Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rookie Stripe -- Checkers & Comrades: How Drivers are Assigned to NASCAR Teams



Photo Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs   
NASCAR is an individual sport. From one race to the next, challengers go wheel-to-wheel, lap by lap, trying to claim the victory. But to be competitive, a driver unquestionably has to have the support and financial backing of a team. Every driver belongs to a team, because teams provide the security and collateral he or she needs to race, including cars, uniforms and gear, pit crews and more. Teams recruit high-dollar sponsors that provide cash flow they need to operate. They're also in charge of marketing their drivers to the public and fans.

Headhunting at High Speed

Some teams have four cars in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, meaning four drivers. Some have three, two, or even just one car. How many “rides” a team has can fluctuate between seasons, depending on the team’s financial and sponsor situations, as well as a number of other factors. As you might expect, teams with more capital generally have additional resources and better cars. And because ordinarily they can pay better salaries, they also tend to hire the most talented pit crews.

So how do drivers sign with any one particular team? Like a race, it’s never simple, and it’s often fraught with tension. Think of it this way. Most of us work, and we always want the job with the best opportunity that will offer premium benefits, ancillary perks, and a good salary. Many of us also look for longevity and an atmosphere that feels comfortable to us. For a driver, it’s no different. Each one wants to belong to team that offers support and promotion, as well as opportunities to get better, sustain success and be a winner.

At the end of 2016, Greg Biffle’s contract with Roush Fenway Racing ended, and even though he claimed to have several offers for a ride in 2017, he did not return to the driver's seat in 2017.

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Lesser-known drivers trying to make their way in the Cup Series frequently struggle to find permanent rides, as demonstrated by driver Alex Bowman -- who filled in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year -- but could not find a team for 2017 either.

It’s helpful to point out that the word “team” gets tricky from time to time, especially when it comes to the throes of an intense race. Drivers from the same team are always pitted against one another, as well as the rest of their competitors. While strategy may dictate helping one another out on the race track at times, the singular, fierce nature of NASCAR racing means that it can also get merciless even between teammates.

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
The Bottom Line

Many drivers earn their berth in the Monster Energy Cup Series of NASCAR by competing for years at lower levels of racing, and may already be affiliated with a team. They can stay with those teams or opt to look for a better deal. No matter where they come from, drivers are typically signed to a team under a contract for a set number of years, just like many other professional sports. By signing that contract, a driver agrees to abide by the team’s rules, personally promote it and its sponsors and remain loyal to the team as long as the contract is in effect. But just like other pro athletes, as the contract nears its finality, the driver can re-sign or choose to become a free agent. Then it’s anyone’s ball game … or race.

Full List of NASCAR Teams (from 2016)

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Drivers & Teams – 2017 Season

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