Toni Montgomery · Thursday March 10, 2005
Before we get to the Busch Series this week, I just want to touch briefly upon last weeks Craftsman Truck column and all of the comments I’ve received on it. Usually I try to reply directly to all those who send me comments but this time there were just way too many to do that. It seems I hit it right on the head about drivers and their fans. Fans will follow their favorite driver no matter what series he races in and that’s apparent from all of the Ricky Craven fans who wrote to me to say they are indeed watching all of the truck races this season to follow their guy.
Ricky has many very loyal fans and that’s great. There was something else in a number of the comments that I noticed as well. Many of them, both Craven fans and just general fans, commented that the best racing so far this season has been in the truck series. I’ve thought that for a long time and I’m glad to see the extra exposure the trucks are getting from the arrival of Craven and the other Cup stars is making that obvious to all of the new viewers. Hopefully it will make long time truck series fans out of them too.
Now on to the Busch Series. Whether you liked the idea or not, the Busch Series trip to Mexico has gone off as a success with both the Mexican race fans and the drivers and teams who discovered many of their fears about the trip were unfounded. Fans here should probably get used to the idea of NASCAR going there because the successful debut means they will most likely return again next year.
Before the race, Adrian Fernandez was asked about the other Mexican drivers planning to race since American fans didn’t know much about them. He commented that we would be very surprised to see how competitive they were going to be as they are top notch drivers. Fernandez was right and I for one was quite surprised to see them hanging right in there with the best of the Busch Series, especially considering many had never driven anything quite like a NASCAR stock car before.
The finishes they posted don’t tell the whole story. Only Fernandez brought home a top ten with a 10th place finish but even his result doesn’t justify his performance. Fernandez started in the back and got all the way to the front, leading at one point. A pit road penalty sent him to the back again late in the race and he rallied to post that top ten. The closest thing Fernandez has ever driven to a stock car was an IROC car.
Carlos Contreras and Michel Jourdain Jr. also ran in the top ten before Jourdain was knocked out by an accident and Contreras succumbed to mechanical problems in the closing laps. Jourdain was in only his third race in a stock car and was having his best run to date. Contreras does have quite a bit of NASCAR experience after spending three seasons in the Craftsman Truck Series and a handful of previous Busch Series runs.
Jorge Goeters was the big surprise of the weekend, sitting on the pole and leading the opening laps until some confusion on the first pit stop put him back in the field. He was also heading toward the front when his engine gave out. The Brewco team was so impressed however that they may run him again in several upcoming races if sponsorship can be secured.
There are a number of fans out there that have expressed a desire to keep NASCAR “all American” in terms of the races and in some cases the drivers. They resent the idea of grooming drivers as part of a diversity program and giving them the good rides in place of another driver who doesn’t fit the diversity profile. I would agree if the ride was going to someone who couldn’t drive their way out of a paper bag as opposed to a solid and deserving young driver who happens to be a young white male. On the other hand, if someone like Goeters or Contreras shows the potential to excel in stock cars, I’d hate to see them excluded because they are not American.
There is also a certain benefit to the team owners to consider a minority driver. There are only so many sponsors to go around and there is definitely an untapped market of new money available to team owners from company’s geared toward the Hispanic, African American or female market. These companies know they are more likely to reach their target audience if there is a minority driver in their car to attract those fans. Fans also make the assumption that drivers endorse and use the products on their cars. Vassarette’s advertising of lingerie doesn’t have quite the same effect with a man driving their car as it does with a woman driver.
Since the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series are going to be the first national series where these diversity drivers make an appearance on their way up, in many senses, sending the Busch Series to Mexico and into the heart of a large Hispanic audience makes perfect sense. If nothing else, it made for a natural platform for the Busch Series owners to audition a number of Hispanic drivers and make some inroads with some new sponsors.
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