ONE: The future of the Nationwide Series to be tested by Cup drivers and by less than 15 teams
Despite rumors that the anticipated Nationwide Series CoT test at Daytona would be delayed to allow for more teams to get their cars prepared, NASCAR is pushing forward this Tuesday and Wednesday with a two-day test. It’s kind of hard to argue with that logic. After all, the teams that haven’t built a car yet are those hoping that the superteams can create enough in time for the carless ones to buy them… and that they can actually afford that expenditure come July.
At total of 23 drivers from 11 organizations are scheduled to take part in the test. The problem with these numbers? Look closer. First of all, having only 11 organizations show up to test when the Nationwide Series needs to fill a 43-car field every weekend isn’t solid math. Of the 23 drivers slated to test, only 16 are actually Nationwide Series regulars, and four of those are either tentative or only present for one day of the test. And of the 11 organizations represented, only three are non-Cup entities (ML Motorsports, Tri-Star Motorsports and Braun Racing).
Does anything more really need to be said? This is the future of the Nationwide Series, the exclusive car that the Series will run in 2011, and there’s 16 series regulars present. Cup teams represent 33% of the driver field and 73% of the teams present at the test.
The state of the Nationwide Series, by the numbers.
TWO: Look for Brian Vickers to be out for months… and Casey Mears is not the answer
In a best-case scenario for Brian Vickers, assuming that his blood clots will require Coumadin treatment, it will be three to six months before the Red Bull Racing veteran will be 100% safe and ready to take the wheel of the No. 83 again. Coumadin blood thinner will not make Vickers sick, but in a sport where 200 mph collisions are commonplace, the risk of the driver sustaining an injury that could cause bruising and bleeding is high… and with thinned blood, that risk is too much to bear.
It’s been widely observed that Vickers being young, there is absolutely no reason to rush a return; he’s got plenty of years left in his career. And as for his job security, well, let’s just say Red Bull Racing is where they are today because of Vickers more than anyone else.
Where will they be when Vickers is able to return to the seat remains to be seen. It will be a regression, however, if Casey Mears ends up being the long-term reliever that gets the No. 83 seat. Don’t get me wrong; Mears’s 22nd-place finish was about all that could be expected this past weekend at Dover, given his lack of experience with the Red Bull team and the fact that the Red Bull organization has never really excelled on the Monster Mile. The problem is, a 22nd-place finish is about all Mears can be counted on for consistently, given his lengthy and underwhelming career record.
What’s more, with the Chase now out of the question for Red Bull, the focus for the rest of 2010 should shift to preparation for 2011… and the continued development of Scott Speed. Though Mears does have a number of years as a full-time Cup driver, the only time in his career that he was called upon to be the senior driver was his final year with Chip Ganassi Racing. Considering where his teammates from that campaign, David Stremme and Reed Sorenson, are today, it’s hard to make a case for Mears being the guy Speed should lean on. As for him being the guy to help Red Bull snap out of their current slump, forget about it. This is the same Mears who led the No. 42 team into a regression after the departure of Jamie McMurray, failed to ever make the Chase with Hendrick Motorsports and led the same No. 07 team at RCR that made the Chase with Clint Bowyer the season prior to a 21st-place points finish.
Red Bull could go with Mike Skinner, a pivotal player in getting the team’s second car up to speed after AJ Allmendinger missed the first three races of 2008 with the team. They could go with Scott Wimmer, who many thought should have gotten the No. 07 ride that ended up going to Mears at RCR after he led their No. 29 Nationwide Series team to an owners’ championship. Or they could go with an unproven commodity… because Mears is proven to bring nothing but mediocrity to the table.
THREE: What happened to Dover?!
