'Oligarchy At The Turn Of The Century'
Early 1998

As the sport of NASCAR racing has grown, so have the number of multi-car teams. Multi-car teams are a group of race teams owned by the same individual sharing information throughout the racing season. Some of today's prominent multi-car teams are Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing, Felix Sabates, and Yates Racing. Their reasons for existence are based upon NASCAR rules and regulations. However, I feel that the scales of power have shifted rapidly toward multi-car operations and have left many single car owners searching for a way to get back the competitive edge that the multi-car teams now have in NASCAR racing.

In the mid-1980's, car owner Junior Johnson brought both of his race teams under one roof in order to share information. His drivers were Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnett. The "superteam" soon fell apart as the strong-willed Waltrip often clashed with the equally strong-willed Bonnett. At the same time, a car dealer from North Carolina named Rick Hendrick was starting his All Star Racing team. Hendrick started with a single car driven by Geoff Bodine but soon expanded his operation and by 1988, he had a three car operation. Multi-car operations were able to get more test dates within the NASCAR rules. Each car was allotted seven test dates per season; for rookie drivers, the number was unlimited. With three cars in his stable, Hendrick Motorsports could utilize 21 test dates throughout the season and share the results within the organization. A single car owner like Bud Moore only had the advantage of seven test dates. The results of that soon showed up on the track.

Rick Hendrick brought Jeff Gordon into his operation for the 1993 Winston Cup season. As a rookie, Gordon had unlimited test dates that year. Information was freely shared between Gordon's team and his teammates Terry Labonte and Ken Schrader. Gordon captured the 1995 and 1997 Winston Cup titles; Labonte won the title in 1996.

After watching the emergence of the multi-car operations, seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt decided to join in on the fun. For the 1997 season, his car owner Richard Childress brought rookie Mike Skinner in to drive a second car for RCR. In addition, Earnhardt started a Winston Cup team and had Steve Park enter a few races. No doubt that information was shared between Park, Earnhardt, and Skinner.

As a result of the success of multi-car teams, the trend seems to be continuing. For the 1998 season, Jack Roush will own five cars in the Winston Cup field. He owns the cars of Mark Martin, Ted Musgrave, Jeff Burton, Johnny Benson, and Chad Little. This has caused many single car owners to join together to share testing information. Rusty Wallace's team and Jeremy Mayfield's team have agreed to share information. Ricky Rudd and Junie Donlavey have also agreed to share testing information.

What does the future hold for multi-car teams? Well, for one thing it will create an imbalance between the multi-car teams and the single car teams. In a few years, the Winston Cup field could look like an oligarchy with a select few owners owning all the cars. With Jack Sprague looking to drive a fourth Hendrick car in 1999, the numbers could add up as follows.

Outlook by the 1999 season
Roush Racing - 5 cars (maybe 6)
Hendrick Motorsports - 4 cars
Felix Sabates - 3 cars
Earnhardt/Childress - 3 cars (maybe 4)
Andy Petree - 2 cars
Elliott/Marino Racing - 2 cars
Yates Racing - 2 cars
Petty Enterprises - 2 cars (maybe 3)

The total comes out to eight car owners that would own as many as 26 Winston Cup cars in a race. That excludes teams that share test information among each other like Rudd and Donlavey. With numbers like that you can see why Geoff Bodine has asked NASCAR to drop the seven test limit on teams. If Roush Racing could have 42 separate test dates, how could a single car owner like Bodine with only 7 test dates be expected to compete on the same playing field? The answer is simple: they can't. The aforementioned select group of car owners will rule Winston Cup racing (for better or worse) into the 21st century. There could be issues of collusion come the turn of the century. Don't say that I didn't warn you.

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