Has NASCAR Become More Than A Team Sport?

Baseball has the Double Pay, the Sacrifice Bunt, and the Hit and Run. Football has blocking schemes, pass patterns, and the Zone Blitz. Basketball has picks, bounce passes, and half-court traps. Hockey has stick passing, penalty killing units, and constant shift changes. What all of these sports have in common is teamwork.

Although the "major" sports can sometimes focus on the accomplishments of individual players, the team is the most important aspect. You win as a team, and you lose as a team.

NASCAR is no different. It's right up there with the other "major" sports. Sure, the drivers get the majority of the attention. They are, after all, alone in the car for 300, 400, 500, and sometimes 600 miles. But they're still part of a team.

Without a pit crew, they'd never make it to the end of the race. Can you imagine Jeff Gordon having to get out the #24 car to change his own tires? Or Matt Kenseth pulling his #17 up to a gas pump to fill the tank?

Along with the "over-the-wall gang", other race-time team members include the crew chief, who acts something like a head coach at times, and a cheerleader at others. Without Tony Eury Jr., who would Dale Earnhardt Jr. make all his goofy comments to?

There's also the spotter, way up at the top of the track. He's the eyes of the driver in places the driver can't see. Like when there's a car right next to him, or there's too much smoke on the track for the driver to see through.

Then there's the team you don't see on Sunday afternoon: The engine builders, the body fabricators, and the guys who analyze the results of the wind tunnel tests and track tests. There are the guys who work strictly with the communications systems. There are far more people involved than just the driver.

But what makes NASCAR teams different from teams in other sports?

Let me ask you this: How many Major League Baseball teams can one person own? One. What would happen if the owner of the Dallas Cowboys also tried to purchase the Chicago Bears? The NFL would never allow it. The same is true of the NHL, and the NBA. No one person can own more than one competing team. But this is not true of NASCAR.

NASCAR is becoming more and more a sport where multiple teams become one, sort of a "super-team". There are several "teams" that run 2 cars each weekend. Some have three. Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each currently have FIVE full teams in their organizations. Does this give them an advantage? I certainly think so. Let's look at the advantages.

On Track Help
Teammates can certainly help each other on the track. When looking for a drafting partner, just find someone from your organization. It happens all the time. Think back to how often you've seen Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson riving nose to tail, especially at tracks where drafting is a big factor in your overall speed. If you don't have a teammate on the track, it's a lot harder to do.

Teammates have also been known to "let" their teammates pass them at times. Several times last year, it was noted that when a Roush car was leading a race, and another Roush car was behind, a deal was worked out to let the second car "get by" for a lap. Why? Bonus points! In a few races, all 5 Roush cars scored their bonus points for leading a lap within 10 laps or so of each other. Coincidence? I doubt it. Now try getting that kind of consideration if you're the only car in your organization.

Personnel Help
What happens if the chemistry between driver and crew chief just isn't working? Why, switch crew chiefs, of course. Tony Eury Jr. move from the #8 team to the #15 at the start of the 2005 season. Both cars were part of the DEI organization. Near the end of the season, he switched back. More recently, Bob Osbourne was moved from the #99 team, to the #26 team, both Roush teams. And last year, once Jeff Gordon was out of the Chase for the championship, his crew chief became an advisor for the #48 team of Jimmie Johnson. If you only have one car in your organization, none of this can happen.

Multi-car organizations can even substitute crew members. I can't tell you which team, or which race, because I can't remember the details, but I distinctly remember a race a year or two ago where a rear-tire carrier was injured on pit road, and taken to the infield care center. How did the team fill the vacated spot? Well, one of the driver's team members had previously wrecked and was out of the race. So, the rear-tire carrier for that team filled in for the remainder of the race. That's just not going to happen if you only have one team in your organization.

Information Help
One of the biggest ways a multi-car organization benefits is from the sharing of information.

When planning a race set-up, you generally check your notes on previous races at that track. If you have only one car, you have only one set of notes. With more cars, you have more notes to work with. And, the notes are from a diverse point-of-view.

There's also the issue of track testing. Each team is limited to a certain number of track tests each year. If you have only one car, your limit is pretty black and white. But multi-car organizations have multiple track tests to run. And their teams can then share the information they gathered with the other cars in their organization. That's a BIG advantage.

Does it really Help?
I'm not saying multiple car teams are a bad thing. I'm also not saying it's a good thing. But I think multi-car teams have a distinct advantage. NASCAR apparently felt the same way, with their recent ruling limiting the number of cars an owner can have.

Of course, there are ways around the ruling. One of the Hendrick cars isn't actually listed as a "Hendrick" car. It's technically owned by Jeff Gordon. Another is owned by Mary Hendrick, not Rick. One of the Joe Gibbs cars is listed as being owned by his son, J.D. Gibbs. The three Ganassi cars all have different owners. And the list goes on.

So how much of an advantage does a multiple car organization really have? I personally think they have a huge advantage. So it's time for a little research. My next "By The Numbers" column is going to look into the teams, and the results they've had so far this year. Look for it later this week, and we'll see just how much of an advantage those teams have.

Published on April 26, 2006 in