Oo la la! Ce qu’une race à Montréal le Dimanche, le type où les fans a donné une ovation debout plus de temps que certains sont restés dans les stands à Chicagoland cette année. Que le français baiser de frais l’énergie est tout le monde bourdonnants environ une seconde-tier division dont les notations ont tranquillement augmenté 6 p. 100 pendant une année où NASCAR le ciel est en baisse.
Le problème, bien sûr, est la même pilotes brille à l’intérieur aussi bien dans tout le pays et le Camping Monde Camions sont certains des mêmes hommes conduire les roues au large de la Coupe voitures le jour suivant. Où sont l’avenir les diamants bruts? Avec un seul final off semaine à capturer notre souffle, voyons si nous pouvons creuser dur pour trouver ces joyaux cachés peinant dans ces deuxième et troisième niveaux divisions, en espérant contre l’espoir leurs rêves ne meurent contre les riches, les fameux, et de manger ces vraiment mauvais français crêpes. Vous voir sur l’autre extrémité Rue Sainte-Catherine’s! Ou dans environ 1,500 mots…
OK, OK, so maybe you don’t understand French. Let’s try this again…
Oh la la! What a race in Montreal on Sunday, the type where the fans gave a standing ovation longer than some stayed in the stands at Chicagoland this year. That French kiss of fresh energy has everyone buzzing about a second-tier division whose ratings have quietly risen 6% during a year where NASCAR’s sky is falling.
The problem, of course, is the same drivers shining inside both Nationwide and Camping World trucks are some of the same men driving the wheels off the Cup cars the following day. Where are the future diamonds in the rough? With just one final off week to catch our breath, let’s see if we can dig hard to find those hidden gems toiling in these second and third-tier divisions, hoping against hope their dreams won’t die against the rich, the famous, and from eating those really bad French crepes.
See you on the other end of St. Catherine’s Street! Or in about 1,500 words…
Todd Bodine: Can you smell… what the Onion’s cooking? Probably not, because all those things do is make you cry. Good thing Mr. Bodine’s got the cure for his own nickname: winning races, racking up points and cruising towards a second Truck Series championship in five years. Building a 236-point lead with eight races left, the driver and team running the No. 30 Toyota has impressed on the track while following a familiar tune off it: scrapping up one-race sponsorship deals and outside ownership support to stay afloat. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and come November it would be a major surprise at this point to see anyone other than Bodine holding the big trophy. What does he win, Johnny? “It’s what he’s been dreaming for… his very own start-and-park Cup opportunity!”
Parker Kligerman: In a world where NASCAR prospects can be found somewhere in the kitchen cabinet between two-year-old lima beans and that can of soup you’ve been saving since 1995… we have a diamond in the rough. Kligerman’s impressed to the tune of two straight top-10 finishes at Bristol and Montreal, driving with the help of Penske but also with a ragtag group struggling to simply keep their temp job, let alone make the transition up to full-time competition. That the 20-year-old is blossoming with less than a dozen Nationwide starts under his belt is proof that a 73-year-old Penske still knows how to pick ‘em, but more so that there’s still good young talent out there in the first place. All NASCAR has to do is find them a decent ride to get their feet wet – all while keeping the big-time bullies from taking a day off just to swing by and beat them up.
Honorable Mention: Scoring a Cup race in Canada (something, anything but another intermediate); my state (95 degrees in Philadelphia – talk about the Dog Days of Summer); the Bleacher Report (if the No Jeff Gordon to Wal-Mart story is true, by far the biggest NASCAR story that “fan” site has ever broken); Teams angry over a 20% Nationwide Series purse reduction (could we see a formal protest soon?)
Trevor Bayne: His sponsor may be OUT! Pet Care, but when it comes to building his NASCAR future, momentum has definitely worked its way IN Trevor’s camp. He’s one of just a trio of Nationwide drivers to post three straight top-11 finishes, a charge that’s left him eighth in points and just 53 out of sixth place. A finish inside the top five might be a bit too much to ask (he trails Paul Menard by 316), but considering how far this 19-year-old has come in just six months leaves him a late-season sleeper to pick up his first career win. As for the prospects in 2011? At this point, just having a sponsor in itself makes him an automatic championship contender in a series that needs some Nationwide Insurance all its own.
