Ray Dunlap
News & Features
Formula One
News & Features
News & Features
News & Features
 Wednesday, March 1
No room for franchising in NASCAR
By Ray Dunlap
Special to ESPN.com

 Recently the topic of franchising memberships for car owners in NASCAR reared its ugly head again. I am here to tell you that this is the worst idea I have ever heard. Yes, I do mean ever!

One of the biggest issues in the split of open-wheel racing in America revolved around this concept and I believe it would be just as detrimental to NASCAR if implemented.

The idea is that ownership of a team would have actual cash value if the team were guaranteed a starting spot in each race. It would indeed. But the questions quickly surface.

How many franchises will there be? Who gets them? And under what criteria are they awarded?

Let's examine each of these questions independently.

How many franchises would there be? This is a tough one. Over the years, each competitor has been treated as an independent contractor. None of the team owners or drivers actually work for NASCAR. So if NASCAR handed out 43 franchises at the end of this season to the top 43 drivers, or owners in the points, the guy in the 44th spot is out of work.

That spells lawsuit. We are talking right-to-work issues.

Besides that, this system does not promote new talent. Yes, Matt Kenseth still would be in line for a top ride. But if this system had already been in place since 1997, would Jim Mattei, Ray Evernham, or Hal Hicks have been able to start new teams?

The deal has always been, if you can build a legal car according to the rulebook and bring a qualified driver to the track you can attempt to make the show. I believe that is how it should stay.

One other option is to only hand out 25 or 30 franchises. I made a list of the current team configurations and I can't come up with any reasonable way to determine how many teams get the nod. Here are a few of the questions I asked myself:

  • Does Bud Moore get one?
  • How many will Roush Racing receive?
  • Does Dale Earnhardt Inc. get one or two?
  • How about Buckshot Racing?
  • Would Dale Jarrett leave Yates in order to snag a franchise?
  • Bill Davis only had one car in 1999, but has two in 2000. How do you treat him?
  • Butch Mock sold out to Darwin Oordt; is that team brand new or a 21-year-old mainstay?

    If two memberships were issued to each team that currently fields two or more cars, that wipes out 24 franchises. Wow, now what? And there are at least 15 single-car efforts, many of whom plan to expand soon.

    This brings up the question, "Who gets the franchises??

    If the idea is to protect all the guys who have worked very hard to build this sport back in the days before all the money came in, then Bud Moore would get the very first franchise issued. The bigger question, however, would be can his team compete weekly in today?s level of competition? The answer is painfully "NO."

    Does Cale Yarborough qualify? How about Richard Jackson or Gary Bechtel? If the idea is to protect teams with big-money sponsors, then I guess Cal Wells should get one.

    As for what criteria determine the recipients? I believe this is the big dilemma for NASCAR. It wants to be sure to implement a system that not only works today, but for many years in the future. Remember back in 1986, you could not find 15 people in the garage that felt multi-car teams would be successful.

    Going by the number of years in the sport is not fair. Joe Gibbs Racing is a dominate force on the track. And this program has only been around since 1992.

    Maybe the number of cars a team has run? Well, the Wood Brothers started back in 1953 and have fielded about 980 cars over the years. Jack Roush didn?t start until 1988, but has already fielded 900 entries in Winston Cup. So maybe the total number of races run would be a good yardstick. Dale Earnhadt Inc. has run 80 races. Pensky-Kranefuss has less than 70.

    I believe that having franchised teams in NASCAR would also ruin the on-track racing. Simply put, the teams that have a guaranteed starting spot do not have to work hard in qualifying. That would give them an added advantage by going right to work on race set ups, thus widening the gap between the have?s and the have not?s.

    If a driver knows that he, or she, is guaranteed a spot in the next race and in the money at year?s end, why take any chances of racing hard and risk getting hurt? Where is the incentive? I hate the current provisional system. I say lock in the previous year?s champion and let all the other teams qualify and race.

    If Mark Martin or Rusty Wallace go home, then so be it. That way, the year-end champion and points would really reflect a true ranking of performance. I know that this system will never come to be, so the next best thing is the current provisional system. If you believe that Terry Labonte or Chad Little deserve to be in the race regardless of their qualifying speed then the current system works just fine. That is, now that the Darrell Waltrip (past champion) rule has been amended.

    Racing is Darwinism at its finest. Survival of the fittest. Sometimes survival of the luckiest, but survival none the less. I hope it stays that way.

    From the boardroom to the bullring there are no guarantees. Each day brings new trials and new rewards. Not knowing what will happen next is part of what makes living life so great. Guaranteeing starting spots in NASCAR races is un-American. The only people for it, are those that stand to gain from it.

    Abraham Lincoln had no guarantees. Martin Luther King Jr., had no guarantees. Those of you reading this have no guarantees. The only guarantees these days are death, taxes and NASCAR?s continued growth. That is as long as they don?t franchise.

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