*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
In this edition of the Turn 2 Blog we will be discussing five topics regarding the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
We are happy to be joined by Josh Weinrich who serves as the Public Relations representative for Hattori Racing Enterprises. Last year that team won the NGOTS championship with driver Brett Moffitt and in 2019 the No. 16 Toyota captured the season opening NextEra Energy 250 at the Daytona International Speedway with Austin Hill behind the wheel.
1. In 2018, Hattori Racing Enterprises had an amazing season winning the championship by basically piecing sponsorship together on a week-by-week basis. Based on the current economic climate in racing, is this now the permanent model within which teams will have to work for the foreseeable future?
Josh Weinrich: Our scenario last year was pretty unique. But yes, it’s a rarity nowadays to have a singular partner at any level of motorsports. It takes a collective effort from a number of people and groups to put a solid program together, which is what we’re fortunate to have at HRE. Truth be told, we had that last year with a lot of solid partners that helped make that championship season a reality. With having United Rentals on board and a lot of our partners on board again this year, we’re in a position to be more prepared this season and it gives us a chance to kick around B2B opportunities with our partners.
Richard Allen: To me, as an outsider looking in, it does appear as if this will be the model NASCAR teams in all three divisions will have to operate under for the foreseeable future. I think fans and many others relate sponsorship to winning but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s more about companies finding the right fit for a particular ad campaign they may want to run rather simply wanting to win races. With the cost of racing being what it is, there are very few companies who would be willing to shell out that kind of money to sponsor a race car or truck for a full season. That, in turn, puts a tremendous amount of pressure on teams to do as Hattori did in 2018 and piece those deals together. But if they are to continue, it looks as if that’s what they will have to do.
Michael Moats: I think this has been going on for some time. I think the days of Lowe’s being on all races in a season are over for the most part. NASCAR owners are trying to cut some costs, but the cost of racing continues to go up despite the cost-cutting measures. And when the current Network TV deal is up, there could be a decrease in money for the next TV package which will put more pressure on teams to find sponsorship to cover for money lost.
A number of years ago, there were some odd fits for NASCAR sponsorship in the sport. I think we’re now seeing a lot of teams targeting sponsors that are more suited to the sport and its fans.
2. During the past two weekends in Atlanta and Las Vegas, Kyle Busch proved to have dominant trucks and used those machines to lead 202 of 264 laps on his way victory in both races. Is it a good thing for the sport to have Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers racing in the Xfinity Series and NGOTS?
Michael: I have gone back and forth on this issue over the last several years. I am to the point now where I only want to see inexperienced Cup drivers in Xfinity or Trucks. We don’t need Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, or someone like that in those races. They are at the top of the sport. But drivers like William Byron, Bubba Wallace, or someone with similar experience could gain a lot by running those races.
Josh: It is absolutely a good thing. Racers are racers, and racers want to race. I’m a race fan first and foremost, and the more quality cars/trucks there are on the racetrack, the better the race will be. It’s a disservice to drivers to not have a chance to race against the Cup guys, especially drivers that are as good as Kyle. Furthermore, that’s Kyle’s own organization and him being in those trucks for five races allows those team members to be employed and it puts another competitive team on the racetrack. We won a couple races last year where Cup guys were in the field, so all it does is increase the level of competition.
Beyond that, every Cup driver that runs a NXS or NGOTS usually brings sponsorship to the table to help keep teams in business and individuals employed. The vitriol on this topic is senseless and has never made much sense to me. Fans should never complain about too much competition, or too many quality trucks/cars on the track, and that’s exactly what Cup drivers bring to the table. Also, it’s funny how very few people had an opinion on this topic in the late 1990’s when 15+ Cup drivers in Busch Series races was the norm on companion weekends.
Richard: This is such a double-edged sword question. Of course, Kyle Busch is an amazingly talented race car driver and he doesn’t need to race in the truck series. However, the fact that he and some of his MENCS cohorts do on occasion drop in to a NGOTS race or an Xfinity race actually serves the sport well. As we talked about in the first question, it’s all about finding companies to help foot the bill and if him driving in an occasional race draws a sponsor into the sport because that organization wants to build an ad campaign around him but can’t afford Cup Series prices, then that’s a good thing. But at the same time, it’s not just that he is such a good driver but also his affiliation with Joe Gibbs Racing on the Cup side helps Kyle Busch Motorsports acquire technology that other truck teams may not have access to, and that not a good thing for the rest of the field.
3. Do the two “lower divisions” benefit from being paired with the MENCS races or would each of them be better off separated from Cup more than is currently the case?
Richard: I hate to go all “back in the day” here but years ago when what was then called the Busch Series(today’s Xfinity Series) raced at locales not used by the Cup Series such as Hickory, Myrtle Beach, or Indianapolis Raceway Park there was more energy around that series and its drivers. The smaller venues allowed them to race in front of packed grandstands and the drivers were stars in those environments. Today the two “lower divisions” seem to be exactly that- lower divisions. It’s as if the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series have essentially been given “Cup Lite” status and are there to be time fillers in massive facilities that look empty when they race there.
Certainly a few companion weekends are good for the two lower divisions. Daytona, Charlotte and Bristol are tracks that come to mind as places suitable for two or three of NASCAR’s top classes to occupy the same space at the same time. However, I believe there are too many companion weekends as it stands now. The Xfinity and truck series cannot develop their own separate identities when serving so often as setups for the “big race”.