Justin Lofton: Look what the cat dragged in! Or should I say Cattle, the family business giving Justin the money to compete and a chance to salvage a sorry season at Red Horse Racing. But the last two weeks, it’s his other competitors saying sorry and moving over for what’s been a faster truck: back-to-back top-five finishes that have kept the Rookie of the Year race from turning into an Austin Dillon coronation over in Trucks. Is closing a 42-point gap for the title – remember, it’s the separate rookie points system, which can be explained by simply reading the first two paragraphs in French up above, scratching your head and waving the white flag of surrender – just too much to ask? You would think so, but then again, we are talking a reigning ARCA champ with money and talent. Remember this February, when Mr. Dillon couldn’t even complete a lap? I’d say it’s a long-shot, sure, though anything’s possible in a minor-league world where breakthroughs happen at the drop of a hat.
Honorable Mention: Hurricane season (My Name Is Earl… Coming Soon to an East Coast near you); Macaulay Culkin turning 30 (Seems like just yesterday someone left him Home Alone); Cup drivers keeping their shot at a championship in Nationwide (too bad they just can’t rename the series Cup Lite); Key Motorsports (nine top-20 finishes in a row with Mike Bliss – not too shabby, eh Canada?); Randy Moss preparing his NASCAR exit strategy (paved by Dennis Green, Tim Brown and about half-a-dozen NFL aficionados before him)
Joe Nemechek: Considering this series is the one place he actually chooses to run the distance, you’d think the finishes might be stronger for a former Cup star moonlighting over in Nationwide. But four straight runs outside the top 20 aren’t exactly what the doctor ordered for Front Row Joe, now sitting 20th in points and nearly 640 markers outside the top 10. A Canadian crash didn’t help matters, sponsor HostGator.com chomped to bits in a wreck that eventually cooked the engine on his No. 97 car – all while Paulie Harraka sizzled the “A”-team No. 87 Chevy to smithereens. And now, with a Nationwide Series purse cut looming for 2011… will there be some new-car blues or a new start-and-park operation blossoming for NEMCO come February?
David Starr: Sure, a 10th-place finish with underfunded SS Green Light Racing was miraculous considering Starr’s hectic week. With Randy Moss suspending operations on his No. 81 (see above), the Texan two-stepped his way to the unemployment line without full-time sponsorship support to carry him through. Owner Bobby Dotter took pity on him at the last second, but it’s a disastrous ending to an underdog trudging through another underrated season where he’s solidly inside the top 10 in Truck Series points. He hasn’t missed a race or finished lower than 12th in the standings since the start of the 2004 season, streaks that as of now have been put in jeopardy by his wide receiver owner’s drop across the financial landscape of race team foreclosure.
Certainly, much of the blame these days comes down to harsh economic realities; but no top-five finishes in 17 starts isn’t the type of up-front, in-your-face effort that helps potential sponsors take notice, either.
Honorable Mention: Robby Gordon’s fuel calculations (he should go beat up the owner who told him to stay out; oh, wait…); all those Canadians getting one-race deals in Nationwide (that was just pretty darn cool; too bad none of them wound up doing better!); Boris Said capturing his first Nationwide win (cool times 1,000 – one of the sport’s nice guys); Max Papis with a runner-up finish (ditto)
Tony Raines: No one knows the old phrase more than this guy: When it Raines, it pours. Poor Tony went from a top-10 boost at Gateway to downright junk the last six races, a handful of mechanical failures combining with bad luck to send him to half-a-dozen finishes of 18th or worse. That’s the type of tough performances this shoestring-budget team can’t afford, recently using Jeff Green as a way to run a third car through a past champion’s provisional – a start-and-park on the side used to keep paying the bills. Add in losing a ride on the Cup circuit – Dave Blaney, not Raines, was named the third option at Front Row for Atlanta – and it hasn’t exactly been a summer to remember for this veteran.
Norm Benning: When Ron Hornaday calls you out for being too slow, that’s an isolated incident. But when Timothy Peters – who might be confused with a mime in different circumstances – speaks up and says you’re in the way, it’s high time the rest of the world speaks up and listens. In so many ways, Benning does all the right things: he races the distance, gives 110% with what he’s got and doesn’t spend more than what he has in the bank. But when you go through a whole season finishing three or more laps down in every race and flirting with the dreaded black flag for going too slow, it may be time to evaluate your future career. Maybe an up-and-coming driver would be perfect for this program! Because the one behind the wheel just isn’t cutting it at this level.
Honorable Mention: Morgan Shepherd (Victory In Jesus? More like defeat on the racetrack right now, even with RCR equipment); Jennifer Jo Cobb (hey, at least she’s doing better than Danica); Barrow, Alaska (40 degrees for the high today – if only the summer heat wave victims could be so lucky!)