My Thoughts on 2014 Manufacturers Strategies

By David G. Firestone

The 2014 racing season is officially history. The racing as a whole was great to watch, and congrats to Lewis Hamilton, Will Power, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliot, Matt Crafton, Tony Schumacher, Matt Hagan, Erica Enders-Stevens, and Andrew Hines on their championships. You’ve earned them, so enjoy them.

I noticed a few things this year that kind of surprised me, when it comes to how manufacturers approach racing. I’ll address them each in this article. I’ll start with Chevrolet, who I have to confess I have a lot of respect for. They are doing everything right. Chevy has the horsepower, the durability, and the momentum. In NASCAR, in the Camping World, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series they won 38 of 91 races. They have been the dominant team in NASCAR, and their return to IndyCar has been successful as well, winning 12 of 18. I like what they are doing this season.

It seems, at least to me that they foster competition between the teams that build engines, and then take the technical data and improve their racing department as a whole. That gives them an advantage over Ford and Toyota, at least in NASCAR, who tend to take an “all for one and one for all approach,” but I’ll get to that in a bit. Bottom line, I like what Chevy has done

Moving on to Ford, they were strong, winning 24 of 91 races. But in my mind, this was Ford’s season to make something happen. Ford has struggled in NASCAR over the years, and I thought that if Ford didn’t make something happen they might pull back on their NASCAR program. I think that they dropped the ball this season. In NASCAR, their “all for one and one for all” approach might work, if not for the fact that in includes Jack Roush. As an owner, I regard him the same way I regarded Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders, or William Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks. Basically I hold little hope for the team having real success until Jack Roush dies. Sounds crass, but that is the truth. Roush Fenway Racing should have more Sprint Cup Championships than they do, and I think Roush is the problem. Why he distrusts the free agent market is a mystery to me. He has rigidly stuck with his “gong show” format for signing development drivers but won’t sign a free agent to save his life. Even Joe Gibbs, as stubborn as he is, will now use the free agent market to his advantage.

I would like to see Ford do better in NASCAR, but I think that the lack of competition is hurting them. Ford has a lot of talent, but they don’t have the success to back it up in NASCAR. In the NHRA I don’t understand why they announced they were pulling out when they did. Both Ford and Castrol announced within a week of each other that they were leaving the NHRA, and it put John Force under a lot of pressure, and I think cost them the Championship. I have to question the judgment of Ford when your decision costs your most noticable team a championship in the long run. Not smart at all.

Toyota, you’re up. They won 28 of 91 races in NASCAR but that doesn’t tell the story entirely. They won 17 of 22 Camping World Truck Series races, and the Championship. In the Nationwide Series, they won 10 races, but in the Sprint Cup, they won two points races. At Daytona, they looked to be the team to beat, winning the Sprint Unlimited and both duel races, but had no success, winning two races, the second of which was the 10th of 36. So to recap, from May 10 at Kansas to November 16 at Homestead Miami, Toyota didn’t win a single race. It’s amazing how a team that is as close-knit as Toyota can have as little success as they do. How can a team be so dominant in the Truck Series, but all but dead in the Sprint Cup? It boggles the mind. Toyota has talent on their roster, but they didn’t do anything with it in 2014. It’s amazing how the most solid of the 3 major manufacturers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has no direction or leadership at all.

And forget Toyota in the NHRA. Again it amazes me how a team with lots of talent on the roster can be all but invisible when it comes to the championship. Toyota had a lot of drivers in the Countdown to One but none of them did anything worthwhile in the Countdown. I was amazed that Dodge swept the nitro Championships considering who was on Toyota’s roster. It came down to Dodge Vs. Ford for the Championship. It wasn’t what Toyota had wanted at all.

While we’re on the subject of Toyota, I’d like to talk about Don Schumacher Racing for a minute. Why of the 7 drivers at DSR is Antron Brown the only Toyota driver when the other cars are using Dodge equipment? I can’t be the only one to have noticed this. 6 of the 7 cars are running Mopar equipment, Hell Matt Hagan is SPONSORED by Mopar, but for reasons I still don’t get, Antron Brown is running Toyota engines. Instead of having all 7 teams on one page, 6 teams are on one page, 1 team is on another page. I don’t get this logic at all. Why not use the Hendrick method, where all teams are running the same equipment, and are working as a cohesive unit to make the team better as a whole? Well I don’t know, and it doesn’t make sense to me.

Honda, you are last. You were the top dog in IndyCar for many years, but the moment Chevy comes back, you get smacked down to the worse of two teams. In 3 seasons back in IndyCar, Chevy has had your number for all 3 of them. Again you have talent, but because there was no development through competition over the years, you have been catching up. So I expect you to start stepping up, and stepping up soon.

While there were issues with the various manufacturers in 2014, the racing as a whole was worth watching, and made the sport so much fun this season. I look forward to 2015, and so will you!

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