Josh: A healthy mix of both is ideal. I’ve always said two of our most successful events are at Canada and Eldora, both of which are standalone races. There are consistently 50,000-plus fans at Canada and 25-30,000 that cram into Eldora. Those two races are marquee events for our series and we could stand to use more of them. NASCAR and Gander Outdoors’ introduction of the Triple Truck Challenge in June is a huge boost for the series, with an extra $500,000 bonus on the line if a driver can win all three standalone races. That’s a massive incentive and gives our series and the standalone events at Texas, Iowa, and Gateway a big money feel much like crown jewel Dirt Late Model races.
From a visibility standpoint, there’s certainly intrinsic benefits to run Daytona, Charlotte, Bristol, etc. with the Cup Series and all the attention those events bring. It’s vital to keep our series a part of those weekends. Personally, I certainly hope we can add 2-3 more events that are specific to the Truck Series in the next couple years, but it’s important to have a mix of both.
Michael: I think it’s okay to have certain weekends when all those series race at the same track on the same weekend, especially to start the season. Once we get into April, I’d like to see less of those weekends. I miss the days when Xfinity used to go to Hickory, South Boston, and Mrytle Beach or when the trucks ran some of the bullrings out west. But I don’t think NASCAR will go back to that direction unless a group like Speedway Motorsports, Inc. do something big with Nashville Fairgrounds.
4. New NASCAR president Steve Phelps has been quoted as saying “everything is on the table” in regard to changes that are being considered for the sport. One possible change being considered is the running of mid-week races. While the trucks already run some of their events on Wednesdays and Thursdays, could this be a time slot that would benefit both the NGOTS and the sport as a whole?
Michael: From a TV standpoint, this would be a good move for NASCAR. Unless you’re a big baseball fan, there isn’t much sports entertainment from mid-June to late-August. But I think attendance would not be as good as out-of-town fans would have to take a few days off from work to attend as opposed to simply taking a weekend to attend.
Josh: Probably so. But that’s up to the fans to decide by showing up to the races and watching on TV. The crowds at Bristol and Eldora have been pretty healthy on Wednesday and Thursday nights. (Granted, you could run those races on Tuesday mornings and they’d be popular!) On topics like this, I think it’s important to not over indulge. Our events are made for weekends, and that’s our meat and potatoes. A few weeknight races are fun for fans and might make for a little more captive audience on TV. Again, that’s for the fans to decide, as well as tracks that would be willing to host a mid-week show.
Richard: To kind of continue with what I talked about in the previous question, I believe racing in midweek time slots would serve the NGOTS very well. There would be more exposure on television and there would not be the feel of playing second fiddle to the bigger circuit. I think midweek racing would serve multiple purposes including more exposure and keeping the energy level up. Keep in mind, I’m not saying every race needs to be run on Wednesday, but the series could definitely benefit from some of them getting more separation from the Cup Series.
5. The Gander Outdoors Truck Series is the only one of NASCAR’s top divisions that races on dirt. Would the truck teams benefit from having at least one more race on dirt so that those trucks could be used more than once per year or is one the right number?
Josh: Definitely. We have one dirt truck, one road course truck, and one superspeedway truck. We have one dirt race, one road course race, and two superspeedway races. Those four races comprise nearly 50% of our fleet. Our Eldora truck has been sitting on casters since last summer and it would certainly make sense to add another dirt race or two. As long as there is one on the schedule, there realistically should be two to three. The same can be said for road courses, just like we have two superspeedway races.
There’s a segment of folks in the garage that don’t enjoy dirt racing. But, our fans love it. It’s objectively one of the best races all season, and it’s one of the more inexpensive races to run (you wouldn’t find a single truck at Eldora that went to a wind tunnel, and we don’t need a pit crew with the race format). Since we already have a specific truck invested for dirt, it makes sense to do more of it. Schedule changes are incredibly complex, but one major issue NASCAR faces with this is finding other dirt tracks around the country that would be capable of hosting a NASCAR race. We need a pit road, proper outside barriers, no blunt end walls, etc…the list goes on and on. Track prep is a whole other topic you could get into as well.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway added a K&N West race to their schedule, so it would be logical to think Charlotte Motor Speedway could as well. I always thought Volusia or Knoxville would be good candidates and there’s one or two more around the country that you could make a case for also (maybe even Port Royal). Selfishly, I would love to do more dirt races, but I also feel that fans are craving more variety in NASCAR, and another dirt race or two would make sense for the Truck Series.
Richard: Even though I cover more dirt racing than NASCAR, I am going to say that there does not need to be an overabundance of dirt racing mixed into the equation. I do believe that one more dirt race at a location such as Knoxville, Iowa, The Dirt Track at Charlotte, or Missouri’s Lucas Oil Speedway would be a good idea because those are great facilities and the teams could get more than one use per year out of those trucks.
Yes, the fans do seem to love the trucks at Eldora. But at the same time, there is always the risk of over doing it. I wouldn’t want dirt racing for the NGOTS to become as overdone as the 1.5-mile tracks have become on the Cup Series.
Michael: If there is to be more truck races on dirt, I think there should only be one more. Anything over that takes away from the uniqueness of Eldora and any other track that would also come onto the schedule.
I will add this. I see speculation the Dirt Track at Charlotte may be a venue coming onto the truck schedule. I don’t think that venue would produce good racing for the truck series. I think the banking is too flat for heavy trucks to produce good racing.
Also, dirt racing fans can check out InsideDirtRacing.com for more racing content.