Friday 5: Furniture Row Racing’s demise is a fate others know too well

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. — The names have changed but the stories haven’t when it comes to the tale of Furniture Row Racing and all the teams before it that faded away.

The concern about costs, the dependence on sponsorship and the volatility of it all is not something that is new to NASCAR (or even motorsports). That those issues contributed to Furniture Row Racing announcing this week that it would cease operations after this season only added that team to a long list. That Furniture Row Racing won the Cup championship last year only makes the story more powerful.

But not unique.

Go back in time and look at what other car owners were saying and how their concerns were repeated.

In 1999, Ricky Rudd closed his race shop and sold his cars and equipment at auction because he was unable to find a sponsor to continue a team that had won six races in six seasons, including the 1997 Brickyard 400.

Rudd told motorsport.com the day of the auction: “I’ll probably get a little sad when I see those race cars loaded up on trucks and rolled away. That’ll bother me a little. The hardest day was the day before I signed with (Robert) Yates. I walked into the shop and told the guys that the sponsorship deal wasn’t working out, and that I was sorry but I was gonna do something else next year.”

In 2007, Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. merged during the season because Ginn needed help after it was unable to find funding for two of its three cars. Car owner Bobby Ginn explained to The Associated Press that had he not merged: “We would have had to continue to cut costs, and that is disgraceful to me. I am proud of the merger. I would not have been proud of putting a car out there that couldn’t compete.”

Ginn went on to say: “Even if the sponsors had come in, we probably would be talking about something like this anyway. This is just going to be the way teams operate going forward, and we needed to be invited to the party before it was too late.”

In 2009, Bill Davis Racing — a team that won the 2002 Daytona 500 with Ward Burton — was sold after what The Associated Press described as a “fruitless search for sponsorship.”

In 2013, car owner James Finch sold Phoenix Racing to HScott Racing. Finch told NASCAR.com at the time: “I’ll come to races and all. I just wasn’t going to go broke doing it. Sponsorships are really tough to come by and stuff like that.” HScott Racing announced in December 2016 that it would not field a team, citing lack of sponsorship as a reason.

In 2015, Michael Waltrip Racing announced it would cease operations after the season. Clint Bowyer was a playoff team for that organization that year.

The organization was a three-car team in 2013 but then lost sponsor NAPA after the season in response to the Richmond scandal that year when NASCAR penalized MWR for team orders in the final regular-season race of the year and removed Truex from the playoffs.

Last month, a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing to Front Row Motorsports. Court documents showed that BK Racing, which struggled to find sponsorship, lost $29.5 million from 2014-16. The team also owed a bank more than $9 million in unpaid loans and the IRS more than $2.5 million.

“It’s a tough business,” Devine said in February at Daytona when asked why he never aligned with another team to help defray costs. “I think it’s an expensive learning curve. I also think … you’ve got to decide where you are taking the company and I took it down a very independent route, which probably wasn’t the smartest (thing).”

Just in recent years, the sport has seen Richard Childress Racing contract from three to two teams and Roush Fenway Racing, which had five full-time teams in 2009 downsize to four teams in 2010, three teams in 2012 and two teams in 2017.

Furniture Row Racing cut from two teams to one this season and then suffered a fatal blow when 5-hour Energy announced in July it would not remain in the sport after this year. It is to serve as a co-primary sponsor for 30 races this year. Forget that the 2019 Daytona 500 is 164 days away, the need to have sponsorship secured for next year had already passed for Furniture Row Racing.

Although their lifespan may be recalled more often by fans, its demise falls in line with what has happened to many teams through the years.

2. Similar refrain

This is becoming too familiar for Martin Truex Jr.

For the second time in his career, an organization shut down with him as a driver. Two other times, an organization Truex drove for merged to remain in the sport.

