While the usual suspects will be battling for the win at Texas come Saturday’s Nationwide Series event, one driver that will not be there is Nur Ali. The driver who two weeks ago made history as the first Pakistani to start a Nationwide Series race was not approved to run Texas, with NASCAR sending Ali back to shorter tracks to garner more experience. A replacement for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 41 car remains to be named.
Of course, what else would one expect from NASCAR, the sanctioning body whose only consistency is inconsistency? If there’s one element of their governance that has proven the definition of subjective and impulsive, it’s with regard to competitors’ licenses.
Look, Ali’s debut at Kansas was nothing pretty. He wrecked early and finished 33rd, and that was after an ugly radio exchange that ESPN broadcast where the driver was apparently aloof as to what he needed to be doing on track to stay out of the way of the leaders. The broadcast booth wasted no time jumping on the radio communications as evidence that Ali was in over his head.
Never mind the fact that that transmission was very likely a product of broken English as much as it was being aloof on the track, there was nothing that happened on the racetrack at Kansas that would prevent Ali from being cleared to race at Texas. Both are high speed, 1.5 mile ovals. The differences? Kansas, for one, just went through a repave and proved treacherous for rookies and veterans alike, as is the case for any repaved oval. Ali was hardly the first rookie to find trouble on a repaved oval…from Blake Feese to Mark McFarland to Peyton Sellers. Those guys didn’t get parked the next week.
Furthermore, how does it work out that Ali is cleared to run Kansas, a track where he had never raced, but was not cleared for Texas despite having made an ARCA start there previously (a 22nd place finish, running at the finish)?
It’s not like ARCA starts haven’t been enough to meet NASCAR’s standards in the past. Juan Pablo Montoya was cleared to run a Cup race at Homestead on the back of two ARCA starts. Danica Patrick got to run at Daytona less than a week after her first stock car race, period. Even this year, John Wes Townley was cleared to run Cup at Pocono despite having only finished one career race at the track (at the ARCA level) and lasted a whole lap of practice before fleeing from that challenge.
Hello, consistency? There’s apparently no standard whatsoever for what constitutes a qualified driver at NASCAR’s level.
Or is there? Take a look at those names listed above…Montoya, Patrick, Townley. Two of the three are big name drivers, both plucked from the open-wheeler ranks, true coups for NASCAR to bring to the rough and tumble world of oval tracking. All three brought big-time sponsor dollars with them and have kept them over the course of their respective careers. In the case of Townley and Patrick, one could even go as far as to say that JR Motorsports and RAB Racing would be struggling to survive without those GoDaddy and Zaxby’s decals.
Same can’t be said for Ali, whose No. 41 car last weekend was stark white, bare even by Rick Ware Racing standards. Money might not buy talent, but it sure as hell seems to buy licenses.
And on another note…look at the similarities between Ali’s situation and arguably the most high profile license denial in recent memory…David Ragan’s first Cup race at Martinsville. Ragan, who was cleared to run what was his second Cup race despite completing only 46 laps in his first event (a DNF at Dover), finished 25th and was running at the checkers. But, despite that, Tony Stewart made Ragan an instantly recognizable name in racing circles by describing him as “a dart without feathers.” Six days after that remark was made, Ragan was not cleared to make his next scheduled Cup start at Atlanta despite having made eight Truck starts on tracks 1.3 miles or longer that same season (though one week later he was cleared to run at Texas).
Another one of those “coincidences.” Make a mistake that a big-name driver or broadcaster notices, and behold NASCAR’s microscope. In short, development drivers out there, a word of warning…don’t make your mistakes on camera.
Sadly for Mr. Ali, he’s not rolling in corporate cash and he met the wrath of the broadcast booth for being involved in a crash of his own making that countless development drivers have suffered through in their early Nationwide starts and that claimed no innocent victims. Because of that, NASCAR found him not fit to race.
That right is reserved for the big names and big dollars of the racing world. Such is today’s NASCAR.