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Jay Busbee

The race on the track precedes the race in the sky

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If you've ever been to a NASCAR race -- more specifically, if you've ever sat in the soul-crushing traffic at the end of a NASCAR race -- you've surely wondered, "where the heck are the drivers in all this?" Surely they're not sitting there in long lines of taillights next to sunburnt, grill- and oil-smelling fans?

Nope, they're not. While you're sitting there staring out at roads more clogged than the average American's arteries, your favorite drivers are already lounging at home courtesy of their personal airplanes. The Jacksonville Sun-Sentinel has a fine report detailing exactly how NASCAR teams use these planes and how much money they can save.

Or, as Mike Ford, Denny Hamlin's crew chief, puts it: "If you don't have an airplane, you can't be competitive."

Many drivers have their own planes, but more common are the teams who fly in crewmen for the day. As the Sun-Sentinel notes, Richard Childress has a 30-seat Brasilia and an eight-seat King Air, and also buys seats on charter flights. Hendrick has three 50-seat Saab jets, Earnhardt-Ganassi has two 50-seat Embraer EJR 145s, Joe Gibbs Racing has two Saabs and a Learjet, and Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing have 50-seat Canadian Regionals. The biggest daddy of them all is Jack Roush, who runs two 727-200s that can move a total of 255 people.

"A few years ago, I looked around and I had 10 Learjets and King Airs and Citations moving my team around at that time, and in today's environment, it would take 20 to do the same job," Roush told the Sun-Sentinel. "It was a matter of time before I had a really bad result. I got airplanes with a lot of redundancies, and I've realized the benefits of having airplanes that go really fast and can go coast to coast to save some hotel rooms and some rental cars."

Still, the planes do cost a phenomenal amount of money, and some in NASCAR have tried to cut costs. Jeff Gordon, for instance, has actually talked of flying commercial to certain races.

The most significant moments involving NASCAR planes touch both ends of the emotional spectrum. Earlier this year, Rick Hendrick donated his planes for use in ferrying medical supplies to Haiti. But six years earlier, a Hendrick plane carrying 10 members of Hendrick Motorsports, crashed outside Martinsville, killing all aboard.

But in a sport where tenths of a second are the difference between victory and defeat, the planes nonetheless are necessary. Just don't expect your favorite driver to give you a ride home from the race.

Speeding by plane is big part of NASCAR [Florida Sun-Sentinel]

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