It seemed like longevity used to be key in NASCAR. The days of seeing drivers like Dale Earnhardt with Richard Childress Racing, Rusty Wallace with Penske, Jeff Gordon at Hendrick, Mark Martin Roush, etc. are gone. Drivers didn’t change rides as much back in the day as they do now. They’d remain in one place for long tenures.
Now, the turnover is extremely high. Just go back to 2015, only 10 drivers remain in those same rides as that season today. Even from just two years ago, only 14 of 36 drivers on chartered teams remain with their same teams. Heck, five organizations that held charters in 2017 aren’t around anymore either.
It’s just a tough business to make it work these days. Part of that is money and how much it takes to make a team a contender. No longer are drivers basing drivers off of stats but rather money, as a paycheck to a team brings far greater value than past wins.
It doesn’t do any good to hire a caliber driver if you don’t have the money for good equipment to them to race in.
But, the other thing attributed to this is just how good the top teams have been doing. Since 2016, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing have combined to win 91 of the 137 races run. JGR has won 44 times, SHR 24 and Penske 23 times respectively. The next best is a tie between Hendrick Motorsports and Furniture Row Racing who have 16 trips to victory lane each. FRR doesn’t even exist today though.
From there, it’s a steep drop off to Chip Ganassi Racing at six and Richard Chidress Racing at three.
It’s hard for any team not of JGR, Penske and SHR’s nature to stay around when it’s difficult for them to even contend for wins. How can you attract top drivers when your car isn’t running up front? That’s why they have to take money over talent to stay afloat, and even then, it doesn’t always work.
Eight of the 12 drivers remaining in the playoffs are part of those three organizations. Six of the top seven teams in terms of racing wins since 2016 are the only ones left with championship aspirations.
On top of all of that, the top teams are now keeping shorter leashes on their drivers accuse all the proof is in the pudding that their cars are race winning contenders now.
If you can’t win in those cars, somebody else will. That’s their motto.
HMS has already went through a rebuild. Gone is Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. In is William Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott. Combined, those trio of replacement drivers have won seven times in their careers. Gordon, won 93 times just himself.
That’s a lot of race wins gone from one team, plus the valuable information that the veteran drivers can give.
Teams are replacing veterans not with other veterans, but with inexperienced drivers with minimal experience though the ranks. The ones that have hired veterans are hitting the ground running but how long can they get out of those veteran drivers when other teams are picking up younger talent instead.
JGR replaced Carl Edwards with Daniel Suarez but Suarez only lasted two years there. Edwards, won three times in his brief JGR tenure while Suarez went 0-for-72. Martin Truex Jr. came in and he’s already won six times this year in the same car.
See how valuable it is to hire a veteran?
Ryan Newman took a car that hasn’t won in a long time to the playoffs in one season.
Veterans still have a place, but team owners keep wanting to get younger and younger.
Kyle Busch has won 21 times in his ride with JGR since 2016 with Denny Hamlin reaching victory lane nine times himself. Erik Jones has won just twice since taking over the reigns of the No. 20 Toyota, the same car Matt Kenseth won three times from 2016 through 2017 in. JGR only signed Christopher Bell for one more year and has Christopher Bell sitting there waiting for a seat to open up. The writing is on the wall for Jones for 2020 – win.
If Jones doesn’t win, you get more turnover.
That’s the way it’s going now. Smaller underfunded teams are looking to link up with one of the “Big 3” teams as that’s their quickest way to the top. That’s why Leavine Family Racing did what they did with Matt DiBenedetto. The risky proposition is that it didn’t work with Furniture Row Racing. They partnered with JGR/Toyota in 2016 and the rise was quick but the fall even quicker. They not only won a championship in 2017, the left the sport all together following 2018.
The best a team can do is find some young talent and let them groom through the ranks and not rush them too far along.