Opinion: Funny Business
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on August 21, 2013 | 2:16 P.M. EST
On some levels, having Austin Dillon pinch-hit for Tony Stewart made sense but on others, it does not. (Photo: Getty Images)
It is sometimes difficult to understand how the business of the NASCAR world works.
The latest flurry of "Silly Season" news is a perfect illustration of why applying logic and reason to the inner workings of the sport is a dangerous proposition.
When Tony Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car crash earlier this month, he set in motion a series of events that left some fans scratching their heads.
Stewart-Haas Racing initially put Max Papis in the No. 14 ride for Watkins Glen, a sound decision given his road racing prowess. But the following week, the call was made to young Austin Dillon to take the wheel at Michigan International Speedway. Forget that Dillon drives for the Richard Childress Racing stable and will run for Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 against SHR.
Doesn’t it seem odd for a team to tap a rival organization, one that on a weekly basis it’s trying to beat the snot out of on the racetrack, to "help out" in a dire time like the one SHR is facing?
Imagine the Red Sox asking permission for Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter to play a three-game series against Tampa Bay because of an injury. Preposterous, right?
But not in NASCAR. Even though SHR Director of Competition Greg Zipadelli insisted that Dillon wouldn’t be privy to setups or other data and information, why would one team want to - in any way, shape or form - help another?
In the case of Dillon, there’s actually a simple answer of how the scenario played out – sponsorship. The connection of Bass Pro Shops between the "14" car and Dillon no doubt played a large role in the situation. You certainly can’t blame Dillon for taking an opportunity to drive a top-notch Cup car during his learning process.
But the plot thickens. This week, the wheels were put into motion for Mark Martin to pinch-hit for Stewart pretty much the rest of the time he’s out this year because of his injury. You know, the same Martin who nearly won last weekend’s Pure Michigan 400 for Michael Waltrip Racing.
But wasn’t it only a few days or weeks ago that Martin was commending the strong effort at MWR, his camaraderie with the team and the dedication of Toyota Racing Development to winning races and a championship? At the same time, the organization continued to laud the contribution Martin had made to the team and how his mere presence helped bring the effort to the next level.
Now, the team has given Martin its blessing to jump to SHR where he’ll be driving a Chevrolet and doing all he can to out-perform the MWR bunch the rest of the season.
Contracts aren’t the only things seemingly meaningless around the NASCAR world. Sometimes, words can be just as hollow.
Two months ago, Stewart lamented about the choice to not bring Ryan Newman back into the fold next year as a business decision and inability for his team to expand to four cars. The addition of Kevin Harvick to join Stewart and Danica Patrick in 2014 simply meant there was "no room at the inn."
"We're not ready to expand to a fourth team," Stewart said at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, confirming Newman’s departure. "I truly wish we were able to facilitate four teams at this time. We're just not able to do that. Down the road, I'm sure if that becomes a possibility, he'll most definitely be on the list to fill the fourth seat again."
But only days ago, word got out that Stewart’s team had made an offer for Kurt Busch to join its stable in – wait for it – a fourth entry. What changed in less than two months only SHR management knows for sure. But Newman is still looking for a 2014 home and obviously did not make the cut for Stewart’s list.
All sports are big business and NASCAR is no different. But there is definitely a plethora of oddities, conflicts of interest and contradictions that make big-league stock car racing unique compared to its stick-and-ball counterparts.
Yes, the only thing more dizzying than this Saturday’s 500 laps around Bristol might be trying to figure out just how the wheels that make the business of NASCAR go around actually turn.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.