Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday May 20, 2011
On Saturday, the brightest stars in the NASCAR universe take to the track in Charlotte for a no-points, no-holds-barred event that usually leaves fans breathless and drivers speechless. It’s an invitation-only event; non-winners need not apply, unless, of course, you can grab that elusive fan vote, or race in at the last minute in a race appropriately named the showdown.
It’s not a race for the faint of heart, as there is almost the guarantee of a spectacular crash and/or a not-so-spectacular feud. There will be beating and banging, and besides, the whole shebang is another way for NASCAR to fit in among the stick-and-ball sports. All of those have all-star games of some variety, complete with skills competition and plenty of fanfare. NASCAR’s answer to the home-run derby and the slam dunk contest is the burnout contest, even though nobody can quite figure the thing out. Really, it’s just a showcase for the top talent in a situation where there’s usually nothing on the line but the glory (though baseball bucks that trend by giving the winning league home field advantage in the World Series).
So why does NASCAR snub two-thirds of the competitors in their top three series?
It’s not that there aren’t all-star events for minor league sports. All levels of minor league baseball hold one, and minor-league hockey does, too. Football and basketball don’t have a development system of that nature, so it’s hard to compare, but heck, NASCAR’s lower development series, the K&N Pro Series has its own all-star matchup between East and West Series. So, where are the all-star races for the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series?
That’s a good question.
While such an event would have to have different criteria for qualifying, there’s absolutely no reason and no excuse to not hold one, perhaps a double-header during the Cup off-week that follows Loudon in July. A pair of Saturday-night specials at Richmond-for these series it would surely have to take place at a short track. Add in a half-million-dollar purse to the winner of each event and good old-fashioned ten-lap heat races to set the field. Oh, and if you’re not eligible for points in that series? You’re welcome to come…and sit in the grandstand.
Granted, there would have to be different rules for entry. With no series regulars winning in the Nationwide series and only a couple in trucks, there would be some awfully sparse fields. So how about giving the top 15 in driver points in each series an automatic bid, along with any past champions. Then have a last minute, 20-lap hooligan race for a couple more spots, similar to what the Cup Series does, and call it good with a field of 17-20.
From there, they could make the races unique in several ways. For example, why not have four 20-lap segments for each series in the feature event, but stagger them, so there’s a truck segment followed by a Nationwide segment and so on?
For those who prefer something really wild, how about Australian rules racing? After every couple of laps, the guy in last place is out. No riding around hoping to avoid trouble or the trouble will surely find you! There are a multitude of possibilities that could make the event exciting and different from both the Sprint Cup and K&N Pro editions, and frankly, both series need something that sets them apart from both the elite Cup series and the lower-tier development series.
The reality of it is, both the Nationwide and Truck Series are at a crossroads as they struggle to find an identity in the 21st Century. Gone are the days when the Nationwide Series had a thriving population of its own drivers who were as likely to win each week as the Cup interlopers. The trucks are no longer the novelty they were in the 1990’s, and both series are poorly promoted by NASCAR at a time when the opposite should be the case. While diehard fans are loud and clear in saying they want the series to have their own identity without the Cup drivers horning in, NASCAR says the two series would suffer with the casual fan because the drivers are relatively unknown in comparison to the Cup stars.
Is it just me, or is that kind of ridiculous? The sanctioning body complains that the series’ aren’t popular enough to stand alone…yet does next to nothing to promote them to fans except as a playground for the rich kids to come with their fancy cars and show off. That’s cutting off your nose to spite your face at its finest right there. And perhaps NASCAR wants it that way…keeping the underlings toiling in anonymity brings sponsor dollars to the Cup cash cows and the official whatevers of NASCAR pouring money into the family coffers instead of into promising race teams. But perhaps they need to rethink that before the lower series are beyond repair. Perhaps it’s time to showcase the considerable talent those series bring to the table each and every week. Strong feeder series would only strengthen NASCAR.
And what better way to showcase the talent in both series than a no-points, hell-bent-for-leather, all-the-marbles duel featuring only the drivers in each series, without the rich kids. You want serious competition? There it is. Bring it. Showcasing the series at its best, on a short track on a hot summer night, outside the shadow of a Cup race could only be a positive. And you can bet that every driver would rise to the occasion.
Creating all-star events for the Nationwide and truck series is an undertaking that is long overdue. One event on a summer Saturday has the potential to show the fans-and, even more crucial to long-term success, potential sponsors-the talent that’s been right under their nose all along. The Cup drivers aren’t the only All-Stars. No siree.
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