Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NASCAR'S Monopoly Of Eleven?

The buy out of Robert Ginn Racing by DEI continues the trend toward a monopoly of eleven that NASCAR has made no serious effort to stop. That it happened to a team that made a big splash early in this season is rather surprising, but also continues a streak in the sport of attracting wealthy types as car owners who turned out to have foundations of clay.

Ginn bought out Reed Morton and Nelson Bowers, and his businesses were supposed to provide seed money for the organization to expand its strength and become a first-rate, winning effort. The Morton-Bowers effort had debuted in 1997 with Derrike Cope and began running strong with Ernie Irvan before Irvan's injuries ended his career. Ken Schrader took over for 2000, then the organization bought out Tim Beverly's ex-Darrell Waltrip Pontiacs when a promised sponsorship for the season never happened. Valvoline came in as a part-owner and won at Rockingham in 2002 with Johnny Benson; the effort thus joined DEI, Andy Petree Racing, PPI, and Ray Evernham Motorsports as new teams to win at the Winston Cup level in this decade.

Joe Nemechek won in their primary car, the #01, in 2004, but from there the effort never got going, and then came Robert Ginn and with his infusion of money came a new part-time driver in Mark Martin and his spectacular runner-up in the Daytona 500. But as the season went on the money problems beneath the surface began to creep into view, and now we have the expansion of DEI.

The trend of mergers, of team owners quitting and selling their teams to other organizations already in the sport, has steadily raised the possibility that the sport will become an F1-style monopoly of eleven, where Hendrick, RCR, DEI, Joe Gibbs, Roush, Penske, Ganassi, Petty, Evernham, Bill Davis, and Dieter Mateschitz, or some variation of this list, would be the only teams fielding racecars at the Winston Cup level, with Robert Yates, Michael Waltrip, and other existing teams disbanding into one or more of these outfits.

Given the closed loop that is F1, such a scenario - periodically floated as part of a rumored NASCAR franchising deal - has no appeal for racing fans or for many others involved in the sport. The idea of smaller teams priced out of the sport has never been good for the sport, as the sport was built not on a monopoly of eleven but on a decentralized "chaos" of myriad team owners battling week after week.

That NASCAR has shown no effort at stopping this centralization of competitive power remains puzzling as such a centralization leaves the sport less competitive and thus less attractive. There is the four-car limit belatedly imposed last year but so far it's shown no teeth, and teeth is exactly what the sport needs at this point.

To paraphrase Bob Ryan, on behalf of a strong constituency, let's hope the monopoly of eleven doesn't happen.

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