The Frontstretch: Nationwide Series The Real Winner At Texas - At Least for One Day by Bryan Davis Keith -- Saturday November 6, 2010

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Nationwide Series The Real Winner At Texas - At Least for One Day

Bryan Davis Keith · Saturday November 6, 2010

 

The irony is so thick, you couldn’t cut it with a knife.

This weekend at Texas Motor Speedway will likely mark the culmination of a Nationwide Series season that has seen problem after problem for NASCAR’s AAA ranks manifest itself and run wild. Fans of the series have seen Cup regulars win all but two of the races run in 2010. They’ve seen crowds of 20,000 where 90,000 used to cram. They’ve seen at least two full-time Nationwide Series teams simply not show up for races owing to the implementation of an expensive new car at the most inopportune economic time the sport has seen – perhaps ever. They’ve seen the leading Nationwide Series regular, top 5 in points and a race winner, unable to keep his ride. And on Saturday, they’re likely to see a Cup regular win the minor league title not only for the fifth consecutive year, but in dominant fashion and more than one race early for the fourth time in that five-year span.

On a day where Brad Keselowski inched closer to clinching the Nationwide Series championship, the future of the series also took a big step with rising star Justin Allgaier’s ability to secure a full-time ride for 2011 – ending a difficult job search after losing sponsor Verizon with Penske Racing.

Yet, on the day before Brad Keselowski is likely to stroke his way into NASCAR’s record books as a Nationwide Series champion, the future for the Nationwide Series is suddenly as bright as can be remembered in recent memory. With a series of announcements within an hour of each other, the field of series regulars expanded to see not only Justin Allgaier find a new home for the 2011 season, but a cast of characters that find themselves with both the talent and equipment to make a serious charge for the series championship.

Turner Motorsports, taking over what was previously Braun Racing, announced that they would again be fielding four cars, with Allgaier, Jason Leffler and Reed Sorenson all running full schedules in a bid for the NNS crown. With alliances with KHI and Hendrick motors, what was already the premier independent Nationwide Series organization upped their race cars in a big way. And then there’s Elliott Sadler, whose tenure ending with Richard Petty Motorsports was turned into opportunity; KHI announced that he would be making the step down to the Nationwide Series and driving the No. 2 car full-time in a reunion with former Robert Yates Racing sponsor Citi Financial.

Think of the storylines. In Leffler, The Nationwide Series veteran whose loyalty to his sponsor includes a unique haircut. In Sadler and Sorenson, you have Cup drivers who are taking a step back, ready to win some races and get their careers back on track. In Justin Allgaier, perhaps the most deserving prospect of a ride in the NNS ranks, scored a 25th-hour deal that will allow him to continue his development as one of stock car racing’s brightest prospects. And all of them will be campaigning next year in cars that will be capable of running up front early and often.

In one day to have three new title contenders announced is a tremendous boon for the Nationwide Series even if nothing else changes. Between Reed Sorenson’s return to relevance, Justin Allgaier’s continued proficiency as a top 5 driver and the ever-colorful Elliott Sadler looking forward to both racing on Saturdays and having more family time, the Series has a cast of drivers that even the most inept of PR folks could build an identity around. The fact that all three actually have some talent behind the wheel only sweetens the deal.

And perhaps the most important development isn’t what was announced, but what wasn’t.

When asked about his Nationwide Series plans for 2011, Carl Edwards reiterated that he had committed to running the full Nationwide Series schedule, a claim he had first staked defiantly back in August even as the story that NASCAR was preparing to ban Cup drivers from competing for the Nationwide crown was building steam.

But the way he said it was different. Upon having a reporter in the media center ask the same question in the frame of being unable to run for a championship, the confidence and defiance that Edwards had previously exuded was gone. In it’s place, uncertainty.

“I have committed to running the full thing,” Edwards responded, “but I am going at it like I can run for the title, and I believe my sponsors are too.”

The fact is, no one knows for sure whether or not NASCAR is actually going to take steps to alter and limit Cup participation in the Nationwide ranks next season. But the prospect of action actually being taken was enough to make Edwards, who has been pulling double duty since 2005, think twice.

The situation isn’t bedrock. While the Turner Motorsports announcement regarding Hendrick motors, KHI technical support and current sponsors Great Clips and Dollar General re-upping for 2011 was all good news, it also must be noted just how prominent the Wolfpack Rentals brand (in short, Turner’s own money) was in the promotional materials present during the press conference. The investment being made in the team is admirable, but if the Ginn Racing episode of 2007 taught us anything, it’s that that type of spending isn’t always the most sustainable, or dependable, business model.

And as for the prospects of NASCAR taking action to curb Cup participation in the Nationwide ranks, they’re just that…prospects. Take a look around, and legitimate outlets have reported everything from a limit being placed on the number of NNS races a Cup driver can run to simply prohibiting a Cup driver from running for an NNS title, no matter how many races they run. And now, with the Nationwide Series field suddenly growing in size, wouldn’t it be just like NASCAR to decide “Wow, we have new full-timers? Clearly the Cup drivers aren’t having a negative impact, let’s let them keep doing what they’ve been doing.”?

