IN THE LATE 1990s, NASCAR experienced a superteam boom -- owners who had been reluctant to field more than one car suddenly expanded to three, four and even five rides. For them, the math was pretty simple: More cars brings more sponsor cash, which brings more resources, which brings more top-10s and wins, which brings more sponsor cash. And though adding cars has proved to be a gamble (see chart), the boom isn't over.
Even as the economy bogs down NASCAR's sponsor-dependent business model, teams have continued to pursue multiplicity, albeit cautiously. No one wants to kick-start the maddening expansion-contraction roller coaster that has plagued teams like Richard Childress Racing. Still, as rumors run rampant
"We've investigated going to four cars, come close to pulling the trigger, then pulled back and investigated some more," says Joe Gibbs, who expanded to two cars in 1999 and to three in 2005. "There's a fine line between pooling more resources and people and spreading yourself thin. I'm not going to lie: It stresses me out."
We would love to ease the coach's pain, but the stats provide no relief. The more cars a team takes on, at least one ride always seems to lose contact with the lead draft. In the case of Hendrick Motorsports, the fans long ago tabbed this phenomenon "the curse of the fourth car."
"I don't know about a curse," says team owner Rick Hendrick with a laugh in the moments following Kasey Kahne's slump-busting Memorial Day weekend win at Charlotte, "but I've been doing this long enough to know that if you're going to take on this much work with this many cars at every race, someone is going to have some trouble. It's just a numbers game."
And in this game, four is an odd number.