By Joe Dunn
As teams and driver’s in NASCAR’s number two and three series arrive at Phoenix looking past the final two races, things are not looking rosy.
I caught up with some of the players in the garage at PIR to ask how they see 2011 shaping up. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series there is a lot of uncertainty for sure. Kenny Wallace announced earlier in the year that depending on how he performs in 2011, it may be his final curtain for NASCAR as a driver. I had heard earlier in the month of changes coming to Jay Robinson Racing for next year, including the possible shuttering of the #28 team. When I spoke with Kenny at PIR he was pretty blunt. “ I am embarrassed, I can’t run another season in cars with no power. I don’t know right now what the answer is, but we can’t keep doing this.”
If Kenny is looking for another ride for 2011, the pickings are slim. RCR announced earlier that they will not return to the series in 2011 and have an arrangement to turn the #21 over to Morgan Shepherd. But folks inside the Shepherd camp admit that it is getting harder and harder to keep showing up at the track week in and week out with little to no sponsorship money. Add that sponsor problem to the cost of building all new cars for next year, combined with the ‘purse’ cuts in 2010 and more cuts in line for 2011, and it spells more doom and gloom. The day of the single car teams is looking dim and could provide little more than start and park teams.
While the larger operations, such as Roush Fenway, Joe Gibbs, and Hendrick/JR Motorsports have room to work with Cup revenue and sponsor exposure with their Cup drivers, these smaller one and two car teams are in a real bind. ML Motorsports, out of Indiana is another single car team that could be promising with driver Shelby Howard. For 2010, they teamed up in a partnership with Jay Robinson Racing and driver Mark Green to fill in for the races other than the 22 Howard runs. This effort has pushed the #70 team into the top 30 and a guaranteed starting spot each week, and will lock them in for the first five races of 2011. But the uncertainty at Jay Robinson Racing may put that program in jeopardy for next year.
A few weeks back Diamond Waltrip Racing released promising developmental driver Trevor Bayne. Wasting no time, RFR signed the talented young Knoxville, TN driver and placed him in a spare car in the NNS for the final races. In a surprise move, RFR made a deal to put Bayne in the legendary Wood Brothers #21 Sprint Cup car at Texas Motor Speedway. An impressive Bayne finished on the lead lap consistently running along side seasoned veterans in the series. That race earned Bayne NASCAR’s approval to attempt the 2011 Daytona 500. Now NS or will this signal the release of Ricky Stenhouse of Colin Braun?
At about the same time, leading rookie of the year contender Brian Scott was released from his ride after Braun Racing sold out to Turner Racing. Scott managed to stay running and continue to compete for the ROTY honors. He is driving in the 09 RAB racing car now but has signed on with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2011. When Scott moved into the 09 car the team had gone through a myriad of drivers and musical crew members. With Scott came the switch to Toyota and the question now becomes, will the 09 team become part of JGR, with RAB leaving the series?
The Nationwide teams are not alone as the Camping World Truck Series also has a lot of teams in financial straights. Danny Gill, who started to the season with two trucks in the opening race at Daytona, both finishing in the top 10. He had kept both teams in the top 25 in points until the lack of sponsorship forced him to pull the #95 truck from contention. Struggling each week, Gill managed to keep his #46 team locked in, but he was running out of money. A few weeks ago Eddie Sharp Racing made a deal for the #46 team for some of their developmental drivers. The Sharp deal brought in new Toyota Trucks to use. NASCAR veteran Steve Park took the wheel of the #46 truck at PIR.
When I spoke with Gill On Pit Road at Phoenix, he confided that he simply ran out of money. He has sold the #46 ‘team’ to ESR who be buying all new Toyota trucks from Kyle Bush Motorsports in 2011. The physical assets of the #46 team have been sold to another individual and the Gill Motosports shop in Murfreesboro, TN will be closed by the end of November.
Truck Series Rookie contender Jennifer Jo Cobb who entered the series this year with financing from her own clothing line told me that she is uncertain at this point what the future holds. She attempted a handful of Nationwide races this year with the intention to go full time in 2011 in that series, but wrecked cars and no sponsor money ended that quest. “ There will be no idea of a full time Nationwide run next year” she told me Friday night before her truck race. “ At this point, I don’t know what we will be doing next year, except that I will tell you that I will be at Daytona. After that, it depends on sponsorship.”