More will be known tomorrow after Joe Gibbs Racing announces their Nationwide Series plans for the 2011 season as to what direction NASCAR appears to be taking with regards to governing their minor leagues.

But for this Friday, it’s worth it to take a breath and enjoy the good news. Justin Allgaier is back. Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson are joining the ranks full-time. Kevin Harvick Incorprated is adding a new team. And all of the drivers mentioned are marketable, talented, and the type of guy people will pay to watch on Saturday.

Friday was a good day for the Nationwide Series. Whether it goes down as a good day or the start of something bigger remains to be seen.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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Jacob
11/06/2010 08:54 AM
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Bryan, you have gotten one thing wrong right off the bat; Brad Keselowski is unable to approximate anything even remotely like stroking. That is his one admirable quality. He does not lay down, he does not roll over (without Carl’s help), and he does not back down, ever.

It is good news to see Elliott get a full time ride with KHI, his cars are fast, solid, and have great engineering support. Whether or not he will be able to contend for a championship remains to be seen. Lady Luck has had a habit of dumping on Elliott throughout his entire career. First in the Busch Series, then in Cup, and he might need to see a Voodoo High Priestess or something in order to change that fact around.
Reed Sorenson was a great prospect, and his career path should be a cautionary tale to all young drivers wanting to reach the top before they are ready. The confidence he showed in the Busch Series was completely destroyed by his tenure in the Cup series. I hope for the best for Reed, but I reserve judgement on whether or not his addition actually means anything for the sport.
Justin Allgaier is the great news here. It would have been a tremendous shame if he had been forced to join a regional touring series next season. He has the talent, and Turner is lucky to have been able to have gotten him. Hopefully his money won’t dry up before the team can become a self-sufficient front runner.
While the Ginn Racing debacle can serve as rude awakening, Rick Hendrick used his own money to supplement his young and unstable racing operation, and I think that could be seen as a successful business model.

Finally, you are probably 100% right in believing that na$car will leave things alone within the Nationwide Series championship battle. (It might be more accurate to call it ‘the championship for Cup drivers that aren’t quite capable of competing at the Cup level, sponsored by Nationwide’) The current administration is not one to fix something that is broken, they are to busy breaking everything that works well. Although, there have been several stories at na$car.com debating whether or not the Nationwide series needs a chase…lol

Craig
11/06/2010 09:53 AM
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All positive signs for the Nationwide Series. I’m happy for Allgaier and Sadler both are good racers and nice guys. I’m going to stay optimistic that they will at least ban Cup drivers from winning the Nationwide Title. However, Carl Edwards, really what are you doing running for the Nationwide title year after year? He’s not proving anything. Does winning a Nationwide title make up for the fact you can’t win the Sprint Cup or haven’t won a Cup race since 2008. Carl is no different than Kyle Busch, but at least Kyle doesn’t present a fake nice guy persona.

Josh S
11/06/2010 03:15 PM
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Joe Gibbs announced three cars for 2011. Only one sounds like it’ll have a full-time Nationwide driver (Brian Scott).

Hope you like Kyle Busch & Joey Logano in your Nationwide Series lineup again.

I’m glad Allgaier, Leffler, Sorenson, Sadler & the like are getting Nationwide rides to go along with Bayne, Stenhouse & Braun or Darnell, but I don’t think it’s going to matter as long as Kyle has a Nationwide ride. It’s a step in the right direction, but I don’t know if it’s enough, and NASCAR has to take the next step.

Ken
11/07/2010 08:12 AM
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Craig, aside from your obvious hatred for Carl Edwards, have you stopped to figure out that, if Carl were unable to obtain sponsorship for his Nationwide ride, do you think he would still run it full time? That is where the problem lies. If the sponsors did not want Cup drivers in a particular car, then that would deter a lot of double-dipping. What Cup driver is going to run in an unsponsored car? It’s like that one sponsor who signed to sponsor the #27 at the start of the year. The deal was that they wanted Greg Biffle in the car whenever he was available, which primarily meant when the Nationwide race was a companion event to a Cup race. It was the sponsot who wanted Biffle in the car! Convince the sponsors to only sponsor cars driven by Nationwide regulars and not sponsor cars driven by Cup regulars, and you might begin to solve the problem!

Craig
11/07/2010 07:09 PM
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I have nothing personal against Edwards, but I don’t think any elite Cup driver that goes down to win a Nationwide Title hasn’t proved anything. That goes for Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. I don’t mind Cup guys in Nationwide, I just think when they try to run for the title at this point in their careers they are compensating for something (lack of a Cup title?) Let them run all they want, but Cup drivers, especially those who have made the Chase have no business winning the Nationwide Title.

EZ
11/08/2010 11:54 AM
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A title ‘s a title, no matter what,the work and dedication is the same, and it’s not like there’s only one cup driver running against all rookies to the sport of racing. To me this whole situation is much ado about nothing.