In 2007, Truex was with Dale Earnhardt Inc. when it merged with Ginn Racing, creating a four-car operation. Then that organization later merged with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Truex then left for Michael Waltrip Racing only to see his ride disappear after the 2013 season when NAPA left the team. The fallout was from the Richmond team orders scandal NASCAR penalized MWR. Now, Truex will be heading elsewhere after Furniture Row Racing closes shop after this season.

3. What’s next?

One of the things to watch for with Furniture Row Racing is who buys its charter.

The value of a charter, just like anything, is based on what someone is willing to pay. If there’s only one interested party, the price won’t be as high. If there are more, that can raise the price.

Don’t take what the BK Racing charter (and team) sold for in bankruptcy court last month as an indicator. The team, including the charter, sold for $2 million last month. After a minimum price was set for the charter and team, there was only one bid, leading to a sale that many in the court called disappointing.

One thing that should make Furniture Row’s charter is its recent performance. There’s a historical element to charters that have weighted payments based on the performance of the team that held that charter. With Furniture Row Racing’s championship last year, this charter will have a larger payment to the next owner.

4. Unique attraction

The NASCAR weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway began with a USAC National Midget race on Thursday night.

A quarter-mile dirt track was built inside Turn 3 and more than 100 USAC midgets entered the event.

Holding races leading up to a NASCAR weekend is not a new thing but showing this dirt track series is. With a push toward grassroots racing, such options could be good tie-ins with race weekends — as long as fans show up. If fans don’t attend, they won’t happen.

The grandstand was full for the midget race, which was won by Brady Bacon and saw Christopher Bell finish fifth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. place 11th.

Many fans were already looking forward to this event returning next year.

5. Special promotion

You might have missed it but Pocono Raceway announced this week that children 12 and under will receive free gate admission while accompanied by an adult to its two Cup races and its IndyCar race in 2019.

Children 12 and under already could attend NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity races for free but this is a step up for the sport.

It provides another avenue to reach out to a younger generation with the hope that those in that group become life-long NASCAR fans.

Admittedly, it’s not something that can be done everywhere. Watkins Glen sold out its grandstands again this year. Darlington Raceway did not announce a sellout for last weekend’s Southern 500 but the stands were close to capacity.

At other tracks where there are open seats, it might be something to consider in the future even if only on a year-to-year basis.

Could be the start of something for Cup races.

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For better racing, survival of teams, Michael Waltrip sees answer in spec parts

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Michael Waltrip used to be an owner of a multi-car NASCAR Cup Series team.

“Used to” is the key part of that sentence.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner owned Michael Waltrip Racing from 2002-2015, fielding cars in 783 starts and earning seven wins.

Then the sponsorship money dried up.

It’s similar to the situation that found Furniture Row Racing announcing Tuesday it would be shutting it doors following the 2018 season, a year after it was atop the NASCAR world as the Cup champion.

“I have an intimate knowledge of spending more money than you got coming from sponsorship,” Waltrip said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “It was the reason our team doesn’t exist anymore.”

Waltrip, now an analyst for Fox Sports, said a closer look needs to be taken at NASCAR’s business model to “try to figure out a way to make it more viable to have more owners that want to participate. The more that want to play, the better it is.”

For his part, Waltrip championed the further exploration of using spec parts. In the Truck Series, many teams have gone to the spec Ilmor engine. In the Cup Series, spec pit guns are now used by teams. The Xfinity Series has transitioned to a composite body for its cars.

“You have to be competitive for the sponsors you have, whatever it costs to be competitive is what owners will spend,” Waltrip said. “That being said, sometimes you gotta save competitive people from themselves. … We need a spec chassis. A chassis that maybe Richard Childress Racing produces it and supplies to the industry or … maybe there’s a couple of suppliers. (We need a) chassis that we’re not spending millions of dollars developing … right after you just completed a new chassis.”

Waltrip then pointed to the differences between Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford that he won Sunday’s Southern 500 with and the car it was made to resemble, Rusty Wallace’s No. 27 Pontiac from 1990.