I thought the crowd was bad at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the spring one year ago, where around 60,000 fans left gaping holes in the grandstands even at the start-finish line. Dover may have had a few more fans this past Sunday when the green flag dropped, but in terms of appearance, this crowd was disturbing. Already having covered wide swaths of grandstands with sponsorship curtains… and even closing the turn 3 grandstand, there were still massive glares coming off the empty aluminum bleachers. NASCAR estimated 88,000 fans were present… take 20,000 off that number.
This was just the latest visual manifestation of a trend of downward attendance that still continues to plague all levels of NASCAR in 2010, and that shows no signs of stopping. But unlike the cookie-cutter ovals that have drawn much ire for their ticker-tape parades masquerading as sporting events, Dover has typically had no problem putting on competitive races.
Unfortunately, just like the crowd was way off for a Dover race weekend, the competition on Sunday was as well. I can’t comment on the telecast that the Daly Planet absolutely lambasted throughout the event, seeing as I was at the track, but one thing I was shocked by watching Sunday’s race was that I felt bad for the TV crews… because all the way through the 43-car field, there really wasn’t a whole lot of side-by-side racing to be found. Drivers struggling with a tire that put down excessive amounts of rubber on top of the already pain-in-the-neck CoT just didn’t seem to be able to do a lot of passing.
And as I watched this unfold, it was suddenly so clear as to why even Dover’s grandstands look like Fontana’s. Just like Darlington the week before, the current tire/car combination is off the mark, and the product on the track suffered. Maybe things would have been better if Jimmie Johnson hadn’t sped and would have battled Kyle Busch for a win under green. But good enough to bring 20, 30, 40,000 people more to the track next time? Probably not.
Yes, the economy sucks. But people haven’t stopped spending, they’ve cut back. For racing to get back into the wallets of so many departed fans, the racing product needs to change. And until NASCAR opens up the means for teams to improve their cars, the product isn’t going to improve. This isn’t rocket science, even if making a CoT race enjoyable apparently is.
FOUR: Kasey Kahne to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?
Kasey Kahne will race in 2012 for Hendrick Motorsports, meaning that he will be driving a Chevrolet in 2011. Problem is, if you ask Tony Stewart, it’s not necessarily going to be for Stewart-Haas Racing, the seemingly perfect halfway home for Rick Hendrick’s latest prize signing. And according to SHR competition director Bobby Hutchens, Kahne would have to find sponsorship in the next two weeks if they were going to be able to form a third team for him and do it right.
That leaves Kahne with two other realistic Chevrolet camps to look at for a one-year ride; Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. And now that Kevin Harvick appears close to re-signing with the No. 29 team, there really isn’t an open seat at the RCR stable.
But EGR may be another story. With Stewart needing additional sponsor dollars following the departure of Old Spice after 2010, Bass Pro Shops has a dream scenario lined up for them at SHR. Two outdoorsmen in need of sponsor dollars that, unlike current driver McMurray, aren’t really a stretch to be seen selling boats, fishing rods and hunting gear. Bass Pro Shops already signed on as an associate sponsor for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman this year, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t defect for SHR after 2010, McMurray’s Daytona 500 trophy notwithstanding.
That leaves the No. 1 car sponsor hunting, and between Kahne and McMurray… advantage Kahne. Plus, with the No. 1 team already in existence, Kahne wouldn’t necessarily have to sign a sponsor by late spring/early summer to be able to race for EGR in 2011. Couple that with the fact that an EGR ride likely isn’t going to come with the price tag of a Hendrick-backed seat, and there’s a credible case to be made that Kahne may be calling the Garage Mahal his home… for one year, at least.
FIVE: Who’s in first?
In speaking with Richard Petty about the NASCAR Hall of Fame this weekend, Petty named, in addition to David Pearson, a number of mechanics and engine builders that he would vote for as members to the second class. Petty raises a great point, that instead of harping solely on drivers to enter the Hall, that those that made the cars go fast are just as deserving of a seat and just as important to capturing NASCAR’s past.
Which begs the ultimate question for 20 years down the road… who gets in first? Johnson or Chad Knaus?