With One to go Nascar Teams in Turmoil Over 2009

From the Crossville Chronicle-Crossville, TN Wed. Nov. 12, 2008
By Joe Dunn / joe@onpitroad.com

With one race to go Jimmie Johnson left Phoenix with another win and a 141 point lead over Carl Edwards, so he needs a 36th place finish at Homestead to win a third title in a row. At this point all other teams are eliminated from the title chase, which leaves them time to ponder 2009.
The economic downfall that has hit this country has not escaped Nascar’s teams as massive layoffs appear to be certain after the final race at Homestead, Florida. It was only a year ago that the big influx of investors brought unlikely folks to Nascar, such as the Fenway group who joined Roush racing. As the signs of the economic woes became apparent earlier in the year, many teams scrambled to seek investors, but their moves were too late.
The expense of racing in the Nascar serious is staggering, and without major sponsors it is an insurmountable expense. We all saw that last year when Bobby Ginn realized that it took more to run an operation than just his personal wealth. As investor groups moved in, the model changed more from a sport, to that of big business. Ray Evernham learned that when he brought in the owner of the Montreal Canadians NHL team, George Gillette as a partner. According to sources at Phoenix over the weekend, Ray will be gone from GEM next year.
Gene Haas, owner of Haas CNC Racing saw the effects of under funding earlier in year as their two teams struggled. In a daring move, they reached out to two time Champion Tony Stewart and offered a partial ownership to lure his talent away from Joe Gibbs racing . Stewarts star power easily drew sponsors such as Office Depot and Old Spice, his long friendship with Ryan Newman secured a second top shelf driver and the ability to draw the US Army sponsorship. But Stewart Haas Racing is more the exception that the rule and of course their success will depend on their ability to be competitive, which Haas CNC never has been.
Bill Davis Racing has been a long standing familiar name in the sport, but efforts to draw investors or partners during the season have failed. The future of the organization has looked dim since Caterpillar announced early in the year that they would not return to BDR in 2009, but instead move to Richard Childress Racing and the 31 car of Jeff Burton. Michael Waltrip Racing, which was formed in 2007 as the flagship team for Toyota’s introduction into the Nascar Sprint Cup Series is cutting back for 2009, from 3 teams to 2. After a dismiss showing in it’s first year, Robert Kauffman, founder and managing partner of Fortress Investment Groups was brought in as a 50% partner of MWR. With the loss of UPS as a major sponsor of the 44 car of David Reutimann, David will move back to the 00 car with partial sponsorship from Aarons Rentals for 2009, taking the 44 points with him.
The economic woes among team owners is serious enough that even Nascar is looking at cutbacks to help the teams. Earlier in the year, talks of expanding testing for the teams was a hot topic in the garage and as late as August Nascar was ready to add several additional dates and tracks for 2009. But since October, those plans seem to have been put on the back burner for further discussion in the off season. It appears likely that no expansion of testing dates will now take place.
So what’s in store for Nascar in 2009? That’s the question that will linger for another 4 to 6 months to see how all the changes roll out. We have a good idea on some of the changes coming, but there are bound to be many more than we can see now. I wouldn’t look for a lot of new faces in the garage area at Daytona in February, but I sure would expect to see a lot of faces in different uniforms. I would also expect to see less faces overall as many of the teams will cut back on personnel, especially at the track.