Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR Scene
Going On The Offensive
Roush, Hendrick strike back in support of their multicar operations
As Jack Roush sees it, multicar teams such as his own Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports have done far more good than harm to NASCAR when it comes to competition on the track and to bringing new talent into the sport.
In response to the sanctioning body’s plans to limit the number of entries a team owner can field, Roush Racing circulated a five-page document at Lowe’s Motor Speedway that lists 10 reasons why multicar teams have actually increased the level of NASCAR competition. Quickly dubbed the “Roush Manifesto,” it’s a direct response to the bombshell dropped on the team – not to mention Hendrick Motorsports, and to a lesser extent Chip Ganassi Racing, and possibly smaller teams that buy chassis and engines from the sport’s biggest entities – on Oct. 7 at Kansas Speedway.
That day, CEO Brian France and Mike Helton, the sport’s president, spoke of the desire to put a limit on the number of teams any one organization can own. While no specifics were offered as to how or when such a rule could be implemented, a spokesman said Oct. 14 that something will be announced by season’s end. There’s talk that at first an owner will be allowed four teams, with the goal of scaling that back to three.
Roush fields five teams, Hendrick four. Ganassi’s operation will field four teams next year. Joe Gibbs Racing has three teams, but upstart Hall of Fame Racing will lease engines and buy chassis from JGR, so it’s unknown if that could make it a de facto four-team operation in NASCAR’s eyes.
As of Oct. 14, neither Roush nor Rick Hendrick had had a formal meeting with France or Helton, and NAS-CAR spokesman Jim Hunter said no meetings are scheduled, though Roush said both owners will meet with the sanctioning body once their positions are finalized. In the interim, Roush Racing President Geoff Smith gladly made much of his team’s case available to the press.
Smith knew he had to strike quickly before NASCAR fully explained its position to the sport’s fans.
“We’ve not been asked to provide business details surrounding the impact of [a cap],” Smith said Oct. 14. “They’ve not asked us for our opinion of whether there’s an issue [of multicar teams hurting the sport]. Clearly there’s a perception on their part there might be. … Though Mike says they haven’t decided what the limit ought to be or what the rules ought to be, in the same breath there’s a comment about a phase-in [of the limit].
“[But] there’s no need for a phase-in if you’re dealing with a number that is greater than five [teams]. So that got us going. We don’t have 200 people in our marketing department to go full time in the press. We have a business to run and sponsors to take care of, but we did put together [a document] that addressed many of the things that we heard [from NASCAR] that simply aren’t founded in fact.”
The document cites statistics that, in the eyes of Roush and Smith, show how multicar teams have benefited the sport by providing quality rides for a number of new drivers. It also gives examples of how the growth of multicar teams has coincided with the growth of NASCAR, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Inter-national Speedway Corp., the latter two being the companies that control the majority of Nextel Cup tracks.
It also provides statistics showing that multicar teams haven’t driven down the number of teams entering the NASCAR ranks and points out that Hendrick Motorsports has helped teams such as Joe Gibbs Racing, MB2 Motorsports and Haas CNC Racing, not to mention the Felix Sabates-formed operation now owned by Ganassi, enter the sport. It also states that a single-car team can’t be profitable and that – in a sport without franchising – owning multiple teams is the only way for an owner to have a “going concern” value with his team.
The document states that both Roush and Hendrick will “lose a significant portion of the valuation of their organizations if their teams are reduced in number” and says other owners would also be adversely affected. A case is also made that NASCAR has done nothing to limit the reach of Toyota in the Craftsman Truck Series, an organization that builds engines and supplies chassis to eight teams. Finally, it states, “There is no crisis.”
While Roush and his organization are prepared to meet the challenge full speed ahead, Hendrick spoke on the issue for the first time Oct. 14. He’s happy fielding four full-time teams and said that his last conversation with NASCAR over the summer gave no indication such a plan was in the works. If he learns he’ll eventually have to lose a team, he won’t be happy.
“We’ll be more than punished when we’ve built facilities [for four teams],” Hendrick said. “If you had to lay off 100 people and tell sponsors that you’ve got contracts with and [that] have been with you for 11 years that they can’t come back, then we’re being more than punished. We’ll be financially hurt. We just have to wait and see. … As far as I’m concerned, if you run a Toyota, you’ve got to have all of them under one camp, so I don’t get it.”
The comments of France and Helton on Oct. 7 caught Hendrick by surprise. As one of the winningest owners in the sport, he’d have appreciated some notice that such news was to be announced.
“I’m disappointed that NASCAR would make a step without talking to their partners,” Hendrick said. “I would think we mean something to them. You’ve got employees, you’ve got sponsors and you kind of feel like we got ambushed.
“I was an idiot for running multiple-car teams for years. You’ve got to take your hats off to Jack Roush. You can give some of these guys in here, me included, seven teams, and we’re not going to run as good as he’s running. That’s not the answer. The answer is to get what you’ve got right and how many people in here have five or four teams running good? One man. And he deserves to be applauded for what he’s done, not punished.”
