Commentary

No shortage of copycats in NASCAR garages

NASCAR is a copycat business. Always has been, writes Marty Smith. If it works for Jack Roush, it's gotta work for Ray Evernham. And Michael Waltrip. And Teresa Earnhardt. Or does it?

Updated: October 18, 2007, 2:18 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

NASCAR is a monkey-see, monkey-do industry. Always has been, and given the open-wheel invasion and ever-expanding list of team mergers and ownership investment partners, it dang sure still is.

If that guy's doing it, I best do it. Otherwise I'm behind before I even hit the racetrack.

There was the driver/owner trend back in the mid-1990s that saw Darrell Waltrip, Brett Bodine and Ricky Rudd, among others, go it alone. That worked out real well -- for about three years, until they ran out of money and sold off everything they had for 30 cents on the dollar.

For years there was the veteran driver trend. Used to be a man couldn't get a decent Cup ride, much less an elite one, until he'd toiled for years in lesser equipment. Dale Jarrett didn't get a shot at all until he was 30. And he didn't get in winning equipment, with the Wood Brothers, until he was 33.

Kyle Busch is 22 and already headed for his second championship-caliber ride.

Which segues well to yet another trend: young guns.

After years spent recycling veteran drivers from team to team throughout the Cup Series, the early millennium saw a shift in philosophy -- younger is better. The industry saw a youth movement in which teenagers and young men became the hottest of commodities. Experience took a backseat to youthful exuberance and good looks.

Kids were plucked from sprint cars and dirt and go-karts and all manner of obscure outlets. The traditional Saturday night bullring Late Model Stock Car route was no longer requisite to make it to the big time. In fact, it became a rarity.

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If a kid was good on Sony Playstation, he got a developmental contract.

Owners began investing in potential. The mind-set was simple: Some guys pan out, some don't. But at least I got him before Rick Hendrick or Jack Roush got him.

That brings us to the latest trends: Investment partners, seven-post shaker rigs and open-wheel drivers.

It's wild, man. Chip Ganassi signs Juan Pablo Montoya, and suddenly open-wheel is the way to go. Jacques Villeneuve. Dario Franchitti. Patrick Carpentier, Sam Hornish Jr. It won't be long before Dan Wheldon is over here. Who's next? Tony Kanaan? Danica?

And what about the partnership/merger/alliance trend? Roush coaxes Fenway Sports Group to dump $50 million into his race team and suddenly, BAM!!, it's the thing to do.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. gobbles up Ginn Racing to get to four teams immediately. Ray Evernham sells majority ownership. Michael Waltrip sells half of his business. The Pettys are looking at merger proposals. Everybody pushes to mirror Rick Hendrick's business model as soon as possible.

And lastly, the ol' seven-post, a contraption that simulates suspension dynamics. It's $2 million and everybody's gotta have one. Problem is half the teams don't have a guy who can read and integrate the data. So what's the use?

Everybody else has one, that's what.

And in this business, that's really all the coaxing team owners need.

Marty,

You got to help me out man. I got a real bad feeling about Joe Gibbs Racing going to Toyota. I'm a Tony Stewart fan and I drive a Monte Carlo because he does. I'm not about to trade it in for a Camry. Hell no. I love Smoke but I can't decide if I should switch drivers or not. It's killing me. What should I do?

-- Jimmy Ray Reynolds, Anniston, Ala.

Even if Jimmy's question stunk like week-old halibut in a golf bag (inside joke to which few are privy) he'd have made the cut this week. Jimmy Ray Reynolds? Are you kidding me? That's a hell of a fine name, right there. My kind of guy.

Anyway, here's my take on your predicament, Jimmy Ray: Stand by your man like Tammy Wynette. It's the only option. NASCAR is a sport about drivers. Not teams or car makes.

My buddy Pork Chop is simply fanatical about Jeff Burton, has been for 10 years. He had an Exide battery in his Ford Bronco in college and wore No. 99 in every softball league in the Commonwealth of Virginia from Radford to Winchester.

He asked me the very same question when Burton went to Childress. How could he possibly follow another driver after years of devoted Roush religion?

I gave him the same answer I just gave you. How can you just discontinue liking a guy because he drives a different car make? It just doesn't fly in my book. Not anymore. The days of Ford versus Chevy and "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" are barely breathing. It's a driver sport.

Stewart said it pretty well to me a couple weeks back: His fans expect him to win, whether he's driving a Monte Carlo or a Camry or the Goodyear blimp. And he goes out every Sunday to do that. That's why his fans are his fans.

You like Stewart because he's the chocolate syrup on NASCAR's vanilla scoop. That won't change.

Marty, First, just wanted to say that I really enjoy your columns and articles! Here's my question: Was it me or were there actual arrows on the racetrack going into Turn 1 (at Lowe's)? What were they there for?

-- Brad, Endicott, N.Y.

Thanks for the love, Brad. Indeed there are arrows painted in Turn 1 at LMS. They were placed there as a guide to show the various celebrity participants in Gillette's Fast Cars and Superstars reality show the proper racing line into the corner. (I'm still surveying the answer to your other question, man.)

Marty,

Next year can Penske give Sam Hornish the owner's points from Kurt Busch's No. 2 team, so Hornish is in the first five races, and let Busch fall back on his past champion's provisional for those races?

No doubt Busch will be in the top 35 when they switch over to 2008 points.

-- Dave O'Leary, Methuen, Mass.

Nope. No can do, Dave. Great question, though.

NASCAR tells me the only way any such scenario would be feasible would be to place Hornish in the No. 2 for the first five events and move Busch to the third Penske car. Busch could then use his past champion's provisional to guarantee qualification for the first five events in 2008, provided NASCAR doesn't change the rule.

Marty,

Does the National Stock Car Commission EVER reverse a NASCAR penalty upon appeal.

-- John Lynch, Auburn, Wash.

Yes, the commission has overturned NASCAR rulings in the past, John, though it rarely happens. In the eight years since current chairman George Silbermann was appointed, 93 appeal hearings have been conducted. Of those 93, 65 decisions were upheld to the original penalty issued by NASCAR, 20 were reduced, six were completely overturned and two were increased.

Marty,

OK, so Junior is taking Kyle's place in the Hendrick lineup, but Casey Mears is getting Kyle's number, sponsor, and crew chief  so is Junior replacing Kyle, or is Junior replacing Casey and Casey replacing Kyle?

I guess what I'm asking is, if one of the first five 2008 races is lined up based on 2007 owners' points, which one will start further in front? In a nut shell, who gets Kyle's points?

-- Martin, Tulsa, Okla.

Casey Mears will be further ahead, Martin. He gets Kyle Busch's points. The points stay with the team. Earnhardt, then, will start the year with the points Mears accumulates in the No. 25 this season.

Marty,

Will we ever see a night race at Talladega? Watching the big one under the lights, does it get any cooler than that?

-- Thomas, Franklinton, La.

That was rumored a couple years ago, Thomas, so to get the lowdown I phoned Talladega president Grant Lynch with your question. He agreed it would be plenty interesting, but said they've not looked at it seriously -- yet.

OK, time to head on up the road to Martinsville. Wonder if Ashley Judd will eat a hot dog?

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

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