NASCAR Notes: The Home Improvement Wars Are Back In A Very Big Way
BY DAVE GRAYSON
While we watch the 2013 Chase For The Sprint Cup unfold, there is plenty of evidence that an old NASCAR tradition has been reactivated during this title run: the Home Improvement Wars. That of course would be Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Lowes-Kobalt Tools Hendrick Motorsports, (HMS) Chevrolet versus Matt Kenseth’s #20 Home Depot-Husky Tools Joe Gibbs Racing, (JGR), Toyota. This high stakes bragging rights competition between these two national home improvement retail stores has been in existence since the late 1990′s. The raw numbers these two race cars have generated over the years are absolutely astounding.
The #20 Joe Gibbs Racing-Home Depot connection dates back 15 years and began in 1999 during driver Tony Stewart’s rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup. In addition to Stewart, Joey Logano and now Matt Kenseth has piloted the #20 JGR Cup car which has featured Chevrolet, Pontiac and Toyota makes through the years.
From 1999 to race #30, at the Kansas Speedway, of the current 2013 Sprint Cup schedule, the JGR #20 team has raced 533 times and collected two Sprint Cup championships provided by Tony Stewart. Additionally, this team has 42 career wins, 153 top five finishes, 264 top ten finishes, 17 poles and has led a whopping total of 11,974 laps. Their average race start ratio is 14.8, their average finish ratio is 15.5 and they have a total of 267 race finishes on the lead lap. Over the lengthy period of time, the team has earned approximately $99.3 million in prize money.
JGR’s and Home Depot’s banner years were without question from 1999 to 2008 when Tony Stewart was sitting behind the wheel of the car. During his tenure, Stewart delivered two NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and 33 wins in 356 starts. He also led over 10,000 laps during that period.
However, there was also a moment of angst that led to a Tony Stewart story that is still being told. Stewart’s racing nickname has always been “Smoke” but there was a time, back in 2002, when he was also called “Tony The Terrible” because of frequent outbursts of temperament. In August of 2002 Stewart climbed out of his Home Depot car after a very frustrating day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the team’s performance in the Brickyard 400 was less than stellar. That’s when a freelance photographer jumped in front of him and began taking pictures. An angry Stewart shoved him to the ground and lit up a major public relations situation.
Home Depot executives were livid after learning of this incident. In the days that followed the company fined their driver $50,000 backed with a stern warning that said one more incident of this nature and they were gone. That marked the first time ever in NASCAR history when a sponsor fined a driver. In the aftermath, Stewart referred to the incident as a “real eye opener” and voluntarily enrolled in anger management classes.
During the latter half of the 2008 season, Stewart asked for, and received, an early release from JGR, with one year remaining on his contract, in order to take on the role of driver/owner with the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing. Enter the era of Joey Logano.
Logano drove the #20 Home Depot car from 2009 to 2012. As a development driver for JGR in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series he displayed an abundance of talent and promise to the point that the media dubbed him “the best thing since sliced bread.” JGR always had plans to move their young talent to the Cup level. However, Stewart’s departure from the organization bumped those plans up a full year leaving many NASCAR observers if Logano was ready for the Cup series.
During Logano’s tenure with the team, he ran 147 starts that garnered only two wins, 16 top five finishes and 41 top ten finishes. With stats like that it didn’t take long for observers to declare that “the sliced bread was getting stale.” Sometimes a relationship between a driver and his team just simply doesn’t work despite all of the talent and potential. That’s likely the case with Logano’s Cup career with JGR.
Home Depot executives were also monitoring the situation and were reported to be far from happy. Adding insult to injury was the fact that their number one retail competitor, Lowes, was in the process of creating a NASCAR dynasty with their racing team at Hendrick Motorsports. When Home Depot executives learned that they were now being referred to as “the OTHER home improvement store in NASCAR,” that was the final straw and the point when the team sponsor reportedly told JGR someone was leaving the team.
Approximately halfway through the 2012 season, JGR announced that former Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth was taking over their #20 ride.
Home Depot announced that they were sponsoring Kenseth for 20 races in 2013 and would be sharing the hood space on the car with Husky, their in store brand of tools. However, the rear of the car still displays the Home Depot orange color. You can bet Home Depot is thrilled with Matt Kenseth. In 30 starts this season he has seven wins, eight top fives and 16 top tens. He also a major threat to win the 2013 Chase For The Sprint Cup.
Lowes also entered the NASCAR home improvement wars in the late 1990′s by sponsoring Richard Childress Racing’s #31 Chevrolet, and driver Mike Skinner, from 1997 to 2000. In 2001, Lowes found themselves in negotiation with Hendrick Motorsports who wanted him to sponsor a new driver that everyone called “the kid.” That turned out to be 25 year old Jimmie Johnson. There’s even a humorous story from those days that says a Lowes executive asked Johnson: “can you really win races kid?” Johnson only ran three development Cup races in 2001 with rather dubious results. However, the dynasty officially began in 2002 when he visited victory lane three times.
The relationship between Lowes, Johnson and HMS has been going strong for 13 seasons now and has generated stats that has been nothing short of amazing. In 429 official starts, the Lowes #48 Chevrolet team has delivered five consecutive championships, 65 wins, 178 top five finishes, 267 top tens and 31 poles with 15,285 laps led. The team has an average start ratio of 11.0, an average finish ratio of 11.7 and 331 lead lap finishes. The team has also won a whopping $127.1 million in prize money.
At this writing the 2013 Chase For The Sprint Cup is now halfway through its ten race schedule. Kenseth/JGR/Home Improvement-Husky Tools is on top of the championship points standings but only by a mere three points over Johnson/HMS/Lowes-Kobalt Tools. It appears that these two drivers and teams will be the one to watch as the championship run winds down.
Adding to the fun will be the fact that the Home Improvement Wars are back at the competitive level we’ve enjoyed from the past.