Nuts for Nationwide · Bryan Davis Keith · Friday April 15, 2011
It’s perhaps fitting that as the Nationwide Series heads to Alabama to tackle the high banks of Talladega, one of the stories garnering attention from the series and its last outing has to do with something, well, Indian. After all, there’s no other circuit on NASCAR’s national touring slate that is rumored to be built on an Indian burial ground.
The story is the old “Indian trick,” which longtime series stalwart Means Racing was attempting to utilize in running the distance at Texas last weekend; that is, to take the less worn left front tire and put it on the right front of the car. Whether or not that tire swap was responsible, Chris Schendel and his No. 52 car were on highlight reels for days after cutting a tire in turn 1, pushing up the track and smack into the path of Kyle Busch, ending Busch’s shot at the win as he was running down race leader Carl Edwards. (For the record, kudos to Allen Bestwick for breaking this little tidbit…it’s not often you’ll see an ESPN staffer digging for such nuggets in the back of the garage.)
And while Kyle Busch was uncharacteristically subdued in dealing with the wreck that resulted from Schendel’s blown tire, the same could not be said for his fanbase. One of his more vocal fans went as far as to comment on a recent Frontstretch article that the No. 52 team’s actions merited a severe penalty, stating “suspension for the season or life would not be unreasonable.”
Funny…sounds resourceful more than anything else.
Maybe that’s a stretch. But it’s not a stretch to say that it sounds refreshing to hear that the Means operation is, even if with a bag of tricks, finding a way to turn laps and run the distance in Nationwide Series competition. After all, the longtime No. 52 team failed to complete any of the 10 starts they made in 2010, with nine of those outings ending less than 20 laps into the scheduled race distance. To put things in even more perspective, the team completed only 146 of 300 laps at Bristol last month before bowing out with overheating issues; those 146 completed laps surpassed the number of laps they completed in 10 Nationwide starts last year. Indian tricks or no Indian tricks, there’s not a negative spin out there to put on a small-time team turning more laps.
Besides, scraping by on worn out parts and rubber comes with the territory in today’s Nationwide Series. Specialty Racing lasted over two seasons only by racing motors with 1000+ miles on them. Brian Keselowski’s K-Automotive outfit last season described their thought process as “maybe this part can go one more race…for six races.” For teams without sponsorship, corners have to be cut when trying to keep up in a world of brand new race cars needing not only to be built but developed, motors whose expense can rival even those of a Cup program and tires that cost $1600 a set.
And for all those screaming foul, hell even those lamenting the fact that Kyle Busch was unable to challenge for another minor league trophy this past Friday in Fort Worth thanks to the misfortune of a backmarker, that comes with the territory of today’s Nationwide Series as well. For years, it’s been force fed down the throats of anyone that implies otherwise that having Cup drivers on the track with Nationwide prospects is a good thing, that development drivers and series regulars can’t help but benefit from having the greatest drivers in stock car racing deliver a royal ass-kicking week after week.
For this rationale to hold water though, there has to be a corollary. That being, those same star Cup drivers have to share the track with the rookies, the backmarkers, the have-nots. They must share the track with the youngster more likely to go over his head, the backmarker that’s 15 mph off the pace, the have-not that has to throw his left front tire on his right front just to keep going. Through fault that’s sometimes all their own, other times that of circumstance, these type of teams are the ones that suffer more misfortune than any other on the racetrack. Just like Friday’s incident involving Tim Schendel.
Friday’s incident was, in the most grounded terms, a racing incident and nothing more. But in a way, seeing Kyle Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut fall victim to an underfunded team’s troubles just trying to make laps was a case of true poetic justice. Here, the posterchild driver and program of today’s Nationwide Series, with scores of trophies and millions of sponsor dollars constantly fielding cars “a monkey could win in,” lost a strong chance to add to that trophy haul because of the limitations and struggles of not just Means Racing, but of a type of competitor and operation they’ve mercilessly beaten into submission the better part of the last decade. For all the crowds and attention their involvement [allegedly] have brought in to support the Nationwide Series as a whole, there’s no argument that the influx of big-budgeted Cup programs into NASCAR’s AAA has exponentially expanded the chasm between the haves and have-nots.
It’s true that Means Racing and the No. 52 team have never been rolling in resources, but the ability of a team such as theirs to court sponsor dollars needed to buy decent equipment, and, well, right side tires, in a still struggling economy is drastically impaired when they’re going against factory-backed superteams. Face it, it makes better business sense for a sponsor to jump on board the Kyle Busch/Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski “we need to win minor league races to keep our apparently insecure sense of confidence as race car drivers tour” than to give Tim Schendel some decent rubber.
But ultimately it’s the decision to continue pursuing these campaigns, both by the superteams and by drivers like Busch, Edwards, etc., that has ultimately created a back of the Nationwide garage so absolutely desolate in terms of resources that full-time race teams are resorting to the “Indian trick” less than a quarter of the way into the 2011 season.
Looking at it that way, even though there was no intent there, even though the Schendel episode was a freak accident and nothing more, it was awful satisfying to see a likely byproduct of the mess the big guns of the Nationwide Series have sown come back to bite them on Friday night. To see Kyle Busch (and for the love of God Busch fans out there don’t go screaming “Busch hatred,” it could have just as easily been Edwards or Keselowski, or even Joey Logano) lose a shot at victory thanks to a problem culture they’ve created and perpetuate weekly, was odd, unpredictable…and just.
Just isn’t exactly a word one expects to hear in racing very often. Gotta wonder what the voice Bobby Isaac heard has in store to top that one this weekend at Talladega.
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