Chevrolet’s contracts with its Nextel – to be Sprint – Cup teams expire at the end of the season, so it is looking to negotiate new contracts now.
As the NASCAR series approaches the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard this Sunday, the second richest (to the Daytona 500) race on the schedule, speculation is rampant about who is staying and about who is going.
Gibbs is prominent in that speculation.
Toyota is reportedly wooing Joe Gibbs more than even the Washington Redskins could contemplate. (Who knows, if he’s paid enough, he might even show up at a race, now and then.)
Reportedly, both DEI and Childress are in the Chevy camp, solidly. That means that Ginn Racing, another Chevy team, is also in the camp, as DEI and Ginn have announced their merger. That merger was, of course, the direct consequence of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leaving DEI, which put DEI in the position of needing additional funding. Ginn had earlier made it clear that the financial commitment to the team was, if not limitless, very nearly so. The Childress team made a similar, though less visible move several years ago and Roush Racing did the same this year, becoming Roush Fenway.
All of these moves are a result of the franchise-equivalent rules change NASCAR made last year, allowing teams in the top 35 in points to have guaranteed starting slots.
Of course, Hendrick Motorsports stays with Chevy, even though it needs to be resigned. That they signed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. established that.
Chevrolet has dominated Nextel Cup racing this year, and clearly is justified in feeling that it has more to offer than other manufacturers.
However, much of the Chevrolet dominance has come from one stable: Hendrick Motorsports. Other Chevrolet teams haven’t done as well. Childress has won two races, Gibbs two and DEI one. Hendrick has won ten.
But the worst prime-time Chevy team has done better than Dodge or Toyota, and at least as well as Ford. Ford has three wins, Dodge one – the rather unusual win by Montoya on a road course – and Toyota has none.
So, it would not be surprising to see Gibbs jump to Toyota, if the price is high enough. In the Craftsman Truck Series, it took Toyota some time to become competitive, but it did so. Moreover, insiders say that the Toyota engine is one that has enormous development potential.
Part of Toyota’s problem may be its decision to centralize car building and development internally, rather than letting each team build its own cars. That has probably cost Toyota a great deal of the competitive edge that other teams enjoy. Ford forced Roush and Yates to centralize their engine-building operations three years ago. Since that time, however, Yates has faded and Roush is seldom competitive – absent Kenseth being able to get to the front by being one of the steadiest drivers in the circuit.
So, the question becomes what it costs Toyota to buy Tony Stewart.
There can be little doubt that Tony Stewart is the only person at Gibbs Racing who really matters. He is the dominant personality there. Joe Gibbs is absent without interest, and has delegated the team to his son. His son, wisely, does not deny Mr. Stewart anything Mr. Stewart wants. Mr. Stewart, in turn, appears to be one of the most astute business minds in the sport, building a small racing empire on his own as he builds his name as a celebrity.
One can be sure, as well, that Tony Stewart has not watched the waltz for the services of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. without some interest. Tony Stewart has a very solid idea of what he is worth.
He also must have noticed what’s happened to Michael Waltrip, the most prominent of those who decided to trust their fortunes to Toyota.
There is little benefit to Chevrolet in outbidding Toyota for the services of Joe Gibbs racing.
For Toyota, however, giving carte blanche and a blank check to Tony Stewart might just be the best NASCAR investment they could make.