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Friday, August 6, 2010

RCR should be careful about 4th team after 2009 debacle

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR
Will Paul Menard, pictured above on track, be an RCR driver in 2011?

Richard Childress has never been one to give up, and apparently one idea he is holding onto is the idea of having four teams.

The last time, to be kind, didn’t work out so well. With Casey Mears in the fourth car last year, 2009 was an abysmal year for RCR. None of the team’s cars made the Chase – finishing between 15th and 21st in the standings. This was a huge dip from their performance in 2008, and it appears that 4 teams presented a bigger challenge than the team was ready to handle.

The team slimmed down to three teams in 2010 with the departure of Mears, and has rebounded wonderfully. Kevin Harvick is leading the standings and is remarkably consistent this year. Jeff Burton is solidly in the Chase and Clint Bowyer is battling hard to make it, too. It would seem 3 is the magic number for success.

Not so fast. There’s a kid named Menard running around with a boatload of his dad’s money (John Menard is worth several billion dollars) and is looking for a good ride. According to reports, he may have already made plans to settle at RCR, putting that fourth team back in operation for 2011.

It’s a tough situation for Childress. On one hand, things are going well as they are and you don’t want to upset the apple cart. But when a guy comes knocking with money in hand, you can’t exactly turn him away.

Fourth teams are tricky, and history shows that it’s almost impossible for every one of the four teams to do well. For this experiment to be a success, Childress better hope that if this plan goes through, at the very least 2 or 3 of his 4 cars run up front each week in 2011. Otherwise, he’ll be back in a very familiar position next year, right back where he was in 2009.

The best-case scenario is that RCR has learned from what it did wrong in 2009 and doesn’t let the addition of a fourth team limit its ability to succeed in 2011. The roll they are on this year has put them as close to stopping the Hendrick dominance of Cup as they have ever been, and it would be a shame to see them return to struggles of the past.

A slimmer Richard Petty Motorsports
There is good news and bad news for Richard Petty Motorsports.

The good news: A.J. Allmendinger has signed a multi-year extension, and they hope he can be the anchor of the franchise into the future.
The bad news: He pretty much is all the franchise has at this point.

Kasey Kahne is leaving, as we all learned long ago, and Elliott Sadler can’t wait to get out the door. Menard is on his way out, too, along with that important sponsorship, so that just leaves A.J.

Rumors are that Marcos Ambrose wants to sign with the team, but the proper sponsorship has yet to be found. At this point, the best-case scenario is that things work out with Ambrose and the team drops from four cars to two cars as they head into 2011. That’s a pretty big makeover from year to year, and a sign of just how difficult it is to keep a Cup team operating and running well.

Kahne and Martin saga
At this point in time, even with all the other news going on, it’s still a huge story that we haven’t yet heard what Kasey Kahne will be driving in 2011. I was surprised by just how early we heard the announcement of his move to the #5 car, as announcing in mid 2010 what someone will do in 2012 is just plain strange to me.

So with the season more than half done, we still don’t know where Kahne will be in 2011. Kahne is a talented driver, who many think will compete for titles in his career, but it’s very realistic that his 2011 will be a kind of throwaway year, which is amazing to me. All the holes are closing up (no Stewart-Haas third team planned, Finch planning to close up shop on the #09 car), so there is no good ride for Kahne to take over in 2011 as he waits for Martin’s contract to finish up.

So if Mark won’t budge, that leaves just one possibility in my mind, that some random team will be created by someone, with help from Hendrick, for Kahne to drive for in 2011. This would be very difficult and not a recipe for much success.

Of course, there is still a possibility of Martin moving out of the #5 car early to leave room for Kahne, but if you have heard Mark in the past few weeks that’s not very likely. He insists he’s going to fulfill his contract, and Hendrick said he’ll respect Mark’s wishes.
Some people have gone so far as to suggest the “right thing” for Martin to do is step aside. Of course, this is just silly … the “right thing” for Mark to do is whatever’s best for him, not Kasey.

In my mind, I see Kahne having the whole rest of his career to prosper at Hendrick, so he can wait a year to get in that ride. I just find it stunning that 2011 may end up being a throwaway year for one of the biggest drivers in the sport.

Attendance woes
This latest Brickyard 400 saw 140,000 fans attend at Indy, when over 300K attended when Brickyard 400 first started. Things are getting ugly on the ticket sales side of the sport. Even the night Bristol race was not sold out, last I checked. I never would have imagined that could happen. It just goes to show that nothing is really safe when the economy hits the toilet.

15 years of the Trucks
I saw a great feature on TV last week marking the 15th anniversary of what started as the “Supertruck” series.
If you look back at what these things used to look like (big old boxy pickup trucks), and see what they’ve become, it’s quite an evolution. Without all the advancements over the years, they would have never been able to run at tracks like Pocono.

One thing that doesn’t change is some of the lifers in the series … in the first Supertruck race, the polesitter was Ron Hornaday and the winner was Mike Skinner, so those guys have been there, with minor breaks from the very start. I still maintain to this day that if you want to see some close, fun racing, this is the series that most consistently provides it among the top 3.

Happy 15th birthday Trucks.

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