Roush-owned teams have won the last two championships. All five of Roush’s teams are in this year’s Chase For The Nextel Cup, which is why some believe this became an issue in the first place. NASCAR, though, wasn’t saying a word in 1998, when Roush bought the No. 97 team from Greg Pollex, in part to keep high-profile sponsor John Deere from leaving the sport.
Roush dropped back to four teams from 2001-02, but restored the fifth team in ’03. Having made a sizable investment in NASCAR since 1988, he’s not about to watch it be diminished without a fight.
“We need to have a voice in what happens in the future, and we need to have a consideration of all the things good and bad in a court of public opinion or in the more structured courts of dispute settling in our society,” Roush said Oct. 14. “Those points will be made.
“We are not going to, through intimidation or through innuendo, be backed into a situation where we will make ourselves smaller and put in jeopardy the trust that our employees have put in us, our sponsors have put in us or the investment we’ve made in ourselves.”
NASCAR’s Hunter didn’t want to comment on the document released by Roush Racing, saying he hadn’t had time to read it fully.
“Jack Roush and his whole group have done nothing but play by the rules, and they disagree with the direction we’re heading, and that’s their right, to disagree,” said Hunter, adding that both NASCAR and Roush Racing have “wound up” their public relations machines.
Pros and cons
With NASCAR suddenly proclaiming that multicar teams are dangerously limiting the number of owners at the sport’s highest level, a new debate has been stirred. While it may be possible that owners such as Cal Wells and Bill Davis haven’t been able to find sponsors to run second teams, it can be argued that MB2 Motorsports wouldn’t field its two cars without Hendrick Motorsports’ assistance.
“We are in business in 1996 [because] M&M’s went to Rick Hendrick to start a fourth team. He said he didn’t want to, and that’s how we ended up starting a team,” said Jay Frye, who owns a minority interest in the MB2 organization. “I don’t think [Hendrick Motorsports is] out actively searching to start teams. [But] they have opportunities, the financial backing is there to help spread the costs. It does help competitively, so the more the merrier.
“Even now, they’re a huge help and a benefit to have as a partner. I don’t think we would have made it as far as we have without their support and the motors [leasing program]. In reality, Rick could have 10 teams. There’s been enough people coming to them wanting to do business with them. So they’ve obviously controlled their growth.”
Ganassi can see both sides of the issue, having been involved with a still-divided landscape in open-wheel racing in this country. Ganassi said the sport needs more strong owners and that currently “it’s damn difficult to get up to speed and get in the door. I wouldn’t want to be starting over again today trying what we did even five years ago. I think [NASCAR is] on the right path. The question is what number they’re at. I certainly want to hear some more. But you can’t argue with what they’ve done so far.”
With a third full-time team added this year, Joe Gibbs Racing may not have to worry about divesting itself of a team. But even if the limit were to be smaller, team President J.D. Gibbs believes limits are in the sport’s best interests.
“From a healthy, competitive environment, you’d rather have more guys out there than six guys with eight teams apiece,” Gibbs said. “You’d be a lot better off. We said from the beginning, ‘Hey, we’d be happy if there’s 43 healthy car owners.’”
Mike Brown, Bill Davis Racing’s general manager, has watched his organization grow from one car to two and shrink back again. Next year, BDR will field two teams, so it’s well under any potential limit. He can see both sides of the argument but understands NASCAR’s goal.
“I think there’s a fear that if there are no limits, that ultimately two or three race teams will have a monopoly on the best drivers and best sponsors and I don’t think, long term, that’s good for the sport,” Brown said. “At the same time, under the present conditions, you can’t find any fault with [Roush Racing or Hendrick Motorsports]. On one hand they’re the bar that we all try to achieve because they set the bar high, but on the other hand I understand where NASCAR is coming from. It’s a lot like the other sports have tried to do where a George Steinbrenner, for example, can only own one baseball team, and then he has to get approval to own any other franchise in any other major sports, so we’re not really doing anything different here. We’re just trying to protect, long-term, out sport’s best interests.”
It’s a view shared by Richard Childress. With a handful of Formula 1 teams revolting against the sport’s leaders, there’s talk the owners are too powerful in that series. Could NASCAR simply be trying to fend off a similar scenario by limiting its owners?
“No. I think [NASCAR is] looking out for the sport, not just for itself,” Childress said. “I think they’re looking out for the sport in general. It’s more healthy when you have more car owners from a lot of different aspects.”
Many in the sport say they won’t truly formulate an opinion until seeing a specific plan for NASCAR. With arguably the most to lose under any restructuring of the rules, Roush is atop the list of those waiting for the formal plan.
For now, even while his executives build their argument, he’s hoping whatever happens when he and Hendrick meet with NASCAR’s executives is handled in a reasonable fashion.
“There’s no pressing urgency, no deadline, no specific proposal that’s on the books right now that they’re trying to get endorsed or get a rubber stamp on,” Roush said. “I think [NASCAR is] genuinely interested in sitting down and talking about the sport from an owner’s point of view and considering what we have to say.”