack car, as a driver all you want is a chance in front running machine to prove you have the right stuff. Ross Chastain got that opportunity in the Darlington’s Xfinity Series shootout last weekend as part of a three-race deal with team owner Chip Ganassi and he didn’t waste it. Chastain didn’t win, but his eye-opening performance impressed a lot of people.
Kevin Harvick, however, wasn’t one of them, but we’ll get to that.
First, if you don’t know anything about Chastain, his family farms watermelons in Florida. Now 25, Chastain began his racing career at the age of 12 at Punta Gorda Speedway and had over 50 wins during his short track career. He moved up the Camping World Truck Series in 2011 and in 2013, Chastain was a runner-up in two of the 14 races he ran for Brad Keselowski’s team. As he had the three previous seasons, Chastain started out running a full Xfinity Series schedule in 2018 for the underfunded Johnny Davis team before the Ganassi deal came along.
Now, let’s get back to Darlington.
Chastain is driving the same car Kyle Larson has won four Xfinity Series races this year and they weren’t missing a beat. Chastain won the pole, the first two stages and had the lead in the closing laps when Harvick tried to pin him behind a lapped car in the treacherous turn2. Chastain wasn’t going to give up that easily, driving to the inside of the slower car, and making it three-wide where two-wide is less than desirable. Both could have lifted to avoid the contact, but neither did. Harvick got loose and got into Chastain. He got into the wall, and that’s when I thought things got interesting.
With his car damaged, Chastain knew his breakthrough win had disappeared so if he couldn’t win Harvick wasn’t going to either. Chastain chased him halfway down the backstretch to hook Harvick in the right rear, which sent him almost head on into the safer barrier. That was very old school. Once upon a time, that’s how drivers operated. If someone did you wrong, you take care of it right then, right now. As it once was explained to me years ago - “You don’t hit your dog with the newspaper two weeks after peeing on the rug, he wouldn’t understand what he did wrong or what you were mad about. But if you do it right after his 'accident’ he’s more apt to learn a lesson”. I’ve never forgot that.
Harvick was mad and being the tough competitor he is, I didn’t have a problem with that. Yet, if the roles were reversed I would have expected him to make the same all in move Chastain made in turn 2 to hold the lead, hoping again to intimidate a lesser experienced driver, and feeling wronged after he bounced off the wall I would have expected Harvick to make sure Chastain never saw the entrance to victory lane.
That Chastain was willing to hold his ground probably caught Harvick by surprise. Deep down, though, maybe he was grinning inside that’s something he would have been willing to do as a young driver needing to show he had the guts to make it in big time auto racing.
“This was a win for every short-track racer running Fast Trucks, Pro Trucks, Late Models across the country that you can just race as long as you can stay in the car and progress up the ranks,” Chastain said. “However fast or slow it’s going to be or whatever your situation is, it’s just a testament. As long as you just keep racing, however you can, it’ll pay off.”
“If it all ended today and I had to go back to the farm I would have no regrets about anything we’ve done. Yeah, there’s negativity around this but I really hope people smile there was somebody different up there racing with those guys. Just smile about that if nothing else.”
Okay, I will.