“You just look at a picture of them, you see basically the same thing,” Waltrip said. “But what’s going on underneath that car? There’s some crazy stuff happening with some exotic metals and things that move around and then when you stop they’re back to where they’re supposed to be and all of that is unnecessary. A race fan can’t see that. A race fan just wants to see their favorite guy outrun the rest and we’re spending a lot of money on moving parts and pieces and I just don’t think it’s necessary.”

Waltrip added: “I just feel like there’s a way for us to find common parts and pieces on the car where the crew chief and engineers can still adjust on those cars, but it comes down more to just a driver racing another.”

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Friday 5: Silly season, charter sales and track news

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Not since 2009 have two former Cup champions switched teams — but might that take place for next season?

With 12 races left this year, former champions and free agents Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch have not stated where they will race in 2019.

Truex has won 20 percent of the Cup races since last season, finished in the top five 56.7 percent of the time and scored a top 10 in more than two-thirds of those races.

It would seem natural that the 38-year-old reigning Cup champion will stay with Furniture Row Racing, but everything changed when 5-hour Energy announced July 18 it would end its involvement in NASCAR after this season. 5-hour Energy became a co-primary sponsor for 30 Cup races this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats.

Two weeks ago at Bristol, Truex couldn’t give a number when asked to estimate a percentage of remaining with the team after this season.

“Right now, we need sponsorship,” Truex said then. “That’s as simple as it gets.”

Busch, 40, signed a one-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing in December, after Monster Energy decided to return as a team sponsor. Busch, the 2004 Cup champ, has said he’s talked to multiple teams about a ride for next year.

Busch won two weeks ago at Bristol to assure a playoff spot. He has four top-five finishes and 15 top-10 results this season — nearly bettering what he did last season for SHR.

The last time two drivers with Cup championships switched teams for the same season was 2009 when Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte changed teams.

Stewart, a two-time champion at the time, went from Joe Gibbs Racing to Haas CNC Racing, which was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing. He won his third title in 2011 for that organization. Labonte, who won the 2000 crown, moved from Petty Enterprises to Hall of Fame Racing in 2009.

2. Boom or Bust?

When a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing — and its charter — to Front Row Motorsports last week, it marked the ninth time that a charter has been sold since the system was created before the start of the 2016 season.

One charter has been sold twice in that period, meaning eight separate charters (22.2 percent) have been sold in less than three years. Many more have been leased. Teams can lease a charter once in five years.

The charter system debuted in February 2016 after about 18 months of discussions between NASCAR and team owners. NASCAR announced there would be 36 charters, guaranteeing each holder a starting spot in each race. The charter system also guarantees a set amount of income that isn’t solely based on a team’s finishing position in a race. Performance the past three years, a fixed amount per race and year-end point fund money also are factored.

The point was that teams could better budget what they would receive during the season and have a better idea of how much sponsorship they needed.

Also, the charter system was billed as a way to provide greater value to teams and led to the creation of a Team Owners Council, similar to what Cup drivers have. The Team Owners Council since has played a key role in the discussion of rule changes.

The money paid for charters has been kept quiet. Court documents from BK Racing’s bankruptcy case state that BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million in December 2016.

The bankruptcy court approved Front Row Motorsports’ purchase of BK Racing for $2.08 million. That included the charter, cars, equipment and other assets, meaning the charter sold for less than the one BK Racing sold in December 2016.

The bankruptcy court approved the bidding process for the BK Racing sale. A price of $1.8 million from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, was set as the minimum bid for the charter and certain assets. At the auction, Front Row Motorsports was the only bidder and topped Beam’s total.

Less than three years into the charter system, the movement of charters shows the difficulties with owning a team. The hope was that it would lead to a way for new investors to join the sport — and it could happen in the future.

But it takes more than a charter. There is all the equipment that must be purchased, personnel hired and the need for an alliance to have any hope of being competitive. Then there’s the sponsorship that a team needs to secure. That’s even a big jump for an Xfinity team to make if it wants to move to Cup.

