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NASCAR team owner says sport should enact a spending cap

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Andrew Murstein, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, says NASCAR team owners need to agree to a spending cap to create a “level playing field’’ in the Cup Series.

“Every single league has a cap now these days, it creates a level playing field,’’ Murstein told NBC Sports. “It’s salaries … its wind-tunnel time, it’s the whole kit and caboodle. It’s better for the fans, I think, if there is a level playing field. No one can outspend the other guy. It’s better for the owners. It creates more competition, more excitement.’’

Murstein’s comments might seem hollow in a season that has seen 10 consecutive different winners heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Watkins Glen International. Nine different teams have won Cup races this year with no organization winning more than four races.

That balance appears to be an anomaly. In nine of the previous 10 seasons, one organization won more than 25 percent of the races each year. Joe Gibbs Racing won 38.9 percent of the races in 2015 — the highest percentage since Hendrick Motorsports won 50 percent of the races in 2007 with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears.

Murstein, founder and president of Medallion Financial Corp., said he raised his points about a spending cap to NASCAR Chairman Brian France at a dinner last month in New York that included John Tisch, owner of the NFL’s New York Giants.

“(Tisch) was shedding a lot of light on why that league was so successful,” Murstein said, “both from fan interests and from the economics of the sport.’’

Murstein said France appeared open to his ideas “if we came up with some more details.’’

NASCAR has stated that its three most important components are safety, competition and costs. The sanctioning body has created a number of rules, including limits on engines used during a race weekend and tires that teams can purchase for an event to help owners cut costs. For the third consecutive weekend, Cup teams are on track two days instead of three, helping cut a day of travel expenses. Last weekend, owners had to submit votes on potential rule changes intended to help defray costs and balance competition.

Murstein, whose company was involved in the purchase of Richard Petty Motorsports in late 2010, said he would like to see more done toward an overall cap on spending. Such a move would be revolutionary for a sport where owners do not share their financial information and athlete contracts are kept secret.

“I think this sport needs to start coming up with revolutionary concepts, so they have to leave the past in the past and they have start looking to the future,’’ Murstein said.

Because teams are not the same size, there would have different cap amounts. It would be unreasonable to have Richard Petty Motorsports, which is fielding one team this year, have the exact same cap as Joe Gibbs Racing, which fields four cars. Still, proportional caps could be created for each team to help keep costs in line. Murstein suggested independent auditors could monitor the spending.

Should teams spend beyond their limits, Murstein has a plan. A luxury tax.

“Kind of punish the ones that don’t care about spending and that extra money goes into a pool that would help the other owners, and hopefully they would use their money to make their cars more competitive, too,’’ Murstein said.

While Murstein is looking to cut costs, he understands that drivers are underpaid relative to other athletes. As teams struggle to find sponsorship, driver contracts take a hit.

With the new generation of racers, it’s easier for an owner to go with a younger driver, who can cost less, than a veteran. Former champion Matt Kenseth does not have a ride for next year. Stewart-Haas Racing did not pick up the option on former champion Kurt Busch’s contract for next year but tweeted it still expected him to drive for the team next year.

“I do think that even the older drivers, when they come off their contracts, they’re seeing the reality of the sport today and they’re willing to take pay cuts,’’ said Murstein, whose team seeks to renew deals with sponsor Smithfield and driver Aric Almirola. “It’s one sport where there are so few seats. NBA athletes, there’s what 30 teams, about 360 professional athlete. Here you’re talking about 40. It’s probably the hardest sport to be a superstar in.

“I see hockey guys who play a third of the game make $17 million a year. Now you’re talking about (drivers) who are 10th best in the world at what they do getting only salaries of $5 million, so I actually think their salaries are low compared to other sports but the business needs that right now with the sponsorship decline.

“I love the fact of how no other sport has a partner with the athletes where here the athletes get 40 percent of the race winnings. So each race they go into as your partner vs. other sports where they win or lose, it makes no difference at all.

