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Truck teams racing as much for cash as checkered flag

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DOVER, Del. — The green flag will fly today for the Camping World Truck Series and some teams could be further in the red by the time the checkered flag waves.

A series that debuted with four demonstration races in 1994 sees its teams battle financial challenges while facing questions about a schedule that has veered from its grassroots beginning.

Brad Keselowski understands all too well what team owners face. He said his truck operation lost $1 million in the 2014 season and says that’s still the average for his organization, which has five victories since 2015.

“It’s a money loser,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports. “Big time.’’

If an organization lost $1 million in a season (23 races this year), that would equate to losing more than $43,000 per race on average.

Red Horse Racing, which was in its 13th season in the series, suspended operations May 22 after struggling to find sponsorship. It made that move even though Timothy Peters was fifth in the points at the time.

Kyle Busch says it costs $3.2 million a year to run a full-season Truck team at Kyle Busch Motorsports and he has to put some of his own money into the operation. Keselowski says the cost is closer to $4.5 million to run a full-season Truck team, counting reinvested purse money and manufacturer support.

It is amid those challenge that former Truck owner Kevin Harvick recently suggested on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show that the series run at more short tracks — as it did in its early years — to help NASCAR reconnect with grassroots racing fans and give the series a stronger identity.

“I think it’s something that a lot of people want to say and haven’t said, but I think it’s definitely time to look at the grassroots sides of things, and I think the Truck series is a grassroots division,’’ Harvick said last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m not saying we need to take them from Daytona or Phoenix or some of these other places, but there are some places that they don’t need to be going.’’

On his radio show, he mentioned Dover — site of today’s race — as one of those places.

“They don’t want to show up on a Friday at Dover and watch these trucks drive around the race track because they’re going to show up on Sunday to watch the Cup cars,’’ Harvick said. “Take the trucks somewhere where everybody wants to see them, because there’s short tracks across the country that want to see them.’’

Busch likes the idea.

“I would definitely enjoy that model of going back to those race tracks,’’ he said. “Now again, how you accomplish that and how you get that done, that’s for people a hell of a lot smarter than me to figure out.

“But I would certainly enjoy seeing the Truck Series go back to Tucson, or even around here, go to Motor Mile, go to some of these short tracks that you can put 10, 15, 20,000 people in the stands for an exciting truck race.

“Because in all honesty, that’s the crowd count that you’re getting at a mile‑and‑a‑half anyways, so pack the place, make it look good, and put on a good show for the fans and go back to some of the roots of short track racing that these drivers are coming up from.’’

If NASCAR went to some smaller tracks, it might have to lower sanctioning fees and that could mean a smaller purse for teams.

“If we make less money, you’re digging our grave, so the sanctioning agreements can’t be for any less money, that’s for sure,’’ Busch said. “We actually need them to be for more. In order to cut our costs, we need to be able to make more money or compete for more money to race for more winnings. If you cut our winnings out, you might as well just say goodbye.’’

Keselowski said that even when Brad Keselowski Racing wins, it doesn’t cut the spending deficit in a weekend by much.

“If we win the race it is, at best, and this is at best, about 5 percent of what we spent (that weekend),’’ he said.

But Keselowski said that there is a way the finances could work for teams even if with smaller purses.

With more short tracks, Keselowski said, engines are not as great a factor and money can be saved there. Also, more short tracks would make aero development less important and that might be another area to save money.

“I’m a big believer you can’t cut your way to prosperity,’’ he said,“but you can make smart decisions.’’

The race is on to make those decisions before more teams end up like Red Horse Racing and are faced with leaving the sport.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 at Miami, Brad Keselowski leads Championship 4 drivers

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Kyle Larson won Stage 1 of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, dominating by leading 67 of the stage’s 80 laps, holding a nine-second edge when he took the checkered flag.

Meanwhile, here’s how the four Championship 4 drivers finished after the first 80 laps of the scheduled 267-lap event: Brad Keselowski is second, Kyle Busch is third, Kevin Harvick is fourth and Martin Truex Jr. in fifth.

Truex, with six of his seven wins this season coming on 1.5-mile tracks like Homestead-Miami, wasted little time to take the lead away from pole-sitter Denny Hamlin.

The first caution of the race came out on Lap 6 when Joey Gase appeared to blow a tire and hit the Turn 1 wall hard.

During the subsequent pit stop, the only Championship 4 driver to hit pit road for four new tires was Keselowski, putting him off-sequence of the other contenders.

The move worked, though, as Keselowski quickly climbed from ninth on the restart on Lap 9 to third by Lap 12 and second by Lap 14.

Larson, who also pitted with Keselowski, took the lead away from Truex on Lap 13 and held on for the remaining 67 laps of the stage.

On Lap 38, Jimmie Johnson blew a right rear tire and came to pit road for four new tires. Even though there was no caution, all four championship contenders pitted over the following two laps.

On Lap 58, Harvick passed Truex and into third place for the first time in the race, zeroing on Keselowski in second.

Johnson got into the wall again on Lap 60, even though there was no caution, and sustained moderate damage, pitting for four tires and fuel.

Kyle Busch passed Harvick to take over third on Lap 77.

Sixth through 10th were Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer.

Watch: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fans on what the driver means to them

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The fan base of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is large and devoted.

Those fans, affectionately called “Junior Nation,” has voted Earnhardt as NASCAR’s most popular driver 14 years in a row.

Justin Hartley of NBC’s “This is Us” is a member of Earnhardt’s fan base. The actor narrates the above essay on the close relationship between the driver and his fans.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks to Bob Costas about his career, legacy before final Cup start

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Sunday marks Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s last start as a full-time Cup driver in NASCAR.

NBC Sports’ Bob Costas sat down with the 14-time most popular driver before the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to get Earnhardt’s thoughts before he climbed in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the last time.

Earnhardt addressed what he hopes his legacy will be after 20 years in the sport as a driver, including his impact on attitudes towards concussions in sports in general.

Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports in 2018, also talked about what life has in store for him in the near future.

Earnhardt also made sure to credit his devoted fan base for making his career possible.

“I understand the driving force behind my success and opportunity in this sport, whether it be inside the car or outside the car, is all because of Jr. Nation,” Earnhardt said. “This year we’ve tried our best to show appreciation to them.”

Watch the above video for the full interview.

 

Furniture Row Racing going for Cup title after year of success, tragedy

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It’s been a historic year for Furniture Row Racing, the Cup team that has its base of operations in an old water bed factory in Denver, Colorado.

With Martin Truex Jr. piloting the No. 78 Toyota, they won a team record seven races and a series record six races on 1.5-mile tracks. Combined with a dominating performance under the new stage racing format, Truex has put the team in its second Championship 4 in three years.

But it’s also been a season of perseverance and tragedy.

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan narrates the above video essay on the story of Furniture Row Racing’s 2017 season.