Kevin Rutherford · Friday July 26, 2013
It’s a concept you’ll see beat into the ground the next few days, but it’s worth mentioning given that it’s the big thing in NASCAR right now: the sport returning to its roots. On Wednesday, the Camping World Truck Series put on a hell of a show at the dirt track of Eldora Speedway, with Nationwide regular Austin Dillon coming out on top and fans and media alike seemingly unanimous in voicing support for what had been one of the most exciting races on any NASCAR level this season.
The importance of Eldora transcends simply putting on a good show. The attendance, 10,000 sold out for months, showed that NASCAR can pack these smaller tracks, and that people will come to watch. That’s a good sign not only for other dirt tracks (with decent-sized seating, of course) across the country, but smaller tracks in lesser markets as a whole as well.
When I began watching the Nationwide Series (then the Busch Series), the series was still traveling to some of the smaller speedways around the United States. There was South Boston. Myrtle Beach. One of my favorite races I watched early on was at Hickory, when Ed Berrier drove to his lone series victory. I realize that was during the beginning of the end for smaller tracks and that the variety was even better before then, but at least I have some semblance of understanding how the series can be when it visits some of the smaller tracks and markets around the country.
Eldora represented the hope that NASCAR could return to some of those tracks. They’re not dirt-surfaced, but they still provide an exceptional amount of entertainment no matter the series or type of vehicle that races on them. Everyone knows the Nationwide Series could use a shot in the arm. With a bevy of companion events that disseminate Cup dominance along even further, there’s little variety and thus little reason to watch a similar race on the same track. For instance, I have no issue with Michigan, but do I really want to see two very similar races on the same track in one weekend? Does anyone?
If NASCAR is interested in keeping companion events, why not send the Nationwide and/or Truck Series to smaller tracks in the immediate area, kind of in the vein of what used to happen with the Cup Series at Indianapolis and the other two just miles down the road at Indianapolis Raceway Park/O’Reilly Raceway Park/Lucas Oil Raceway/Insert Sponsor Name Here Raceway. There’s plenty of tracks across the country, some of which could conceivably fit a decent crowd into their stands. Plus, it’s not like NASCAR needs high capacity racetracks, given that they can barely — if ever — fill many of the behemoths that fill out the Cup schedule.
That’s why Eldora was perfect. A capacity of 10,000 meant a solid amount of people could get in, to the point that there weren’t any noticeable complaints about not being enough tickets available. It’s like a rock concert for a major artist. If you can’t get your tickets in time, tough love. Perhaps being shut out of some smaller venues will drive fans to make treks to other nearby tracks that have races. Maybe not.
Imagine it: the Nationwide Series visits Greenville Pickens while Cup is at Darlington or even Charlotte. Running Irwindale while Cup races California Speedway.
Maybe even a little dirt track action at Eldora while the big boys tackle the Brickyard? You have to think it’s going to be considered given the trucks’ success, even if it doesn’t end up happening.
It’s an exciting time in NASCAR right now, though it may just be the euphoria of a job well done in the Truck Series at Eldora. For the first time in a long time, it almost seems possible that some of the non-Cup series could travel back to their roots, running some of the smaller tracks in America and even a few dirt tracks.
Call me an optimist, but Eldora may have been the turning point, after which both the Nationwide and Truck series turn away from larger racetracks at which they’re getting minimal attention, instead returning to the smaller markets that made them exciting to begin with.
Thoughts? Tracks the series should visit? Let’s brainstorm.
-The big news in the series this week pertained to the loss of ESPN as the series’ chief television broadcaster after 2014. Earlier this week, NBC Sports announced that it would take the helm for the final 19 races of the Nationwide Series season starting in 2015, also acquiring broadcast rights to the final 20 Cup races. At this point, that leaves the first 14 races (given the schedule size doesn’t change) unclaimed heading into 2015. According to the announcement, four of the 19 races will be broadcast on NBC, while the remaining 15 will find a home on NBC Sports Network.
-The Viva Motorsports No. 55 returns to the track this weekend at Indianapolis, but with a new driver in its seat. David Starr, regular competitor in the Camping World Truck Series, will occupy the car normally driven by Jamie Dick on a part-time basis in the Nationwide 250, held this Saturday. Chasco Constructors will adorn the car’s hood, while Striping Technologies also provides sponsorship. Both companies are based in Texas, Starr’s home state. The 45-year-old NASCAR veteran is currently on a break from the Truck Series after starting the first seven races for SS-Greenlight Racing with a top finish of 13th before he was sidelined with sponsorship woes.
-Justin Allgaier will run a Jason Leffler tribute scheme on his No. 31 for Turner Scott Motorsports this weekend at Indianapolis. According to team co-owner Harry Scott Jr., the team wanted to highlight a trust fund set up for Charlie, Jason’s son. “Indianapolis was Jason’s second home,” he added, “and he appreciated all the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it meant to race there, so it is an especially fitting track to be able to honor him and highlight the trust.”
-Speaking of Allgaier and Scott, rumors prevailed this week that the buyer for Phoenix Racing was none other than Scott, who planned to run Allgaier in the car with Brandt sponsorship, according to a report from Fox Sports. However, Brandt has denied purchasing the team and has no plans to make a formal announcement concerning participation in the Cup Series, while Allgaier also claimed that he has not talked to anyone about running the No. 51.
Looking Ahead: Indianapolis
Stats (Entered Drivers):
Most Wins: No driver entered has won at Indianapolis
Most Top Fives: Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Jr. (1)
Most Top 10s: Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Jr., Jeremy Clements, Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Michael Annett (1)
Most Poles: Kasey Kahne (1)
Entered Past Winners: None
Top Average Finish: Sam Hornish, Jr. (2.0, 1 race), Austin Dillon (5.0, 1), Michael Annett (6.0, 1), Joey Logano (7.0, 1), Paul Menard (8.0, 1)
Indianapolis Nationwide Debuts: David Green, Landon Cassill, Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Ken Butler, Nelson Piquet, Jr., Kyle Larson, J.J. Yeley, Joey Gase, David Starr, Carl Long, Parker Kligerman, Morgan Shepherd, Dexter Stacey, Kevin Swindell, Alex Bowman
Season Nationwide Debuts: David Green, David Starr
Series Nationwide Debuts: None
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