With all that, it’s not surprising at this point that the charters have been passed among those that already own teams.

Here are the charters that have been sold since the charter system was created:

2016 season — Michael Waltrip Racing sold a charter to Stewart-Haas Racing for the No. 41 car.

2016 — Michael Waltrip Racing sold a charter to Joe Gibbs Racing for the No. 19 car.

2017 season — Premium Motorsports sold a charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car.

2017 — BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million, according to court documents.

2017 — HScott Motorsports sold a charter to Premium Motorsports for the No. 15 car.

2017 — Tommy Baldwin Racing sold a charter to Leavine Family Racing for the No. 95 car.

2018 season — Furniture Row Racing sold the No. 77 car’s charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car.

2018 — Roush Fenway Racing sold a charter to Team Penske for the No. 12 car.

2018 — BK Racing charter sold in bankruptcy court to Front Row Motorsports for $2.08 million, including various assets.

3. Track News – Rockingham

The Richmond County Daily Journal reported that Rockingham Properties, LLC was expected to finalize paperwork Thursday on the purchase of Rockingham Speedway.

The paper did not list a price but stated that county tax administrator Vagas Jackson said the property was valued at $2,993,324. The paper reported that Dan Lovenheim, who owns restaurants and bars in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, is the majority owner of Rockingham Properties LLC.

Lovenheim did not provide the paper with plans for the track only to say they are “remarkably encompassing.”

4. Track News – Lucas Oil Raceway

The Indianapolis Star reported Thursday that Lucas Oil Raceway, which includes the drag strip that will host the upcoming U.S. Nationals, a road course and an oval track where the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series used to race, is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation.

The first phase is focused on the drag strip.

Future plans call for improvements to the 0.686-mile oval so that it can host more stock car races.

“I think it’s no secret that we’d like to see other forms of stock car racing, be it different forms of NASCAR racing that come back out here,” Kasey Coler, the track’s general manager, told the newspaper. “That’s long term what we’d like to see.”

5. Did you know …

Darlington Raceway is Ryan Newman’s best track based on average finish. He has an average finish of 11.68 there. His next best track is Rockingham. He had an average finish of 12.4 there.

Since 2009, Newman and Denny Hamlin have the most top-10 finishes at Darlington Raceway with seven each. Next are Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. with six each.

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Kevin Harvick says NASCAR should share any gambling revenue with teams

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Former Cup champion Kevin Harvick wants NASCAR to share any gambling revenue with teams and not keep the money itself.

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday to strike down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting has states seeking to allow such gaming as soon as possible and leagues looking to collect money off it.

“I want my team to be taken care of,” Harvick said Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show. “That’s really the main thing that kind of falls into line here is something of a share in revenue comes down the pipe and even if it is a 1 percent share of revenue, I don’t want it all to go to the league. I think it should be shared with the teams.’’

Harvick said on his show “Happy Hours” that any revenue would be good for teams and help make them — and their charters — more valuable.

“I want to see a business model that works for the current owners and takes these charters from being what they are today to being what something of an NBA franchise or an NFL franchise (is),’’ said Harvick, who closed his racing team after the 2011 season. “I’m not saying from a dollar standpoint but just from (the point that) somebody that can afford to come in and own a race team to say ‘I want to do that because it’s really not going to cost me that much money and down the road it might be worth ‘X’ as we go further down the line.’

“That’s the point we have to get to if you want to make it a real league and make it so that the charters are worth what they need to be. This would be another example of getting that revenue stream a little bit better than what it is today.’’

The NBA has stated it seeks an “integrity fee” of 1 percent of the amount wagered on any of its events. Other leagues also are expected to seek such payment.

Harvick, who has won a series-high five races this year, said NASCAR shouldn’t be left out.

“If we could do something like that, that would be great for everybody,’’ he said.

