ONE: It’s time for the All-Star Race to move
Yes, Charlotte is the home of NASCAR. It’s in the backyard of 90% of the teams that compete in the All-Star Race and has hosted the event for over two decades. But as Saturday night showed once again, short of the 10-lap trophy dash, the racing is leaving a lot to be desired at Charlotte Motor Speedway these days.
Between the rock-hard tires, the still ridiculously smooth racing surface and the blocky CoT cars, passing was at an absolute premium for much of Saturday night, with side-by-side racing even more so. That’s not a good combination on a 1.5-mile track, especially for a shorter race which is supposed to put an emphasis on the action happening hot and heavy every lap like one would see at the local short track.
That begs the question why NASCAR wouldn’t wake up and move this event to the same bullrings the format is supposed to mimic? While Kurt Busch‘s win was impressive, especially considering how banged up his racecar was, the episode that keeps getting press and play is when a tight battle between teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch ended with Busch in the wall and team owner Joe Gibbs hustling to make sure that his two volatile drivers don’t stay mad at each other long enough to do damage when it counts come 600 time this Sunday.
Speaking from experience, as I opted this weekend to skip the All-Star Race and instead trek to Toledo, Ohio to see the ARCA boys beat and bang, short tracks cure all ills. This weekend’s Menards ARCA 200 was one of the best races I’ve seen in years. In contrast, the All-Star Race has long been hyped as a white-knuckle, win it or wreck it event. For that to truly take place, there’s got to be the ability to pass, to touch fenders… and for more than the final 10 laps.
Until the asphalt at Charlotte weathers, Goodyear comes up with a better tire, or teams figure something out with these cars, Charlotte Motor Speedway isn’t going to put on the all-star races of years past. A short track will.
TWO: Speaking of Toledo, all is no longer dry in the Roush Fenway Racing development pool
The winner of that fantastic race in Toledo this weekend that I referenced earlier was none other than 17-year-old Chris Buescher, cousin of Truck Series regular James Buescher. Driving a Roulo Brothers entry with support from Roush Fenway Racing personnel, Buescher put on a clinic in scoring his first career ARCA victory. Buescher has proven to be a short-track powerhouse in two years of limited ARCA competition, showcasing talent and results that even his brother, who had no shortage of accomplishments on his resume when he moved up to NASCAR, can’t match. Good news for a RFR development program that’s taken its share of abuse thus far in 2010.
Unfortunately for that camp, Buescher doesn’t turn 18 until October. But the Roush team filled that hole with the signing of another top prospect, Kyle Busch’s protege Brian Ickler. Ickler is scheduled to make his Nationwide Series debut with the organization this weekend in the No. 16 car after showing great promise in his limited Truck Series efforts with Billy Ballew Motorsports and Kyle Busch Motorsports. Still, one has to question why a new hire is getting a shot in the No. 16, especially considering Colin Braun has served his two-race suspension for wrecking teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Texas and is coming off his best finish of the season at Dover.
The answer appears to be simple… Roush is fishing for the next David Ragan. Especially considering the same Ragan who stole onto the Roush scene, snatching the No. 6 Cup ride from under full-time competitors Todd Kluever and Danny O’Quinn‘s noses back in 2006, is likely going to be out of a job come the end of 2010, if not sooner. And with RFR now involved in what appears to a pitched campaign with Richard Childress Racing to hang onto the prized UPS sponsorship package, they’ve got to come up with an answer as to who they can offer up to keep the men in brown happy.
If nothing else, between Ickler and Buescher, Roush does have cards in the hole even if Braun and Stenhouse can’t get their efforts turned around. Whether those cars will be available in a timely fashion remains to be seen, though.
THREE: For a new Kyle Busch, he’s still in the news a lot
Tons and tons of ink has already been spent chronicling every second that Kyle Busch spent in Hamlin’s hauler after the All-Star Race, overshadowing some strong comments made by the new Truck Series owner that he was concerned over the expenses of racing trucks and questioning whether or not he’d have made the decision to become an owner knowing what he does now.
