Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Ol’ D.W. May Be Onto Something

Before I started toiling for That’s Racin’ and subsequently Frontstretch, I spent Sunday evenings writing race summaries for the edification of the other members of my fantasy league. Back then I was less concerned about reigning in vitriol towards NASCAR figures, and one of my favorite targets was champion driver-turned-commentator Darrell Waltrip. I mean, admit it, even if you like the guy, he does come up with some doozies.

Nowadays I’m fond of telling league members that I yearn for the days when “boogity boogity boogity” was the most annoying thing NASCAR fans had to endure. And I actually find myself agreeing with ol’ D.W. more often than I once did. Normally he’s an unabashed ambassador for the sport, which, since they indirectly pay his probably considerable salary, I don’t begrudge him. So it was a shock to hear him openly say the Chase should be junked.

Anyway, contrary to what some people think, Waltrip is knowledgeable about the sport. He did win three championships after all. Having been around as long as he has, he’s not someone whose opinions should be summarily dismissed, and I’m not just saying that because he said something I agreed with. You may not like D.W., but who would you rather have running the sport, Jaws or Brian France?

I bring this up because our newsletter earlier this week showcased some tweets on his thoughts regarding the Nationwide Series. Among them:


These were part of a series of tweets that discussed the problem of the Nationwide Series becoming Cup Lite, full of Cup drivers smoking lesser known series regulars. For a long time, motorsports journalists, myself included, have decried this development. It reeks of sponsors deciding who should be in racecars — Danica Patrick has a guaranteed ride no matter how dismal her results.

But everyone in racing understands that money buys speed, and having a Dale Earnhardt Jr. on your team brings in cash to hire top engineers to make Jimmie Johnson go faster. So as distasteful as the Cup drivers bullying the up-and-coming Cup hopefuls may seem, bringing in sponsorship money is a necessary part of the game. Sponsors simply won’t go for unknowns, and you can’t necessarily blame them for that, either. It is a lot of money that they’re ponying up for the car to be on the track.

Lots of people offer solutions to this, but none of them are really logical or fully address the problems. Disallow Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series altogether? Why? Why limit who can compete and who can’t? It’s not that Cup drivers in the lower series is anything new; you just didn’t used to see Cup drivers running for Nationwide championships as much as today. So don’t let Cup drivers run for championships? How would that be done? By not scoring points for them? That would be complicated, and NASCAR doesn’t need any more of that.

You could hold Nationwide events at a track far away from the Cup race, which isn’t a terrible idea, but a lot of tracks sell entire weekend packages, and while I’m not all that sympathetic to the France family losing revenue, this would take away some of the incentive for hardcore folks to camp for a weekend at the place.

It’s possible that NASCAR backed off on placing limits on drivers when they considered the matter a little further. They’re aware fans don’t like the situation, but it’s not so easy to fix it with rulebook changes (another thing NASCAR doesn’t need any more of).

With his tweets, Darrell Waltrip offered a viable solution to the Nationwide Series’ problems, something I hadn’t been able to think of on my own (and I’ve tried). If the series focused more on finding venues that rewarded driver skill over engineering, there might be more chances for up-and-coming drivers to come up through the ranks.

I don’t know how much difference it makes in the Cup series, but if D.W. states that driver skill matters more at bull rings (and who am I to argue with him), it stands to reason that focusing on them at the Cup level would put some more oomph into the races. It’s hard to establish that prowess at intermediates is the sole or even main reason for Hendrick prominence, since Johnson and Jeff Gordon especially excel at short tracks too. But at least it’s a lot easier to catch a guy at Bristol than it is at Chicagoland, and drivers gain more experience battling for positions at these places.

So I’m glad to be in agreement with D.W. for once. It seems to be becoming more evident to all that the sport should strive to get away from one style of aero-dependent racing.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen anytime soon, in either series. Milwaukee and Gateway are gone from the Nationwide Series, just as Rockingham and North Wilkesboro disappeared from the Cup schedule. Nationwide still has great venues on the schedule (some of which, like Nashville, ought to be considered for a Cup date), but 13 of 34 events still take place at intermediates. And we know what direction the Cup series is headed.

But who knows. They could turn this around. Time will tell. One wonders if D.W.’s tweets will ring a bell. Or if Iowa Speedway’s popularity might do it.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • NASCAR announced that they will cut the 2011 Nationwide Series purses by 20%, discouraging the already discouraged smaller teams, for the purpose of helping the tracks turn a profit from the races. It’s just too obvious that many of these tracks are owned by ISC, NASCAR’s sister company. For a sport run by marketing people, they’re not doing such a hot job with PR on that one.
  • It’s great to see Elliott Sadler challenging for wins in the Nationwide and Truck series, if for no other reason than this Cup driver that everyone believes to be mediocre is outracing guys that are considered future Hall of Famers. But does anyone know if he’ll have a Cup ride next year?
  • Walmart is still speaking with Hendrick Motorsports about the possibility of becoming the primary sponsor of Gordon and the No. 24 car. I hope I’m not stereotyping here, but does anyone think these two are about as well-suited for each other as Kasey Kahne and Budweiser?
  • Brian Vickers announced that he’ll be back next season, which is great news… unless you’re Scott Speed.
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