by Brian Hilderbrand
Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 259-4089.
Under NASCAR's new procedure for determining the starting fields for its races in its top three national series, Brendan Gaughan failed to qualify for last week's Craftsman Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
NASCAR in January opted to guarantee the top 30 trucks, based on 2004 owner points, a spot in the starting field. Because Gaughan is competing this year in a truck that had no owner points from the previous year, he was one of 10 drivers who had to make the field based on his qualifying speed. The new rule also applies to the top 35 teams in the Nextel Cup Series and the top 30 in the Busch Series.
Gaughan's qualifying speed at Atlanta would have placed him 30th in the 36-truck field under the old rules. Instead, he was the ninth fastest of the 10 who had to qualify on speed and was one of four drivers who missed the starting field.
Gaughan, who was not a fan of the rule even before it forced him sit out last Friday's race, said the new qualifying procedure will spell the end of independent teams in each of NASCAR's top three series.
"This new qualifying deal, I'm telling you, is going to hurt NASCAR for years," Gaughan said. "I was a big supporter of the 'Chase for the (Nextel Cup) Championship' from the get-go. I always say, 'let's see how things play out' and I said the same thing about this ... but this new qualifying thing is really going to hurt the sport."
Gaughan, who oversees his family-owned Orleans Racing team, said he also sees the new qualifying procedure changing the way sponsorships are done in the Nextel Cup Series.
"All that's going to happen with this is you're going to see the days of DuPont being on Jeff Gordon's car all year and (having) one sponsor for one team are over," he said.
"All these independent teams are done. You're going to end up with Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Robert Yates, Richard Childress -- you're going to end up with eight teams and all they're going to do is take less money from a sponsor and give them (fewer) races."
Gaughan said owner/driver Robby Gordon, who is running the full Nextel Cup Series schedule with multiple sponsors (Harrah's, Fruit of the Loom and Jim Beam), will be the model for future Cup teams if NASCAR decides to stick to guaranteeing teams spots in the starting fields.
"Robby Gordon is the first genius behind it," Gaughan said. "He's got four sponsors each giving him a certain amount for so many races and Robby is just going to barely squeak in and make it because he's the first to do it. What sponsor is going to give a new team money to go try to make a show when they know that they can give less money to a bigger team and be guaranteed (to be in the race)?
"If I want to get somebody to sponsor me, I want them to give me $15 million -- which is what it takes. But hold on; why are they going to sponsor me for $15 million when I'm not even guaranteed to make the race? Why not just give $5 million to Rick Hendrick and put it on Jeff Gordon's car and run seven races?
"I really think this is going to be a bad change for the sport because you're going to get rid of small teams, you're going to get rid of small sponsors and you're going to create 10 small sponsors on one big team."