“There are a lot of bright sports in NASCAR, too. I’m just trying, as the new kid on the block, to throw new ideas out there. Some of them will get knocked down right away, which they should because I don’t have the experience that a lot of these other team owners do, but they have to start thinking, in my view, of new and better ways to get the fans interested.’’

Murstein said he understands a cap likely won’t be instituted soon. He admits it could start with more standardized parts for teams.

“I think you probably settle that you’re going to start at parts and pieces but that’s the wrong way to do it, which is probably what will happen,’’ Murstein told NBC Sports. “I think it will happen because it will be the easy one to do. It won’t remove the 800-pound gorilla, which is all the other costs involved and dealing with that. Maybe you tippy-toe into it by starting that way and then eventually you look at the overall spending.

“The sport could even evolve years from now where there’s one manufacturer making all the Toyota cars. That’s the way I actually think it should be. That’s 100 percent the way it should be.’’

For teams that provide chassis to other teams, it seems unlikely they would want to give up a way to make money.

“At some point there’s a tipping point, you have so start looking past … I think you’ve got to point the sport back in the right direction,’’ Murstein said. “It’s a fantastic sport. I go to every other sporting event in the world and none parallel NASCAR, but the direction of it right now needs to be, I think, spun a little bit differently.

“It could happen if the owners get together and I’m sure the ownership of NASCAR would be behind it, so I think it’s more an ownership issue than a NASCAR issue.’’

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NASCAR America: Matt Kenseth unable to realize potential due to team’s mistakes

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Sunday’s pit road mistake — having seven crew members over the wall when only six are allowed — not only knocked Matt Kenseth out of the race, it also knocked him out of advancing in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

As a result, Kenseth lost out on his bid to earn a second Cup championship in what could potentially be his last season in the Cup series.

And it wasn’t the first time Kenseth has suffered through issues not of his making this season and in prior seasons.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan all gave their thoughts on what happened to Kenseth — and they didn’t hold back, either.

Click on the above video to hear what they had to say about Kenseth’s misfortune and how it could potentially impact his legacy going forward.

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s picks for Championship 4

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On Monday’s editions of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his predictions for which of the eight remaining championship-eligible drivers — including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott — will make it to the Championship 4 round.

In addition to Johnson and Elliott, Junior also makes it known in the above video that he’s also pulling for Ryan Blaney. He may even throw in a surprise to his picks.

Our NASCAR America team of analysts go over Junior’s picks and give their take, as well.

We don’t want to spill the beans of who Junior is picking here, so click on the video above to find out, as well as what our analysts think about his picks.

 

 

 

Long: Kyle Larson’s playoff exit significant to title contenders

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Lost among questions about rules, confusion on pit road and chaos on the track Sunday was just how significant Kyle Larson’s departure from the playoff is.

The owner of four wins this season, Larson was one of the few drivers who typically could race with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on the 1.5-mile tracks and some even considered Larson the championship favorite if he made it to Miami.

“I think Kyle Larson was going to be the car to beat, and still will be the car to beat at Homestead,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch. “Now that he’s not in the (playoff) mix anymore, it probably opens it up for the rest of us.’’

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think you eliminated the best car at Homestead. That’s a big deal. For everybody.’’

Larson entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway with a 29-point cushion before his title hopes ended when his engine blew with nearly 200 laps left. He finished 39th.

“It’s crazy,’’ Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., said of Larson’s playoff exit. “You can’t ever be safe, for sure.’’

Sunday marked the first time since 2013 that Larson failed to finish a race because of an engine failure. His first two career Cup races ended early because of engine issues that season.

Larson’s departure was as shocking as Busch’s exit in 2014 when he entered the elimination race at Talladega second in the standings with a 25-point cushion to advance to the next round.

Now a spot many presumed would be taken by Larson is open for someone else.

