No room left for NASCAR’s small operators?

Driver Martin Truex Jr. says wind-tunnel testing is a cost area where the small teams can’t compete with Sprint Cup’s behemoth operations.
Driver Martin Truex Jr. says wind-tunnel testing is a cost area where the small teams can’t compete with Sprint Cup’s behemoth operations. Getty Images

Air might be free, but getting that air to move at a brisk pace along the surface of a stock car is an expensive proposition.

Driver Martin Truex Jr. was looking to illustrate the plight of the smaller teams competing in Sprint Cup competition. So he brought up wind-tunnel testing as an example.

“I heard stories of people going to the wind tunnel 10 to 15 times before racing either one of those (new aerodynamic) packages. I think we went once or twice,” said Truex, who qualified for the season-ending Chase by winning the June race at Pocono Raceway.

“That is one area where maybe we are at a little bit of a disadvantage just funding-wise; the amount of money coming into the team.”

Truex drives for the single-car Furniture Row Racing team. While that team has a technical alliance with the larger Richard Childress Racing, Truex and his crew are fighting against a powerful trend in NASCAR: The highly funded super team.

The behemoths – Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske – have major advantages as far as resources, sharing of testing data and marketing support. That is making it harder all the time for smaller operations to compete or even to survive.

The most recent example is the uncertain future of Michael Waltrip Racing. A major investor in MWR, Rob Kauffman, recently bought a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing. There is wide-spread speculation this is a step toward merging those race teams into a single operation.

Though Kauffman said the future plan isn’t finalized, he didn’t deny the possibility of that consolidation in brief comments at Pocono Raceway.

“Whether we have three cars, four cars, two roofs or one is all yet to be determined. How we do in the 2015 season will help determine that. If we do a great job it’s one outcome, if it’s a less great job probably another,” Kauffman said.

“Everyone knows the teams are under quite a bit of pressure; competition is intense to the second. It’s very difficult for the teams to maintain a sensible business model. That’s probably why the impetus for the race-team alliance was formed.

“I think you’re going to see more consolidation along the way here. ... In fact today I’d say there aren’t any one- or two-car teams that don’t have larger affiliations. The days of the lone-wolf teams are long past.”

Consolidation in NASCAR isn’t necessarily a fair or efficient process, driver Kyle Busch learned from his experience as an owner in the Nationwide series. Busch said that’s because the only thing that carries real value in this sport is sponsorship contracts.

“When you have investors come in or people who want to buy out another race team, all they want is those contracts in order to figure out how to maintain that race team and take a little off the top for themselves,” Busch said.

Busch was fortunate that his Sprint Cup employer, Gibbs Racing, was willing to absorb his Nationwide (now Xfinity) operation back into the parent company. He believes it would have been different had he looked for an outside buyer.

“Whenever (owners) want to get out or sell out, the only things they have is equipment, which goes for 10 cents on the dollar, and land and buildings and shop equipment which is 50 cents on the dollar. There really is nothing worth value beyond those contracts with sponsors,” Busch described.

“There is no easy thing about being a car owner. Nothing where you can say, ‘Oh, this is going to be simple, we can do that.’ If anybody thinks that way, you’re going to run 20th.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

At Watkins Glen

What: 90 laps or 220.5 miles

Where: Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, a 2.45-mile road course with banking in turns 6-10

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

TV: NBC Sports Network

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Last year’s winner: A.J. Allmendinger

Related stories from Charlotte Observer