Tuesday's news that Furniture Row Racing, which won the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series title with Martin Truex Jr., will close after the 2018 season has evoked a gamut of emotions -- from surprise to anger to sadness.
ESPN.com's panel of experts goes beyond the emotions to discuss how the team's ceasing of operations affects the state of the sport.
What does the news of FRR's closing mean for NASCAR? The state of stock car sponsorship as a whole?
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: It's obviously a very negative reflection toward the NASCAR ownership model, to have the defending championship team close its doors at the end of this season. What had been one of the more inspiring stories of the decade -- a small team in a geographically inferior location changing the perception of being unable to compete and succeed as a smaller company outside the Charlotte, North Carolina, NASCAR center -- has now shifted to another example of the challenges associated with fielding a sustainable NASCAR Cup series team. What I find most concerning is this took place during a very healthy economy. If the team's and NASCAR's marketing initiatives work, then they should have worked best for the defending champion. I'm most disappointed for team owner Barney Visser. NASCAR cannot afford to lose owners of his caliber.
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer: First, there is precedent here, and the overly positive crowd will point to those instances. Other owners who had just won championships have left the sport soon after, guys such as Raymond Beadle and Carl Kiekhaefer. But those situations were different than this and also happened decades ago. This feels much more difficult and raw because it is. The alarm that this should trigger is one that the sanctioning body and remaining team owners were already hearing, but perhaps not loudly enough. The financial model of these teams is broken. It became outdated as soon as the financial crash of 2007-08 forced corporations and consumers both to really dig deep to examine where they spent their money. Thusly, the days of cover-it-all giant sponsorship checks are gone. Drastic cost-cutting measures have to happen in the garage -- and not talk about cost-cutting that ends up being tabled because "this is how we've always done it." Way more money is going out than is coming in. I'm certainly no economist, but that's bad. Ask Barney Visser.
Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: This news has long been rumored, but many inside NASCAR and out of it -- me included -- refused to believe the day would actually come. As my colleagues have stated here, perhaps this is the Klaxon siren for NASCAR and the power hitters of team owners to come together somehow, someway. Sweeping changes are in order so that folks who want to enter the sport aren't turned off before the first check is signed. We'll undoubtedly look back some 20 years from now and consider the shuttering of the defending champ's team a prominent dot on the timeline of NASCAR's rocky history.
Scott Page, Jayski editor: NASCAR has problems it must address and the sooner the better. The closing of FRR is yet another wake-up call for both NASCAR and the teams. While they talk a good game about cooperation and understanding the challenges each is facing, it often seems like the opposite. The sponsors who are footing the bills get caught in the middle of both sides. NASCAR has implemented some cost-saving measures recently -- some shorter race weekends, engine limits, unified pit guns, limiting team members at the track, smaller over the wall pit crew, etc., but they have often been fought by the owners on some of those small issues. The very same owners who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on pit guns and who are buying their own optical scanning stations (yet their teams still can't make it through inspection the first time). NASCAR, on the other hand, continues to foster the perception that it will continue to keep its head in the sand until it's too late. There has to be a way to give sponsors more value for what they are spending. The cost of getting into NASCAR (for owners and sponsors) is outrageous. *Steps up on soap box* -- bite the bullet and find a way to put a spending limit of some sort on the teams, cut the schedule by six to eight races each year, shorten most races to less than 400 miles and continue to make the race weekend more of a "destination event" to bring fans to the track.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: The biggest impact of the FRR shutdown is it won't encourage new owners to enter the sport. It is the most recent sign that barriers to entry and long-term stability are huge when trying to compete against the established teams. Some people view it as a wake-up call, and maybe it is. But if anyone inside the industry needed this as a wake-up call, they haven't exactly been paying attention to the recent downsizing of teams (Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports). It shows that winning doesn't equate to sponsorship and there are perils when there is a lack of diversity of revenues.
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: It's a terrible look for the sport (the Cup champs are going out of business!), and it speaks volumes about the depressing current landscape. If the reigning champs can't survive, how safe is everyone else? How many viable teams will be on the grid, say, five, 10, 15 years from now? And if FRR, which boasts 17 wins and 12 poles since 2015, can't find adequate funding, how the heck is a less successful and sponsor-hungry team like Richard Petty Motorsports supposed to procure revenue streams? These are valid questions that NASCAR should be addressing, not avoiding. It's not a pretty situation, especially when you consider that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson still doesn't have sponsors lined up for 2019. The business model needs to change -- teams need to get a bigger slice of the TV money so sponsorship costs can come down -- or the carnage will continue. The sport is running out of rich guys who are willing to finance their passion.