Harvick also wants to see other changes to the revenue stream for teams. He noted the TV money that comes into the sport. Currently, tracks collect 65 percent, teams receive 25 percent and NASCAR takes 10 percent of the TV money.

International Speedway Corp., citing leading industry sources, stated in its 2017 annual report that the sport’s TV package is valued $8.2 billion over 10 years. The deal goes through the 2024 season.

ISC stated in its 2017 annual report that it received approximately $337.4 million in fiscal year 2017 from TV broadcast and ancillary rights fees.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. stated in its 2017 annual report that it expects its broadcasting revenue to be about $217 million for 2018.

“I think that there should be a bigger piece of the pie that comes out of the TV money that goes to the teams because that’s really the root of Cup racing,” Harvick said. “If you don’t have the teams, and you don’t have those owners that are in there in the garage wanting to be there, then we all don’t have anything to race.’’

Michael Waltrip Racing folded after the 2015 season. Roush Fenway Racing downsized from four to three teams in 2013 and then cut back to two teams in 2017. Richard Childress Racing went from three to two teams for this season. Furniture Row Racing went from two teams to one for this year. BK Racing filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February and recently listed total liabilities as $37.7 million.

Team Penske grew from two to three Cup teams this year. StarCom Racing debuted with two races last year and is running the full season this year, leasing a charter from Richard Childress Racing.

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NASCAR connections to Monday’s college football National Championship

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The 2017-18 college football season ends tonight with the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, two Southeastern Conference teams.

We decided to take a look at the two schools and their connections to the NASCAR world.

If we missed any NASCAR connections, let us know.

The paths of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski crossed last year.

In September, the driver of the No. 2 Ford visited the school’s Tuscaloosa campus, which is located just under 110 miles west of Talladega Superspeedway.

Saban actually served as the grand marshal of the 2009 spring Cup race at the 2.66-mile speedway, when Keselowski won his first Cup race.

During the visit, the two swapped jerseys, with Keselowski receiving a No. 2 jersey with his name on it.

“I can tell you this, I hope the tide rolls us right into victory lane when we get back to Talladega,” Keselowski said. “Like Coach Saban and his teams at Alabama, there is a winning tradition at Team Penske. We hope to add to that legacy with another Talladega Superspeedway triumph, and ultimately another championship.”

Two weeks later, Keselowski claimed his fifth Talladega win.

Saban will be looking for his sixth national championship tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports has a few team members who have ties to the game.

Rowdy Harrell, a former walk-on linebacker at Alabama, is a rear tire carrier on the No. 88 team. He won three championships with the Crimson Tide, the last coming in 2013. He joined Hendrick in September of that year.

Harrell was brought to the team by Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick. Burkey is a former scouting assistant for the Miami Dolphins from Saban’s time as head coach of the team.

The colors of the Crimson Tide have made their way to the high banks of Talladega multiple times over the last 17 years.

The first Alabama-themed scheme belonged to Scott Pruett and his No. 32 Tide car in 2000.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the vessel for three more schemes in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the seasons following Alabama National Championships.

2010 – David Reutimann

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2012 – Clint Bowyer

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2013 – Michael Waltrip

There are far fewer connections between NASCAR and the University of Georgia, but they’re there.

Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and native of Dawsonville, Georgia, is a noted fan of the Bulldogs.

Hendrick’s strength and condition coach, Darius Dewberry, was a Georgia linebacker from 2006-09 and joined Hendrick in June 2013.

NASCAR on NBC’s own Rutledge Wood is a native of Alabama, but he moved to Georgia in 1995 and graduated from the school with a degree in marketing.

Bulldog sports teams have interacted with the NASCAR world a few times.

In 2014, the football team was part of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, playing against the University of Louisville. As part of their bowl week festivities, the teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Two years later, the Georgia baseball team visited Charlotte to play the University of North Carolina – Charlotte 49ers.

As part of their visit, they visited Hendrick Motorsports to get a taste of the life of a NASCAR pit crew.

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