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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Scott Wimmer is Worthy of a Better Shot

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. was being interviewed on 60 Minutes, he said that there’s a Dale Earnhardt Jr. or a Jeff Gordon on short tracks around the country.

In sports – in the entertainment industry in general – there are thousands of talented people who toil away for the best years of their lives and never get noticed. And obviously, no one knows their names, or maybe they manage to make a splash for literally just a shade longer than 15 minutes and are then forgotten. Luck matters more than everything else in both show business and professional sports. All of the big-name record companies rejected the Beatles.

But with NASCAR’s two development series probably receiving more attention and relative coverage than in possibly any other sport, save for perhaps college football or basketball, the story of the driver who performs and does everything he is asked and yet is still not offered a legitimate shot at the big time is often there for everyone to see.

Scott Wimmer is that ongoing story right now.

At 33, Wimmer’s chances of ever landing a quality Cup ride are diminishing. He has been booted out of his Nationwide ride at Richard Childress Racing, and this year he will drive a half dozen races for JR Motorsports and the rest of the season for Key Motorsports, a team that does not currently have the resources of an RCR. As his finishes reflect lesser equipment, his prospects are likely to shrink. It won’t be long before his excellent part-time record in the RCR No. 29 is forgotten.

Whatever reason RCR had to let Wimmer go, it would have been difficult to complain about his performance.

In 2007, driving 23 races in the Holiday Inn No. 29, Wimmer scored seven top fives and 14 top 10s. He finished 14th in the standings… and together with Jeff Burton, won the owner’s points title for RCR. Wimmer finished third at Dover, second at Gateway, fourth at Nashville, second at Milwaukee and fifth at Bristol… so there wasn’t any question that Wimmer could get it done on the tracks that are toughest on drivers. But he didn’t win a race, you say? Here’s the list of Nationwide regulars who won a race in 2007: Jason Leffler and Stephen Leicht. And both ran 35 races to Scott’s 23.

Had Wimmer run the full schedule in 2007 and averaged an 11th place finish every week – not unreasonable considering he had been doing just that – he would have finished second in the Nationwide standings… ahead of David Ragan, David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose and all of the Nationwide regulars. He wouldn’t have put up much of a challenge to Carl Edwards for the title, but he would have fared better than anyone else. It would have been nice to see another Nationwide regular in the thick of it.

In 2008, driving 23 races in the Holiday Inn car, Wimmer finished 17th in the standings, and pulled off that rarity of being a Nationwide-only driver that won a race with his victory at Nashville. No one ahead of him in the final standings started fewer than 30 races. Had he run a full schedule and averaged a 12th-place finish every race – again, about the average for what he was running – the only drivers that would have finished ahead of him would have been Clint Bowyer, Edwards and Brad Keselowski. That’s two Cup stars and a driver who will definitely be in Cup soon.

And remember, in 2007 and 2008, Wimmer was racing against a field heavily populated with full-time Cup drivers. Six of the top 10 in the Nationwide standings in 2007 were Cup regulars. In 2008 there were five. Of the full-time Nationwide-only drivers, only Keselowski in 2008 averaged more points per race than Wimmer did in either of the two years. And Brad had been sitting in marginally (although only marginally) better equipment.

Generally when drivers perform this well, a Cup team will let go of an aging veteran to offer an opportunity to a driver who seems to have a bright future. Wimmer had hung tough with the big boys, outperforming many of them and all of the Nationwide regulars for two years. He was rewarded with a loss of his Nationwide job and being passed over for Casey Mears in a Cup ride. Mears has yet to score a top five this season.

It’s wrong, of course, to say that Wimmer has never had a shot at Cup racing, having driven for two years for Bill Davis Racing and then briefly for Morgan-McClure.

Other than at Daytona, Wimmer didn’t break the bank in the No. 22 car. He did finish a surprising third in his first Daytona 500, even leading a few laps in the race. Bill Davis wasn’t bad at Daytona then – he’d won the 500 just two years before with Ward Burton in the car – but Scott did his job in the sport’s biggest show. I’m sure Caterpillar was happy with the result.

Beyond that, Wimmer didn’t achieve anything spectacular in the No. 22. But BDR was unquestionably in decline by that point, and was running a single-car operation in a field full of multi-car teams. Dave Blaney took over the No. 22 in 2006, and scored a grand total of two top 10s that year… and that was with an extra car (Michael Waltrip’s No. 55) in the BDR garage to get notes from.

After Wimmer was informed late in 2005 that he would be at BDR the following season, Davis fired him by mail in late October. At that point in the season, most of the other owners had worked out who would be in their cars, and Wimmer was forced to take over a fledgling Morgan-McClure ride to stay in Cup racing. That team lost its sponsor mid-season and would fold soon after.

So the Wisconsin native’s experience in Cup racing has been with two teams that were long past contending for strong finishes and are both defunct today. Maybe he’s had a better opportunity than Jason Keller, but that hardly seems justified for a driver that often outdrives Cup regulars in the Nationwide Series.

Wimmer presses on. In his debut for Key Motorsports – a team that has shut its doors on more than one occasion for lack of funding – he started last and had driven the car into the top 15 before getting taken out when Tony Raines lost a tire. In Vegas, he finished 11th – the best finish that team has scored in 14 years. In his one race in the No. 5 car this year, he finished ninth at Darlington, one of the truest measures of a driver’s skills.

He may not be Gordon, but Wimmer has proven that he is a capable and consistent racecar driver. When he has the equipment, he performs. In a perfect world, that should land him in a competitive Cup car or, at the very least – with all due respect to Curtis Key – a top-level full-time Nationwide ride.

And if it is sponsors – who know little about racing other than it’s expensive – that have blocked that from happening, they really ought not to be allowed to make such decisions. Please don’t tell me that Jack Daniel’s, the manufacturer of a product that intoxicates people, has a problem with someone that has a five-year-old DUI on his record. And please tell me that going to a desert on the other side of the planet to visit with our soldiers counts for something. No one goes to such lengths just for PR.

Putting inadequate or inexperienced drivers in Cup cars because sponsors like their faces is a part of what’s wrong with NASCAR today. You can bet Wimmer wouldn’t get knocked around like a pinball at Martinsville, as many open-wheelers do.

Unfortunately for Scott, that’s modern day racin’.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • There are several tracks on the circuit that many fans have a low opinion of, like Pocono, Fontana or the road courses. With all due respect to New Hampshire people, Loudon has just never done it for me. It’s flat and wide and it doesn’t look right watching drivers go that slow through the turns on a mile track. But far be it for me to question why it has two races, given the devotion of New England racing fans. Race on.
  • With RPM probably moving completely to Toyota eventually, that leaves Penske Racing as the lone prominent Dodge team. What happened to the determination Dodge had to make a splash in the sport starting with Evernham back in 2000? I mean, besides the government taking over the car companies.
  • The Frontstretch newsletter reported two separate stories on Tuesday, first that Jack Roush is still deciding whether to let Jamie McMurray go to Yates to fit the four-cars-per-team rule, and then that Hendrick is looking to possibly place Keselowski in a Stewart-Haas “satellite” ride. Uh… what’s wrong with this picture? The four-car rule is frankly, stupid.
  • You know, when my softball team drops one like we did yesterday, I totally get Kyle Busch. Maybe I need to do some growing up myself.

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