WORK REMAINS

Jimmie Johnson overcame two spins to finish 11th and advance to the Round of 8, moving a step closer to an eighth championship.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, though, wasn’t pleased after Sunday’s race.

On the radio afterward, Knaus said: “That was a pitiful performance.’’

Knaus had more to say after the race, telling NBC Sports:

“We ran like (expletive deleted). It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good race tracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Knaus is right to be concerned. The second round was mistake-riddled for the team.

The pit crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts late in the race at Charlotte, forcing Johnson to back up partially into his stall to remedy the issue, costing him time and positions.

An error by the team’s spotter led to the crew working on Johnson’s damaged car before the red flag period had ended, leading to the team being parked. The team had hoped to run one more lap after being collected in a crash to gain at least one more point.

Then came Kansas’ woes with the lack of speed, an ill-handling car and a seven-time champion causing back-to-back cautions.

“It’s no real surprise that mile-and-a-halves have been a little bit of a struggle for us this year,’’ Johnson said. “We’re putting in the effort. These guys are working around the clock. I’m looking under every stone I can to try to find something as well. We just don’t have the speed yet.

“We’ve got a real opportunity at Martinsville. If we’re able to win there … it sets us up for Homestead.’’

COMMUNICATION WOES

The communication issues Matt Kenseth’s team had Sunday wasn’t the first time for that team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the playoffs.

In the penultimate race of the 2013 season, Kenseth struggled all weekend and then had a disastrous pit stop when there was confusion on if the team would change two or four tires. After the call was made for four tires, Kenseth had to back up because the car was on the air hose.

The result was a 23rd-place finish that left Kenseth so far behind Johnson needed only to finish 23rd or better in Miami to win the title. Ratcliff apologized to his crew on the radio after the race for the effort.

Sunday’s scenario was different but communication again proved key and a miscue will keep the team from having a chance to race for a title.

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ Ratcliff said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully, we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.’’

So what happened?

“Two of them were holding tires (over the wall),’’ Ratcliff said of crew members. “We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically, it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

When Kenseth was told on the radio that he was being parked for having too many crew members work on his car while under the five-minute clock for crash damage, the former champion sounded incredulous that his — last? — chance to win a title ended in such a way.

With no plans announced for next year, there’s no guarantee Kenseth will be racing for a championship again. Now the goal becomes a win.

“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt,’’ Ratcliff said. “That would be special. Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.’’

PIT STOPS

The final eight Cup playoff contenders include four former champions — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. There has been a first-time champion in three of the last five years, which could be a good sign for playoff drivers Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. … With winning the pole at Kansas, Truex Jr.’s team earned the first pick of pit stalls also at Martinsville this weekend because qualifying is on the same day as the race there.

Memorial service to be held Friday for Furniture Row Racing team member Jim Watson

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A memorial service for Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson will be held Friday in Lincolnton, North Carolina, his family announced Monday.

Watson, who served in a number of roles for both the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. and No. 77 of Erik Jones, passed away Saturday night after suffering a heart attack in Kansas City, Kansas, where the teams were preparing for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race.

Watson was 55.

MORE: Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

MORE: Long: Tears turn to cheers for Furniture Row Racing

The memorial will be from 4-6 p.m. ET Friday at the Warlick Funeral Home, 125 Dave Warlick Drive, in Lincolnton.

Watson’s obituary was included in the announcement of the memorial service:

Watson was born Sept. 27, 1962, in Kenosha, Wis., to Betty Paulus Watson and the late David Harrison Watson. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ann Watson; a daughter, Brittany May Watson; his mother, Betty L. Watson; brother, Mike Watson; stepchildren, Eric James Conover and fiancé Claudia Rodriguez, and Matthew Sean Conover; Michael Patrick Conover, and wife Michele, and Nicholas Ian Conover; three grandchildren, Patrick Michael Conover, Michael Winston Conover, and Coleton Daniel Conover; nieces, Jennifer Watson and Katie J. Ballou; and many other uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorials be made to hatsalive.org.