New four-car cap infuriates Roush Racing
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Big-money teams will be allowed to field only four cars under a cap limit set by NASCAR on Thursday, a move that infuriated the five-car Roush Racing organization.
The limit goes into effect next season, but NASCAR said it would work to set a timeline for compliance for teams with more than four entries. Jack Roush is the only owner with five teams, all of which are in the 10-man Chase for the championship that crowns the Nextel Cup champion.
"It is hard for Jack not to believe that there is a laser bulls-eye on his forehead," Roush Racing president Geoff Smith said.
The move had been expected since last month, when NASCAR chairman Brian France said he was looking to limit the amount of cars one owner can have. The announcement caught Roush by surprise, and his organization has complained it was being singled out.
Until Thursday's announcement, no one was certain what the cap would be.
Smith said Roush officials were told in a recent private meeting with NASCAR that a "grandfather clause" would be included to allow them to keep their five teams at least through the 2009 season. All of their current contracts with sponsors and drivers at least run through then, but what happens when those deals expire remains somewhat murky.
"Our impression is if every one of those sponsors wants to continue past '09, they can," Smith said. "If some of the sponsors don't want to continue on but every driver wants to continue past '09, that would be OK, too. But its very unlikely that all of that will happen.
"But the bottom line is we will have to go to four. It won't be next year, it won't be for a few years, but we will have to get there."
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter did not immediately return a call for comment to address Smith's interpretation of the grandfather clause.
The top teams in NASCAR are currently multi-car operations with budgets that could be soon closing in on $100 million a year. It's nearly impossible for single-car teams to compete against the big-money groups, which pool resources to gain additional tests, information sharing, multiple sponsorships, and, sometimes, on-track cooperation among teammates.
But in arguing for the cap, France said the big teams are an obstacle to owners contemplating coming into the sport.
"We don't like the fact that the independent teams, or in particular a new owner looking at coming in the door, have a daunting task to compete, and the concept of having to have five teams, three teams," France said. "That means the opportunities aren't there for young drivers. It means opportunities aren't there to create the next Rick Hendrick and have the success.
"It ultimately means that we don't field as many competitive cars as we'd like to field."
The numbers back France up.
• Hendrick has a four-man team that includes Jimmie Johnson, who is second in the points with two races remaining, and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, the winningest driver outside the Chase with four victories.
• Combined, Roush and Hendrick drivers have won 23 of 33 races this season.
• All 10 drivers in the Chase are from multi-car teams.
• At 21st in the standings, Ricky Rudd is the highest ranked driver from a single-car team.
Not all multi-car team owners disliked the cap.
"I think it will be good for the sport," Richard Childress, who fields three teams, said in the NASCAR release. "Personally, I could never have gotten into the sport -- the way it is today -- like I did when I got in as a driver-car owner many years ago."
And single-car owners have long been in favor of a cap.
"As it relates to me personally, I'm in favor of it. As it relates to making this a better sport, I'm in favor of it," said Cal Wells, owner of PPI Motorsports, which fields a car for Bobby Hamilton Jr. "I think it's going to be very good for the garage area, very good for the sponsors, very good for NASCAR.
"What if Jack had all 43 cars? I know that's probably an extreme, but where does it stop? Five cars? Seven? Ten? Twelve?"
In other rule changes announced for next season, NASCAR said it was limiting the number of tests a team can participate in and a tire-leasing program.
NASCAR will set a schedule for on-track tests, and those will be the only tests at tracks which host Nextel Cup races. There will be six test locations: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Tests at non-Nextel Cup tracks will continue to be permitted.
NASCAR did not reveal any details about its tire-leasing program.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press