Kevin Rutherford · Friday March 15, 2013
Three years ago, John Wes Townley got what has thus far been his only shot in great equipment at the upper levels of NASCAR. After a 2009 rookie season in the Nationwide Series during which he crashed out of many of the events he made, the much maligned driver hitched a ride with Richard Childress Racing via sponsor Zaxby’s — his father’s business.
A practice crash at Phoenix nixed that almost immediately, and Townley disappeared from the circuit, reappeared with former team RAB Racing, disappeared again, got a DUI and competed full-time in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012 for RAB, with a few one-off Nationwide races. Along the way, his chronic crashing earned him quite a few detractors, who said he was only there on his dad’s money. There were even comments of ‘worst NASCAR driver ever.’
Now, to 2013. JWT is entered in one of the biggest races of the ARCA season, the year-opening Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona. He’s entered in a car owned by Venturini Motorsports, arguably the top team in the series. He’s come close to victory at the track in the past. This time, he wins it, after Bobby Gerhart runs out of fuel. The Chicken Man triumphs!
Is it finally time to stop the jeers? The naysaying? The laughs at his expense?
This weekend, Townley makes his first 2013 Nationwide Series start, driving a Venturini Toyota at Bristol. He’s running a limited schedule for the team this year, marking the return to NASCAR for the longtime ARCA competitors. He also has a full-time gig in Red Horse Racing’s No. 7 in the Camping World Truck Series.
He won’t light the racing world on fire at Bristol. He may never, unless he pulls a Montoya into a jet dryer. But it just might be time to take Townley more seriously — or, at least as seriously as you might take another so-so competitor in a given series.
Granted, while a win is a win no matter how you look at it, JWT still won at a restrictor plate track, which are famous for evening the playing field and allowing unexpected victors. He did it for a team that’s strong wherever it goes, not an organization like his former RAB team, which is solid but unspectacular the majority of the time.
But it’s not just that. The year off in 2011 seems to have done wonders for the guy. In 2012, he scored two top-10 finishes running in the trucks. More importantly, he did it with a mere two DNFs. What’s more, he was either on or near the lead lap for most of the races. In a five-race Nationwide schedule? He didn’t wreck out of any.
Going forward, Townley may still wreck out of races — heck, expect it, because everyone does at some point. It may even happen this weekend at Bristol, if he can get his No. 25 in the show.
But it’s time to stop seeing John Wes Townley as a driver who can’t hold a line without crashing. Instead, look at him as just another NASCAR driver. It’s not a very flattering distinction, but it’s certainly a step up.
-Do people still have paper calendars? If Michael Annett does, chances are May 4 is circled on his. That’s the date the Nationwide Series travels to Talladega, and it’s the day Annett hopes to return to the series following the season-opening crash at Daytona that left him with a fractured and dislocated sternum. He had surgery Feb. 28, where doctors repaired the injury with screws and a metal plate. Annett actually hopes he can return a week earlier, at Richmond. Until then, Reed Sorenson is in the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports.
-NASCAR reinstated Jeremy Clements just in time for the Bristol race this weekend. According to NASCAR, Clements completed a program with Dr. Richard Lapchick at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports in order to be reinstated. Said Clements in a statement: “I would like to thank NASCAR for their support throughout this entire process. I would like to also thank Dr. Lapchick and his team for their time and the opportunity to help me grow. I have learned a lot and am looking ahead, to getting back in the car at Bristol and having a fresh start to the season. I am truly grateful to my sponsors who have stood by me, to my fans for their tremendous outpouring of support and to my family and team for their unwavering love and support.” Ryan Sieg drove Clements’s No. 51 during his absence.
-Just a few days after the close of its last sponsored event, Sam’s Town renewed its sponsorship of the March Nationwide race at Las Vegas. The agreement extends the sponsorship another four years.
Looking forward: Bristol
Stats (entered drivers)
Most wins: Kevin Harvick (5)
Top average finish: Kevin Harvick (7.8, 23 races), Austin Dillon (8.0, 2), Parker Kligerman (9.0, 2), Kyle Busch (9.9, 17), Brad Keselowski (11.6, 11)
Bristol Nationwide debuts: Brad Sweet, Juan Carlos Blum, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Hal Martin, Travis Pastrana, Dexter Stacey, Alex Bowman
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