By Joe Dunn
NASCAR is looking ahead to 2011 with some not so subtle changes for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The biggest change of course is the move to the new car. That project has been in the works for a couple of years and the first official appearance was earlier this month at Daytona.
I spoke to several NNS team owners over the weekend at ORP and the general consensus is that the smaller teams see this new car as a financial burden that most cannot afford. It’s no secret around the garage that NASCAR had contacted the larger Cup based organizations, among them, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing to each bring extra cars to Daytona for the first race. The fear of not having enough cars to fill the field for a highly anticipated and publicized race was real.
NASCAR truly was surprised when the entries came in and a full field was assured. With the addition of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a special Richard Childress car, and Carl Long in a one race deal with a new owner, one car even went home missing the race. But the real story was the fact that most of the teams there had no backup cars. Joe Nemechek was one of them. “ I had one car there, and no backup. That was not a new car, but rather an old Cup car that we rebuilt to make into a COT car.” Nemechek told me at ORP, “ I don’t know yet what I’m going to do for next year, if we can afford to build some of these new cars. The money is just too tight now.”
Jennifer Jo Cobb, owner /driver of the #10 team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has aspirations of moving up to the NNS in the future. She was forced to partner up with Baker Curb Racing to build a single car which they jointly plan to run in the four races scheduled for this year. “That car was destroyed at the beginning of the race at Daytona, and we have no backup car. We are rebuilding it for the Michigan race, but since I will be driving at Darlington that week we’ll have another driver in the car” Cobb said, “ We started building the new car early, but it became obvious that this was not a cheap project. Baker Curb lost their sponsor on the 27 car earlier in the season and they were struggling to fund a new car, so we partnered up on this deal for the four races.”
It’s not just the new car that is hampering some of the smaller limited budget teams. “We entered a car in the Nationwide race at Gateway and we didn’t make the field,” said Cobb, “ The lack of testing is really hurting us, but with the way the testing rules are we just can’t prepare a new car for a track that I have not driven before. That was obvious at Gateway.”
The problems with this series is funding, With the economy not rebounding as many had hoped it would, the majority of the NNS teams are really in trouble. The sponsors have gone away and attracting new ones is a near impossible task. “ A few years ago, you could land a $200,000.00 sponsor relatively easy, heck, sometimes you were turning them away.” Nemechek said, “ Now, you are breaking your neck and bending over backwards to land a $20,000.00 deal. You can’t build new cars and keep racing like that.” In addition to the loss of sponsorship money, the race purses were all cut this year too.
At the beginning of the season, NASCAR announced that in conjunction with lowering ticket and concession prices, the track would be cutting the purse money by 10%. Several team owners have privately confirmed that the 10% is an exaggeration. Some say that the cuts in some cases were more in the neighborhood 20-30%. One team official compared the present purse structure to a welfare system. “We don’t usually start and park, but we will be for a while.” I was told, “The difference in purse money between finishing 40th after 10-15 laps and finishing 28th after 100 or more laps, won’t pay the tire bill. And if the car gets tore up, your in even more trouble money wise.”
These situations point to real genuine problems in the series, and those problems are not going to be remedied by mandating a new car that many of the teams simply can’t afford. NASCAR did step in and approached the ARCA series, the result is a change in ARCA rules for 2011 which allow their teams to run the shorter wheelbase cars. This will present a market for the current cars that will become obsolete after this season. That will help some of the bigger teams as they recoup some money from the old cars, but just as it did when the Cup teams moved to a new car, the supply will be a lot bigger than the demand. At that time, the old cars sold for pennies on the dollar and only the front running team’s cars were in demand.
I spoke with Cindy Shepherd Caldwell, of Morgan Shepherd Racing, about this a few weeks ago at Kentucky Motor Speedway, and she was pretty blunt about it. “There will only be so many buyers, so most of them will be looking at the Gibbs, Roush, Penske, and Childress cars. Teams like us will be lucky to give these cars away.” Then of course there is the case of the Super Speedway cars, those cars built exclusively for Daytona and Talladega. ARCA’s rule change did not include those tracks, so those cars, even with the top teams, are without a market. Some of the teams were looking to strip down and unload those cars after Talladega, but many are now sitting behind the race shops collecting dust. Many of the teams are hopeful that ARCA will change the rule on those two tracks, they have promised to make a final decision sometime in September.