Independent team owners becoming extinct in NASCAR
But even securing sponsors and contending as a mid-pack team is becoming nearly impossible for smaller teams in NASCAR now. The latest evidence of that is the news that James Finch, who improbably won the Talladega race one year ago with driver Brad Keselowski in that famous high-flying finish, has announced he wants to sell his Phoenix Racing team. In his remarks, reported by Fox Sports, he was very honest about his situation in Cup.
“I’ve probably had 100 drivers in my time and I’ve had a lot of fun, but if you can’t be competitive you might as well quit,” Finch said. “If you can’t win a race, you can’t attract any sponsors.”
He went on to make a bold prediction, which I believe is probably true.
“I will probably be the last independent to ever win a Cup race. Joe America can’t afford to race any more. I’m going to race Talladega out of my own pocket but if I can graciously get out, I will go on down the road. I’m in the business to have fun and I’m going to go where I can find fun.”
“I’ve had a real good time,” Finch said. “But it’s time to do something else.”
Up for sale are Finch’s 70,000 square-foot building – including 35 race cars, all the machinery and two houses on nine acres in Spartanburg, S.C.
Guys like Finch used to be what NASCAR was all about. Going way back to the start of the sport and for much of its first 40+ years, an average guy could build up a team from nothing over a period of years and eventually compete for wins. Finch never saw huge success in NASCAR, but he does have that win at Talladega and ran some competitive cars in the Nationwide series on a regular basis. He won 12 NNS races with six drivers on nine tracks. Even in Cup, whenever the tour showed at Daytona you could count on his #09 car running in the top-10 most of the time. That’s pretty impressive, considering the disadvantage he faces each week.
Nowadays, if you don’t have two or three cars on your team, you’re not likely to do much of anything on the track. So if your name isn’t Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs or Childress, you’re not likely to do much of anything on the track.
That’s the reality, and it’s helped push Finch out of the sport. The loss of the longtime Miccosukee sponsorship didn’t help either, and it came just as the season was about to start in February.
I salute anyone who still tries to be an independent team owner in this sport, like my favorite driver of all time Dave Marcis did for decades. It’s damn near impossible.
Finch is a class act, as evidence by his actions after Keselowski took the win at Talledega year.
He took his entire share of the $312,075 purse and gave it to Keselowski for his parents, part of a racing family that has been in involved in ARCA and NASCAR for decades in their own family-run operations.
"I did some cool things for my parents with that," Keselowski said. "That was something I was proud to be able to do. It's cool to be able to be there for them."
Keselowski expressed gratitude for the help he got from Finch in his career.
“Without him, I couldn’t be here. I’ve had a lot of cool car owners and without James I wouldn’t be where I am today and I appreciate that.”
Finch said he can’t justify the cost of running a race team any longer.
“I just don’t want to go broke trying to outrun the manufacturers — whether that’s Jack Roush (with Ford), Rick Hendrick (Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs (Toyota) or Roger Penske (Dodge). I don’t have a sponsor and to rent a motor is $100,000 a race (from the top engine builders). I feel like I’ve been run out of business. You have to do business with them to run up front and that’s too expensive. We use to run 175 miles per hour for a 20th of a price. And now we’re running 190 miles per hour and it’s $225,000 to run all your stuff.”
That’s too bad, but it’s the reality of the racing world today.
At this point, the little guy barely exists. And what fun is a sport without some underdogs to root for?
Pocono gets a sponsor
Another sign of the economic times: The owner of Pocono Raceway, who has previously shunned sponsorship for the track's two races … dubbed the Pocono 500 and Pennsylvania 500 for the longest time … will have a corporate sponsor for the June 6 race.
The race will be called the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target.