Toni Montgomery · Thursday August 11, 2005
I am finally back from vacation in “The Lou” and have finally caught up on my sleep. It’s not that I was partying hardy. I had to give that up a long time ago or I’d still likely be recovering. It was plain and simple a lack of sleep thanks to the wonderful convenience of commercial airline scheduling. See, I stayed on through Wednesday to make a trip to Pevely for Ken Schrader’s Night of Stars charity race at I-55 Speedway. Unfortunately the airline decided the only flight I could take to get home left at 7:45 am. Let’s just say I got to take a nap before leaving for home.
But I am back and refreshed and ready to go. I know the Craftsman Truck Series kind of got shorted by having a rerun last week but I’ll make it up to them somehow. For today I want to go ahead as planned with the Busch Series. They are returning for the first time since 2001 to the twists and turns of Watkins Glen. Road course races were initially eliminated from the Busch Series in an effort to save teams money. Road course cars must be specially built and for the number of uses they only get in a season, NASCAR decided it was wasteful to make the Busch teams build them.
That concept made some sense at the time but I’ve come to wonder about it since then. The biggest concern I have is from a driver standpoint. One of the functions of the Busch Series is to be a training ground for drivers on their way to the Nextel Cup Series. The Nextel Cup Series features two road course races each season. Many of the drivers moving up through the stock car ranks came from series such as USAC or ASA where they did not run road courses and so many of these drivers got their first taste of turning right in the Busch Series. That’s fitting because they are supposed to learn what they need to know for Cup in the Busch ranks.
When the road courses were eliminated, that left Cup as the only one of the top three series still running them. Rookie drivers moving into Cup in the last several seasons have commented on several occasions that they have never raced a road course before. In some cases it becomes very obvious very quickly. That concerns me. The feeder series were in some fundamental way failing to prepare these drivers for something they would encounter. Do we really want to have someone learning something for the first time in the middle of a race that is supposed to be displaying the talents of the best of the best? Or worse, sitting out those races while a ringer runs for them. That’s like the kid who graduated high school without knowing how to read because the lower grades never taught him and by the time he got to high school they just made whatever substitutions they had to in order to pass him on through.
As far as saving Busch team owners money, does it really? They don’t have to build a road course car, this is true, but the old logic probably applies. If they don’t have to spend the money for one thing, they’ll probably just spend it on something else. Since I haven’t noticed any great change in the financial outlooks among Busch teams, I’d say any savings in not having to build road course cars has been spent elsewhere. Saving team owners money is a noble intention but it is an almost impossible thing to accomplish.
I’m glad to see the Busch drivers getting a chance at trying out the road course, but I’m also concerned about the Buschwhacker and ringer presence. There are over 50 entries because it is a companion event to the Cup Series. Just when the Busch guys appear to be poised to get some experience, many of them are likely to be yanked in favor of the Cup drivers they share their rides with. Some just flat out won’t make the show, possibly due to faster cars driven by Cup veterans. The Rolex sports cars will also be present, meaning other owners with inexperienced drivers may be considering pulling them out of the car in favor of a road course “ringer.” I can understand wanting to do well and get the best possible finish, but it is likely to come at the expense of the young drivers who are supposed to be learning something in the Busch Series.
Still, it’s fun to see the Busch Series back on the road course. As for NASCAR, why the reversal of opinion? International expansion. It’s that simple. Oval tracks are few and far between in other countries, and the Busch Series has been sent out as the first foreign ambassador of NASCAR. The options in Mexico and Canada pretty much involve turning left and right. At least if NASCAR was going to saddle Busch teams with the expense of building a road course car and dragging it to Mexico City, they had the common sense to add a second road course to the schedule to take the sting out of it a little bit. Teams can look at it like an investment in more than one race to have a road course car in their stable. Kind of makes you wonder though. We’re quite content to drive around in circles. There are more ovals here than anything else. Meanwhile the rest of the world apparently likes to have the feeling they are going somewhere and favors road courses.
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