“You work your whole life to make the money you make and do everything you do,” said Busch of his new team. “I’m not saying I’m throwing it away, but to see it all go away, it’s unfortunate.”
“What it all boils down to is if I get hurt. If I get hurt, I can’t go forward. I don’t need to put my family in that position.”
On the surface, this seems to be a damning account of what it’s like to try to be an owner in today’s NASCAR, even at the lower levels of the sport, with manufacturer support and the benefit of being one of racing’s biggest stars.
But, new or old, we’re still talking Kyle Busch. We’re talking about the same driver that’s gotten in over his head before. This is the same Busch who threw away what would become a 10-win 2008 Nationwide Series campaign because he got upset about wrecking at Kentucky. This is the same Busch that one year later decided he actually did need that Nationwide Series crown, and pursued it with such reckless abandon that the Cup prowess he had taken for granted after his 2008 success fizzled. Running two series, as he’s admitted to this season, did in fact prove to be too much last year… and that, obviously, was never a consideration given just how far the No. 18 Cup team slipped.
What’s more, it’s not like Busch would be the first owner to tackle ownership and realize that it’s a bigger undertaking than even one that eats, breathes, and lives the sport would realize. A long list of owners, from Bobby Ginn to Randy Moss to Dale Earnhardt Jr., all worth big money, all with big plans, have all come into this sport only to realize that, both financially and personally, it’s more than what they bargained for.
New Kyle Busch or not, old habits die hard. And Busch seems simply not to have looked before he leapt into Truck Series ownership.
FOUR: Old-school veterans coming back for a Daytona swan song
A few weeks back when doing an infield walk at Darlington, I passed a pickup truck emblazened with a sign stating “Steve Park in a Truck, Nationwide or Cup car, please!” Those fans appear to be getting their wish this coming July, as Park is reportedly going to be running at Daytona for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the No. 36 entry. For Park, it will mark his first Cup Series race attempt since the 2004 Coca-Cola 600, and should he qualify, it would be his first Cup start since Homestead in 2003.
Park wasn’t the only driver making an unexpected comeback this summer, though. Of all drivers, Greg Sacks delivered sorely needed sponsorship support to JR Motorsports, and he was handsomely rewarded with a ride in the JRM No. 88 at Daytona in the Nationwide race, a fitting way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his unlikely Firecracker 400 triumph.
Hearing of these names just as NASCAR is going all nostalgic around its first Hall of Fame class is something that can’t be considered anything but cool. There’s no doubt that seeing Park back on the Cup circuit will be an emotional sight for many fans, especially at Daytona of all venues. And as for Sacks, frankly it’s neat to see an older racer come out of left field with sponsor dollars and land a major-league ride. If the young guns are all doing it, why not Sacks? This writer, for one, will be cheering hard for the No. 88 the next time the Nationwide Series hits the high banks of Daytona.
FIVE: Our fans get to sponsor… Michael Waltrip?
After all the ads suggesting that Kyle Busch would take to the track in a pink jumpsuit, or that Hamlin would carry a lover on the side of his Toyota, the winner of Toyota’s sponsafy campaign was announced. The winning design, dubbed “Praying for Karson,” is certainly an admirable winner, seeking to raise awareness of a rare lung disease (NEHI).
However, after all the Kyle Busch and Hamlin ads, the winning paint scheme will be featured not on a Joe Gibbs Racing entry, but on PRISM Motorsports’ No. 55 car, which Michael Waltrip will attempt to qualify at Infineon.
You can’t help but feel underwhelmed that after all the hype around Toyota’s latest marketing gimmick, the winning paint scheme is going to be featured on a car fielded by a team who’s business is start-and-park, whose only race won is to have their hauler packed up first, and to be driven by a driver who’s not exactly a road-course ace. It’s a realistic possibility that a lot of fans may never see this scheme on the track… because Waltrip has to qualify it in at Sonoma.
Underwhelming and NASCAR in the same breath… what else is new?