‘On the Hot Seat: Team Owners in the NASCAR Cup Series,’ is the next installment of a commentary series from writer Michael Orzel and may not necessarily represent the views of Fan4Racing Blog and Radio.
NOTE from Michael Orzel: This installment is a somewhat different article from typical ‘Hot Seat”’ commentary. Instead of looking at one specific driver, this edition of the series will examine team owners of NASCAR Cup Series. Unless specifically cited via linked articles, all conclusions are exclusively speculation of the author and should not be considered any sort of authoritative voice.
On the Hot Seat: NASCAR Cup Series Team Owners
On Tuesday, May 18th, Motorsport.com broke the story that Brad Keselowski may be set to become the next driver to move toward an ownership stake in a NASCAR Cup Series team. While this move is a surprise move for Keselowski, it should be no surprise that in the coming five to ten years, there will likely be a major turnover among the owners of the big NASCAR Cup Series teams.
Jack Roush is 79 years old, and most other owners of the major teams competing in the NASCAR Cup Series are of a similar age. Only Stewart-Haas Racing has an ownership group in Tony Stewart (Age 50) and Gene Haas (Age 68) that is relatively young and unlikely to change soon. It’s only natural that there will be turnover and succession as these owners leave the sport. If Keselowski makes the reported move, there is now a possible heir to Roush-Fenway Racing.
But there are other major teams, competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, with potential successors in place for the future.
Hendrick Motorsports: Owner, Rick Hendrick, Age 71
For nearly three decades, Hendrick Motorsports is perennially a dominant team within the Cup Series. The team recently put together a total refresh of their driver lineup. Long-time drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Jimmie Johnson retired from HMS in 2015, 2017, and 2020 respectively. Kasey Kahne left the team after the 2017 season.
In their place are the young talented drivers of Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, and William Byron. Mr. Hendrick has made no secret of his intention for Jeff Gordon (age 49) to eventually take over the team.
Gordon has been a partial owner at HMS ever since Jimmie Johnson entered the sport in 2002. Gordon’s role in the team has only grown from there. Neither Hendrick nor Gordon have established a firm date for when the handover will happen, but it appears that the future of Hendrick Motorsports is in very good hands.
Wood Brothers Racing: Owner Leonard Wood, Age 86
Wood Brothers Racing is NASCAR’s oldest continuously operating team. Leonard Wood founded the team with his brother Glenn in 1950. Glenn Wood passed away in 2019, leaving Leonard as the final surviving namesake owner. The future for Wood Brothers Racing is unclear and really could go in two different directions.
If the team remains in the family, the most likely successor is Jon Wood (Age 39). The younger Wood, is a racer but also works within a management role at the team. Fans likely know him through the management of WBR’s social media accounts. His humor and connection with the fans is well received and represents the team well.
The other potential option for WBR involves their current alliance with Team Penske. In 2015 WBR formed an alliance with Team Penske, and the two teams are working very closely ever since. There’s a decent chance that the relationship eventually evolves into WBR merging with Team Penske.
That possibility brings up the next team owner in question.
Team Penske: Owner, Roger Penske, Age 84
At the helm of Team Penske is its founder and namesake Roger Penske. It is a broad organization with entries in NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, as well as the NTT IndyCar Series. They have also formerly competed in IMSA. In terms of wins and championships within various series, Team Penske is the most successful racing team in US history.
Currently, Tim Cindric is the President of Team Penske. Cindric son, Austin, competes in the Penske No. 22 entry in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, as well as select NASCAR Cup Series races this season. The plan is to move to Cup full-time for the 2022 season. Given the elder Cindric’s position within the organization, as well as his ties to the most prominent rising star within the organization, it’s likely that Tim Cindric will eventually assume an ownership role at Team Penske.
Keep in mind though, nothing has been announced.
Joe Gibbs Racing: Owner, Joe Gibbs, Age 80
Coach Joe Gibbs is an American sports icon. He is currently the only person elected to both the NASCAR and the NFL Hall of Fame. For decades now, Joe Gibbs Racing has been a dominant force in the NASCAR Cup Series.
In 2007, JGR is the organization to bring Toyota into the NASCAR Cup Series and since then, the relationship with the manufacturer has produced dozens of wins per year along with several championships.
Though Coach Gibbs has announced no plan to depart, there may already be a successor driving the Coach’s No. 18 car. Kyle Busch is the team owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports, a championship-level team in the Camping World Truck Series.
An interesting Toyota TV commercial features Kyle Busch wheeling the Supra around Daytona International Speedway, and at the end, he gets out and tosses the key to a young Harrison Burton while saying ‘your turn.’
Does this signal that Kyle Busch is headed out of the race car in the coming years, and potentially into an ownership role? I
It is entirely possible, especially given the success of KBM in the Truck Series.
Richard Petty Motorsports: Owner, Richard Petty, Age 83 as well as Medallion Financial Group
This is a tougher one to figure out.
Over the years, there are several NASCAR teams owned by Richard Petty and the Petty family. The most recent is Richard Petty Motorsports. While Mr. Petty is part of the ownership group, it is a joint venture with an outside investment group known as Medallion headed by businessman Andrew Murstein.
The history of the Petty team is a convoluted and complicated one, as it has changed hands and names several times before reaching its current form.
Aside from financial investment, Mr. Murstein and Medallion seem to have no role in the day-to-day operation of the team. These duties are handled by the Hall of Famer, Richard Petty.
The question is, what happens when Mr. Petty inevitably steps away from the team?
In 2018 the team formed an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. It is entirely possible that once Mr. Petty departs, his former team is completely absorbed into the RCR organization.
Much like the WBR/Penske question above, this leads to the next question.
Richard Childress Racing: Owner, Richard Childress, Age 75
Richard Childress Racing is another team with legendary roots in NASCAR. Although the team has its ups and downs over the years, it appears to be on an upward trajectory with the lineup of Austin Dillon in the No. 3 car and Tyler Reddick in the No. 8 car.
Mr. Childress is a strong family man, and the team will likely remain in the family once Mr. Childress steps away. The best guess for ownership of the team, is that it passes to one or both of his grandchildren, Austin and Ty Dillon.
As with other team owners, Mr. Childress has no public plan of leaving any time soon. Austin and Ty Dillon both lack leadership experience in terms of running a race team; however, with Ty’s driving career seemingly on the rocks, there may be a move to bring Ty into the front office, to groom him for eventually taking over the team, perhaps with his brother Austin also in the wings.
The Future is in Question, but Also Very Bright
Except for Hendrick Motorsports, all of these scenarios are pure speculation. Nothing stops the march of time, and in the coming years, most of the current team owners will inevitably step away from their respective teams. As with drivers on the track, changes in team ownership bring the uncertainty of change. It also brings the excitement of renewal. It is a transformative time in NASCAR in nearly every way. Expect team ownership as another way that NASCAR transforms in the coming years.