Imagine this scenario. You’re working full-time with a company, settled with a family and have long-term plans to stay with the job. Then, out of nowhere the company confirms they’re looking to sell. Your future could now go one of several different directions, from outright promotion to pink slip. You come in every day with the specter of rumors flying over your head and the fear of unknown strangers who might come in and do, what, with your job exactly?
A lot of people can relate and remember how distracting professionally a sale, merger, or simply an ownership transition can be in their life. And that’s the environment we see in NASCAR this weekend as the curtain opens on Mother’s Day weekend out in Kansas.
Days after a Reuters report confirmed NASCAR was in “exploratory talks” surrounding a sale, 50 different people will give you 50 different opinions on what’s to come. Some high-level owners are frustrated, told as recently as last fall the sport would not be put up for sale. What will happen to their charter agreement with potential new owners, the basic framework of a franchise system within a family-owned sport?
Drivers and crewmembers, meanwhile attempt to focus on the task at hand. It’s the racing, after all, that drives the income and puts fans in the stands in the first place. But they’re forced to do the job while in the background everyone speculates on whether a 70-year, France family sport is on the verge of yet another transition.
Earlier this week, I did a piece on what NASCAR could be worth. It’s difficult to assess a potential sale of an entire series but experts have quoted it to be as much as $5 billion. The inclusion of International Speedway Corporation and its dozen-plus tracks could push that number higher.
That in itself serves as a monumental distraction. But as we enter this weekend at Kansas, no one from NASCAR is stepping up to calm the wave of confusion. An internal memo obtained by the Associated Press to NASCAR employees from President Brent Dewar claimed the France family “remains dedicated to the long-term growth of our sport.” But no such information has been made public.
Those flowery words also beg a very obvious question: If you’re so dedicated to something, why hire Goldman Sachs to shop it around? An answer by any of the Frances would move mountains in calming speculation just weeks after they appeared to recommit to racing by buying ARCA.
Alas, CEO Brian France, as he has been often during his tenure, is nowhere to be found. So we’re left with a NASCAR rumor mill swirling in overdrive as fans, drivers and owners try and make sense of the future.
We all simply await an explanation. Instead, the expected silence will keep that cloud hanging over everyone with a stake in the sport over the short term.
We’re about to see how they handle it.
8th KC Masterpiece 400
Time: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Track: Kansas Speedway (Kansas City, Kan.)
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Kevin Harvick
Earning his fourth win of the season Sunday at Dover, Harvick reasserted his dominance atop the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. After a six-race winless drought, Harvick’s fourth win of the season gives him a series-best 17 NASCAR playoff points. He’s led a MENCS high 741 laps, over 240 more than Kyle Busch in second and has been the car to beat at all but a handful of races in 2018.
Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates also reigned supreme, with Clint Bowyer taking second, Kurt Busch fifth and Aric Almirola 11th. It’s the first time in their history SHR has put three drivers inside the top five as Ford continues to fight its way to the front despite the oldest model (Fusion) entered in the MENCS.
Who’s at the Back: Paul Menard
A promising start between Menard and the Wood Brothers has fallen off in recent weeks. Menard has three straight runs outside the top 20, including a wreck at Talladega and finished 34th, 46 laps off the pace at Dover after mechanical problems. Sliding to 21st in the season standings, he’s a step behind the Team Penske trio this team is aligned with that are all currently sitting in playoff position.
Did you hear the sport might be for sale? Little has been said officially after the Monday report but potential NASCAR buyers run the gambit, from Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports Inc. to media mega companies like Comcast.
A sport that has often struggled with rules transparency threw out another slew of charges Wednesday. Both Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer suffered L1 penalties surrounding their rear window bracing after Dover. Both drivers lost 20 driver points, their team 20 owner points and had their car chiefs suspended for two weeks. The crew chiefs in each case have been fined $50,000. Such a penalty could prove crucial for Suarez who should teeter on NASCAR’s playoff bubble for much of the summer.
Gander Outdoors will replace Camping World as the title brand of NASCAR’s Truck Series beginning next season. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis had recently acquired the Gander Mountain brand and is looking to push it front and center while opening 69 retail locations beginning this year. Lemonis is in the midst of an eight-year deal for his companies to be the primary sponsor of the Truck Series through 2022.
Parker Kligerman is back in the MENCS. He’ll drive the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing entry typically manned by D.J. Kennington in the Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend. Should he make the race, it’ll be the first start for the NBC NASCAR analyst in the sport’s top series since 2014.
Matt Kenseth returns to the track this weekend as part of his part-time driving gig with Roush Fenway Racing. Wyndham Rewards announced their seven-race sponsorship program in which Kenseth will drive each race behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford. The 46-year-old veteran will share the ride with Trevor Bayne the rest of the year as Bayne continues driving in races when Advocare sponsors the car.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Laps led this season by seven-time MENCS champion Jimmie Johnson.That astounding drought continued Sunday at Dover, where Johnson has won a NASCAR-best 11 races, but he could do no better than ninth place.
Average start by Kurt Busch this season to lead the MENCS.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
Martin Truex Jr. has been a step behind rivals Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch as of late. But Kansas is clearly a place where the intermediate specialist could catch up. Sweeping Victory Lane in both races last year, the No. 78 Toyota led 195 laps combined and earned an average starting spot of 2.0. Since aligning with Furniture Row Racing years ago, this track has been one of their best together and I expect Truex to run in the top 5 consistently Friday night.
It’s hard to pick against either Harvick or Buschright now in this category, honestly. Harvick is red hot everywhere while Busch is riding a streak of six straight Kansas top-10 finishes, including a win in 2016. Expect them to be battling up front Saturday night.
It was this race last year where Aric Almirola saw his season (and vertebrae) shattered in a vicious Kansas wreck. This Saturday night offers an opportunity to make amends at what had been one of his better tracks. Running ninth last fall with Richard Petty Motorsports, expect better from him now that he’s aligned with top-tier equipment.
Alex Bowman hasn’t been a pick for many races this year. But give the driver from struggling Hendrick Motorsports a try considering Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 20th and seventh in this race last year. The No. 88 team has had speed in certain events outside of the short tracks; they just haven’t put a full race together. At some point, HMS and Bowman will get a handle around the new Chevy Camaro model that has been giving drivers fits in the MENCS.
How about Kasey Kahne? Aligned with small-time Leavine Family Racing, Kahne tied his season high with a 17th place finish at Dover last week. Now, the intermediate track specialist heads to Kansas where he’s got six straight top-20 finishes. Keep in mind the No. 95 was top 20 in both starts last season with Michael McDowell, too.
What Vegas Thinks
Kevin Harvickhas 7/2 odds currently to win the race, a slight favorite over Matin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch, who are both listed at 4/1.
What I Think
I hate to keep picking someone like Harvick to crash the party. But the No. 4 Ford is having a dominant year in the MENCS and I see them stomping the field at an intermediate track once again.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)