Did You Notice? How this year’s offseason went extensive periods without any sort of NASCAR in the news? Yeah, it was merger central all the time with Richard Petty, Chip Ganassi, George Gillett and Teresa Earnhardt… but beyond that, there really wasn’t all that much to write about.
And you know what – that was great. Because for the first time in years, people were actually given a chance to miss stock cars going round in circles. We didn’t have to hear about the big test at Daytona just one month after the overhyped banquet tried to plaster its way over every television screen in America. We didn’t have to hear about all these one-off tests in which drivers were preparing for a new season within two weeks after the old one ended. It allowed fans a chance to breathe; and while yes, there’s still plenty of cynical doubters still out there, even the ones who have railed against NASCAR for years have uttered phrases like “I miss racing” heading into this year’s Speedweeks.
Therein lies an opportunity for NASCAR… who knows whether they’re capable of taking advantage. But despite all the horrible things that have happened over the past few years, fans’ passion and satiation for the sport is still there.
While we’re on this topic, speaking from the other side of the equation I found it nice that drivers, media, and crewmen that kept their jobs were actually allowed to have lives. Drivers took vacations, attended other sporting events and actually took time to relax instead of getting shuttled from private test to private test. Media members could breathe, knowing there was going to be a definitive break between coverage of major stories. And crewmen had less to prepare for, giving them a chance to take stock and spend just that little extra time with their families over the holidays.
Of course, I want our economy and our sport to recover as soon as possible. But when they do, I hope any sort of offseason testing never comes back with it. I think we’ve stumbled upon a formula that will work in the future – so let’s not play with chemicals anymore.
Did You Notice? That over in the Nationwide Series, the early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors is someone who’s already competed full-time in Sprint Cup? Brendan Gaughan has been labeled eligible for the award after signing a full-time deal to drive Rusty Wallace Inc.’s No. 62 Chevrolet.
Now, Gaughan is one of the great personalities in our sport – and well-deserving of a top-tier ride – but to say he’s overqualified for Rookie of the Year is an understatement. With a full season’s worth of Cup starts under his belt, he’s already gotten enough experience at the highest level of stock car racing to build an unfair advantage over talented newcomers like Scott Lagasse Jr. To me, it’s like a AA baseball player getting a promotion to the major leagues, playing there a year and then dropping down to AAA in his prime but remaining eligible to win rookie of the year in that division. Would that ever happen? No… because the player already has extensive major league experience.
And so it goes with Gaughan. NASCAR has already mishandled this situation once before, allowing Cup veteran John Andretti to compete for Rookie of the Year in 2006 despite his experience level. Back then, there was even less of an excuse to allow it, because the Nationwide and Cup cars were so similar it was hard to tell any sort of difference between them. Now, at least the Car of Tomorrow’s created some separation… just not enough in my book. But drivers like Lagasse shouldn’t lose hope altogether; after all, Andretti was beaten for the rookie title that year by youngster Danny O’Quinn.
Of those three, only Newman was virtually guaranteed to have a car to drive in that race, so at face value the new format isn’t snubbing as many drivers as you might think. If anything, it’s former champions such as Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte that miss out on a chance to have some fun and attract a few extra fans to the stands.
But even though the snubs aren’t as bad as we’d like to believe, doesn’t this whole Shootout thing still leave a sour taste in your mouth? So much has been written on it, so I’ll keep my comments short… but when you expand a field to 28 cars with no real rhyme or reason, you might as well rename it the “Bud Shoots For A Test Session,” invite everyone and their mother to participate, and just hold a 75-lap glorified practice. Because 28 cars isn’t a “celebration” of talent or an All-Star Race – that’s over 60% of the starting lineup in any given week! Come on.
Did You Notice? That if NASCAR held firm on no teams transferring owner points to someone else – instead choosing to eliminate that “locked-in” spot from the starting lineup – then the race for spots in the Daytona 500 would be a whole lot more interesting right now? There would only be 30 or 31 “locked-in” positions, giving an opening to up to a dozen new teams to make the field by way of the Duels or on speed.
But unfortunately, as we all know the sport’s allowing these old owners to sell their points to others in order to profit from their dissolution. And next Thursday, we’ll see plenty of underdog efforts give it their best shot… but fail to make the field despite finishing a Duel in the top 10.
What a shame. I know it’s good to be back writing this column… but I’m already mourning those teams who will come to Daytona good enough, but with not enough money to buy their way into a chance of making their dreams come true.